Skip to main content

Build your evaluation muscle to use it effectively in the program

By Pamela Larson Nippolt

Just when you thought that your youth program was doing well to DO evaluation at all, we evaluators want you to USE it, too! What does it take to make the report, and the entire evaluation process, an integral part of a youth organizations' everyday work?

I've learned that building capacity to use evaluation does not depend on having a lot of fancy bells and whistles. My experiences in the reporting stage of evaluation work with youth-serving organizations have taught me that successful use of evaluation has little to do with slick reports and branded slide presentations. It is more about the right people coming together to roll up their sleeves around the findings and lessons.

Others in the evaluation field have done some thinking about this and are sharing their experiences on evaluation use. Boris Volkov and Jean King provide a capacity-building checklist for those planning evaluations. Their checklist suggests that one of the first places to start to ensure that evaluations get used is at the top of the list -- It is critical that organizational leaders share responsibility for building the organizational "muscle" to use evaluation effectively.

Mary Arnold, an evaluator for Extension and 4-H in Oregon, recommends a four-part framework for building the capacity of Extension educators who work in youth development to use and lead evaluation in youth programs. By starting small with teaching the use of logic models and growing toward large-scale, multi-site evaluation projects, Arnold reports evidence of success in her unit's increased capacity to use, and learn from, evaluation.

Few things worth having come without some elbow grease. We can do it! What does it take for you to be engaged in an evaluation project or process? What do we need to do so that evaluation gets USED in youth organizations?

-- Pamela Larson Nippolt, former associate Extension professor and program leader, program evaluation

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.
Print Friendly and PDF


  1. I think a key strategy to help ensure that evaluation findings will be useful is to involve the practitioners in the evaluation process whenever possible. I often try to find ways to engage the users with the results of the evaluation. To increase use of formative evaluation findings for an engineering youth development project, I had staff create their own recommendations based on the data. The staff participated in a three-hour recommendations workshop where they reviewed various types of data that I had analyzed and compiled for them. After reviewing the data, I worked with the group to identify what they would keep and what they would change to help them better address the program’s youth outcomes. Staff wrote each idea on a separate sheet of paper and posted them on a sticky wall underneath each of the youth outcomes. The workshop resulted in affirmation of what the program was doing well in relation to program outcomes and recommended improvements for the coming year to better address the outcomes.
    For more information about the evaluation and to see the results of this recommendations workshop, visit this site: