Program Evaluation for the Homelessness Sector

Why Evaluate?

In this lesson, you will explore the purpose of doing evaluations and some of the challenges that program evaluation teams may encounter.

Person asking a question to a group of zombies


Evaluation can mean different things to different people. From a program perspective, evaluation has become a necessary and important feature. Unlike other forms of program monitoring, evaluation can provide a comprehensive understanding of how your program works and the impact it has. This kind of information is particularly important for the homelessness sector, as we want to ensure that we are supporting the consumers of our services in the most meaningful ways. For example, we can ask questions like: Are individuals stably housed? Is the program being implemented as planned? Do staff members feel supported by the program? How can the program maintain its strengths and adapt to meet its challenges? Interwoven throughout all of these questions are considerations of the unique features of the client base and the context of the community.

We can clearly gain a lot from evaluation, but it can still be a tough sell for some communities.  But why is that? One of the most common things we hear is that there are pressures to evaluate, particularly from funders, and that results from evaluations are sometimes not used. These are very valid concerns and something a lot of programs grapple with. To address these issues, it is important to consider evaluation as a multifaceted approach to program growth. For example, pulling data reports on the number of people who access your program can be tedious, but it is just one of the many ways in which you can evaluate your program’s operations. 

Evaluation can help agencies think of their programs in a different light and help them to engage in a process of mutual learning with colleagues, the people accessing their services, and the community. It can also help programs to concretely identify the good work of their programs and the impact they have on the lives of their clients. Evaluation offers an applied and systematic strategy to bring these goals into reality. 

Why are people sometimes reluctant to do program evaluation? 

There may be reasons that people might have for not wanting to engage in program evaluation.

  • Getting results that are not what you expected. 
  • The change that you expected to find may not be as big as you thought it would be. Or perhaps the changes you are seeing won’t be considered big enough 
  • Staff may worry about negative consequences such as being blamed for the poor performance of the program. 
  • People can be concerned about the purpose of an evaluation. They may wonder if the decision has already been made to shut the program down and they are looking for evidence.
  • The evaluation may not be designed well which may cause you to mistrust the quality of the evaluation results.

Finally, some people may be concerned about a lack of knowledge and skills in the sector to conduct good program evaluation. We hope that this training will help to address this concern.

For discussion:

Who typically sees the results of evaluations? Are the results always used by the organization? What happens if results from evaluations are not what you expected? 

How would you feel, as a program staff or participant, if an evaluation of a program was done but the results were not shared or used to improve the program? Click the link below to post your thoughts in the discussion forum.