Evaluation at the program level often takes a backseat to implementing the intervention itself. Therefore, it is necessary for programs to design evaluation components into the implementation plan from the outset of the effort.
Programs may be overwhelmed by the concept of evaluation, which may seem to involve complex and time-consuming tasks, especially given quality assurance reports or grant reporting requirements that they must fulfill. Evaluations are often directed at assessing the process, that is, quantifying the service or program delivery efforts (such as the number of units or clients) rather than at the more important questions regarding an assessment of the influence of the program or service.
Evaluation needs to be an essential component of community actions. Clear requirements for evaluation as well as strong technical assistance should be included as part of the grant application process in government agencies and private foundations. Funding agencies should provide technical assistance to grantees as they develop an evaluation component or establish guidelines and selection criteria requiring community-based organizations to subcontract with academic institutions or other trained and experienced professionals for evaluation services. This was the model that CDC’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) initiative used and is consistent with a community-based participatory research model in that the resources are controlled by the community-based organization rather than the academic institution.
Increasingly, it is recognized that tools are needed to assist communities with conducting their evaluations. For example, CDC’s Physical Activity Evaluation Handbook is based on other program evaluation efforts in public health and on the work of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services (CDC, 1999, 2002; Martin and Heath, 2006). Additional straightforward evaluation tools for community-based programs need to be developed and disseminated.
Many organizations can barely summon the resources to implement new efforts and so do not include funds for evaluations in their budget planning. In addition to requiring that evaluations be included as an integral component of the program or intervention from the outset, there is a need for foundations, states, federal agencies and others to provide the funding and resources needed to ensure that evaluation efforts are implemented. The Healthy Carolinians community microgrants program, for example, provides funds to encourage and catalyze health promotion activities. Organized at the county level, Healthy Carolinians, a state-wide network of public-private partnerships, awarded small grants (approxi-