Program Evaluation for the Homelessness Sector

What is Program Evaluation?

Intro video by Stephen Gaetz, Director, Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.

Program evaluation is an activity - or more accurately a set of activities - that give organizations and individuals a way to understand, document and communicate the impacts of their work. As you heard in the video, program evaluation has a reputation for being overly complicated and not focusing on the real, day-to-day needs of program staff and participants. And there are examples of this type of experience where a lot of work, time and resources have been allocated to complete a program evaluation to satisfy funder requirements without any direct benefits to the organization. 

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The best program evaluation provides feedback to learn what is going well, document successes and fuel continuous improvement. Program evaluation activities should be built into the work as much as possible so they are not an additional burden on staff and participants. Good program evaluation also provides an opportunity for program participants to give feedback on the services they are receiving and to make use of the information for their own development to create solutions that are personalized and targeted.

First of all, what is a program? 

When we talk about programs we are referring to organized activities directed at achieving an objective. It is a planned intervention with clear goals that is delivered in a way to create change for the program participants. 

Reflection

Can you think of a program that is being delivered to support people who are homeless? Take a moment to review what you know about the program. What are some of the planned activities of this program? What is the specific goal of the program?

Community Kitchen Example

A women’s shelter is concerned about the nutrition for pregnant youth who access the shelter. You want to develop some activities to improve nutrition for pregnant youth. One activity could be the development of a community kitchen that you hope will teach youth about nutrition, provide them with nutritious food and also create concern and awareness around health for pregnant youth. The planned activities include information sessions, cooking together, sharing the meal together and conversations around challenges accessing healthy food.

What Do You Think?

There are many different reasons for doing a program evaluation. Which of these reasons would the organization providing the community kitchen program be interested in?

  • To understand how the program works.
  • To make improvements to the program.
  • To determine if the program is achieving its objectives.
  • To learn who is using the program and what they are getting out of it.

Program evaluation is an activity that helps you answer key questions about your program such as:

  • Does our service make a difference? 
  • What is the impact of our work?
  • How & in what ways do we change lives?
  • Do our programs & services meet the diverse needs of the people that we serve?
  • What works and for whom?

Depending on the questions you want answered and the type of program, there are different types of program evaluations that an organization can choose.