ment of programs when important social values are at stake, such as in the area of youth development, must weigh such benefits along with the monetary ones. Analyses that fail to do so can be criticized for presenting an incomplete picture.

As with other evaluation methods, any benefit-cost analysis has limitations. It can be questioned because its results rest on judgments about which impacts to quantify and various other assumptions needed to conduct an analysis. Time and resource constraints prevent investigation of all possible benefits and costs. Some effects may be inherently unquantifiable or impossible to assess in financial terms yet considered crucial to a program’s success or political viability. Nonetheless, when carefully done with attention to the findings’ sensitivity to different assumptions, benefit-cost analysis can improve the basis on which youth development policy decisions rest.


In this chapter, we reviewed fundamentals of evaluation and important questions for the development of a comprehensive evaluation strategy. Several conclusions emerge from this discussion.

First, there are many different questions that can be asked about a program. A priority for program practitioners, policy makers, program evaluators, and other studying programs is to determine the most important questions and the most useful methods to evaluate each program. It is very difficult to understand every aspect of a program in a single evaluation study. Like other forms of research, evaluation is cumulative.

The committee identified six fundamental questions that should be considered in comprehensive evaluation:

  • Is the theory of the program that is being evaluated explicit and plausible?

  • How well has the program theory been implemented in the sites studied?

  • In general, is the program effective and, in particular, is it effective with specific subpopulations of young people?

  • Whether it is or is not effective, why is this the case?

  • What is the value of the program?

  • What recommendations about action should be made?

While it is difficult to answer all six questions well in one study,

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