How to Address Fears about Program Evaluation

Sections of this topic

    Nervous about Evaluation?

    In many ways a program evaluation can be like a well-child doctor’s appointment. Observations are made, evidence collected and advice dispensed to the caregivers. Someone I know, despite being a devoted mother, dreaded well-child doctor’s appointments for her firstborn. The visits made her nervous. Let us pause to consider why check-ups made this new mother nervous. She did her very best with all the resources available to her; yet being a perfectionist, she worried about hearing of areas that needed improvement.

    How to Get the Most Use out of Program Evaluations

    The caregiver’s ability to let go of these negative emotions and be truly open to the practitioner’s advice can determine how useful that visit was. But so many times, it is easier to listen to our own feelings than it is to receive professional advice—advice that can be hard to swallow (no pun intended). And although that gut feeling can prove important in certain situations, there is great value in basing decisions on the objective, hard evidence that a program evaluation generates. Easier said than done! Despite your hard work and efforts, have you or your program’s “caregivers” ever felt somewhat apprehensive about the thought of a program evaluation? Here are some basic ways to address fear of evaluation.

    How to Deal with Fears about Program Evaluation:

    Focus on the Positive:

    A breakthrough for the perfectionistic mother came from a friend’s advice. The friend told her to keep telling the pediatrician all the positive things that the mother had been doing to promote the child’s health.

    When the topic of program evaluation was broached with some tension in a room full of facilitators, an experienced manager said something to the effect of, “Evaluations show us areas of improvement so we can provide the best service. Yet they also provide us opportunities to recognize you for your achievements!”

    Shelve the Criticism:

    An expert who taught a grant writing workshop for university staff once shared a secret with her participants. My subsequent experiences have also confirmed the truth behind this advice: Yes, listening to criticism about something that is very near and dear to your heart can be difficult. But tuck the criticism away in your drawer for a day or two. Then come back to it with a fresh mind.

    Focus on the Remedy

    It is easy to remain discouraged about a program that seems hopeless. But concentrate on small, concrete and practical steps you can take day by day to improve a program component in much need of some TLC (tender, loving care). Be a wise consumer—make these practical recommendations one of the deliverables expected of your evaluator.

    Think Prevention!

    Think of Program Evaluation as a “check-up” for your program. An evaluation can help identify not only problems with effectiveness of programs but also implementation-related issues that can ruin outcomes. Evaluations can identify these situations ahead of time and help prevent a worse and more complicated problem from brewing! A stitch in time indeed saves nine!

    How to be Wise about Program Evaluation

    Our fearlessness about program evaluations must be tempered with a dose of wise caution:

    • Educate yourself on program evaluation as much as possible so that you can be a wise consumer or implementer of evaluations.
    • If you are not conducting a DIY (Do It Yourself) evaluation, get to know your evaluator and his/her qualifications; check references. Professional ethics play a critical part in all the functions that an evaluator carries out.

    As you already know, experience begets wisdom. And yet, although our individual experiences can make us wise, individuals still have blind spots. There is a great degree of wisdom in our collective experiences:

    • Partner with peers or associates to conduct program evaluations.
    • Program Evaluations may present new challenges, depending on the specific situation. But there may be ways to deal with this on a case by case basis, in an ethical yet responsible manner. Be prepared to consult with others who are trained and experienced in program evaluation.

    Did you find this post helpful? Do you have any concerns about program evaluation?


    For more resources, see our Library topic Nonprofit Capacity Building.


    Priya Small has extensive experience in collaborative evaluation planning, instrument design, data collection, grant writing and facilitation. Contact her at Visit her website at See her profile at