Evaluation Terms: A Glossary

The terms here will help increase your general understanding of evaluation as well as search and navigate this site. The terms selected include the types and approaches to evaluation and standard research concepts.

The circumstances and setting in which a program takes place. For most programs, it includes events, location, cultural norms, beliefs, resources, timing/history, people, and other circumstances. Context for arts and civic engagement work might include the size, nature, and demographics of the community; cohesion or polarization in the community; history of civic engagement or community arts initiatives; and the history or position of the sponsoring organization. (From Patton’s Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods, factors from Suzanne Callahan’s training materials and Dwyer’s Arts and Civic Engagement: Briefing Paper for Working Group of the Arts and Civic Engagement Impact Initiative)
Is used when goals and outcomes are not pre-set but rather evolve as learning occurs. It supports continuous progress and rapid response to complex situations with multiple variables.  The evaluator is often an integral member of the program design team. It is best suited for initiatives that are at an initial stage of development or undergoing significant change, and can benefit from careful tracking of the process. Organizations and programs focused on innovation and social change are especially appropriate for developmental evaluation. (From “J. W. McConnell Family Foundation: What We Are Learning,” the section on Patton’s Developmental Evaluation, Sustaining Social Innovation)
Animating Democracy’s understanding of dialogue derives from the Study Circles Resource Center: Two or more parties with differing viewpoints working toward common understanding in an open-ended, face-to-face format. Dialogue is inclusive of multiple and possibly conflicting perspectives rather than promoting a single point of view. According to Daniel Yankelovich, author of The Magic of Dialogue, three qualities of dialogue distinguish it from debate or discussion. These are: Dialogue allows assumptions to be brought out into the open and encourages participants to suspend judgment in order to foster understanding and break down obstacles. Dialogue seeks to create equality among participants. Certain conditions can be created to even the playing field for participants with various levels of information about the issue, experience in public forums, real or perceived positions of power or authority and help build the trust and climate of safety for deep dialogue. Dialogue aims for a greater understanding of others' viewpoints through empathy. In dialogue, multiple perspectives are invited to the table and encouraged to be voiced.
The process of recording what happened, or creating a record of a project, usually with little or no judgment attached. Documentation may include meeting notes, letters and memos, oral history records, journals, voting results, census data, audio and video recordings, media coverage of events, etc. In many instances, documentation materials are sources used for evaluation.
Aims to find measurable changes that can be directly attributed to specific policies. It uses experimental or quasi-experimental research methods. It is evaluation by testing, just as the effect of a medical treatment is assessed in laboratories by administering it to some members of a test group and not to others. By using a large sample group, one can determine the effects of a program or project objectively.  (From The Broker’s Three Approaches to Evaluation: Evaluation Evolution?)
A common method of gathering qualitative research, where a moderator conducts a group discussion among five to ten people in order to learn their opinions, attitudes, and thought processes about a given topic. The group dynamic encourages a deeper level of discussion and allows the moderator to probe for responses to important topics. In addition to being employed for evaluation purposes, focus groups can be useful in the design and planning stage of an arts and civic engagement program as a means of getting input from stakeholders.
The extent to which findings from a sample reflect the population studied.  Generalizability depends on factors such as the design of the evaluation or study, sample size, and selection process.
The desirable long-term result(s) of a program, project, or effort. Arts-based civic engagement goals may involve policy change, reduction or elimination of certain conditions (such as violence in a community), or economic equity.
Generally used to connect outcomes to the broader mission of an organization or partnership for social change.
Observable, measurable evidence of change by which the effects of a program can be assessed. They answer the question, “How will you know a stated outcome has been achieved?” Indicators indicate the degree to which the outcomes stated have been attained. Distinctions are made between process indicators, which point to what happens during a program, and outcome/impact indicators, or the change that results during or after a program has been launched.