Decide the purpose of your evaluation

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This step helps you decide the purpose of your evaluation. This is important so:

  • You can ensure the evaluation will measure what matters for making decisions.
  • It is clear to all stakeholders what the evaluation’s purpose is, otherwise they might be worried about the evaluation and what it means for them. For example, they could feel their individual performance is being judged (e.g. teachers involved in the initiative might be concerned the evaluation could end up shutting down the initiative, or be an evaluation of their individual performance).
  • The evaluation does not become a ‘tick the box’ exercise, but instead is always an opportunity to find ways to improve initiatives.

By the end of this step you will have:

  • Identified the purpose(s) of your evaluation

Identify the purpose(s) of your STEM education initiative evaluation

This is where it all starts: what are you trying to achieve? It might seem obvious but if you’re not clear about this, everything else will be of less value.

Every evaluation tries to understand whether a STEM education initiative achieved its objective i.e. what it was created to do. This is the key evaluation question and is common to all STEM education evaluations.

The real power of an evaluation is what you do with the answer to that question. You can use this information for different purposes and to make different decisions. For example, you might use an evaluation to do one or more of the following:

  • Decide to continue or stop the initiative.
  • Decide to change the initiative, e.g.
    • Scale up (make it bigger or longer).
    • Change the target audience (who the initiative is for e.g. age groups, girls, high-achieving students).
    • Change who is eligible (who can participate in the initiative).
    • Refine the design of the initiative (what the initiative looks like / what it does).
    • Create a partnership (school-business partnership, or with community organisations).
  • Show the value of the initiative to a funder or potential partner to gain their support.
  • Contribute to shared knowledge about what works in different STEM education initiatives.

You do not need to provide a lot of detail about the purpose(s) of your evaluation, but enough to decide what you need to do, and to provide clear guidance for those involved in the evaluation and the initiative. Be as specific as you can.

Once you’ve identified your purpose, you can organise the evaluation to ensure it stays on track. For example:

  • If you want to decide whether to continue or stop your initiative: You might be interested in measuring the initiative’s impacts or outcomes, for example, whether it has achieved what you wanted it to.
  • If you want to decide whether and how to change your initiative:You would evaluate the choices you made about it, and whether plans were successfully implemented. This captures potential strengths or areas for improvement that might help you understand what to change.
  • If you want to show value to a funder or potential partner: You could ask what outcomes are important to them. Include ways to measure these in your evaluation. For example, an initiative might aim to generally improve student achievement. But the funder might be particularly interested in students building ‘21st century skills’ (e.g. problem-solving, critical thinking) so the initiative’s evaluation would include ways to measure these skills.
  • If you want to contribute to a shared understanding of what works: It is important to communicate specifics about the initiative and the context (e.g. year level, specific group targeted by initiative compared with group who actually received it). This allows those reading the evaluation’s conclusions to assess how similar or different this is to their context and learn from your experiences.