While evaluation is situated as the last step in the SPF process, in reality it is an integral part of the entire SPF structure. Evaluation is a powerful strategy for investigating how programs and interventions are doing in terms of whether they are making the impacts they intend, as well as a useful tool for suggesting how programs can continue to grow and improve in the future. These two questions are at the heart of what a community really needs to know about its prevention programs:
- Are they working?
- Can they work better?
Sometimes evaluation can seem threatening or intimidating, like having to pass an exam or test. However, it is more useful to think about evaluation as a wonderful tool to help organizations and communities better reach their goals. In order to know if our programs are doing what we want them to do we need to collect information, track changes, and consider outcomes. However, rather than being seen as issuing a pass or fail verdict for programs, if done well, the evaluation process can be used at every step of a prevention plan to see if the plan is on target and to suggest new ideas and avenues for continuous improvement and progress.
SPF in Hawai'i: Evaluation
The SPF-SIG project included a comprehensive evaluation of every step of the SPF process at the state, county, and program levels. For each prevention education program implemented under the project, service providers and service organizations were trained in the skills needed to carry out an evaluation of their programs. Outcome indicator data was collected from program participants before, immediately after, and 3-6 months following program implementation. In this way community team members could examine whether these programs were associated with the desired changes at the individual level.
The evaluation team also compiled outcome indicator data at the county and state level to monitor whether or not the project as whole was having the desired impact at the population/community level. However, these larger-scale changes take time and involve many complicated factors (such as community norms and ever-changing social influences), so it is important to interpret these population-level outcome indicators cautiously.
Final outcome findings from the comprehensive evaluation were shared with project stakeholders in all four counties as well as disseminated to the community at large through the publication of the SPF-SIG Final Report (2015).