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Evaluation research

The Evaluators' Collective / Evaluation  / Evaluation research

Evaluation research

Evaluation research – Theory of Change model as a concept to document behavioural change

When addressing social disadvantage there are many communities, families and participants who are unable to locate, access or participate in social services. For example, a young single mother may have low confidence and out-of-date skills when trying to re-enter the workforce. When designing social services it is important to think about how the service will be received by participants, who is the target audience and what are the behavioural changes you expect to assist your clients. Evaluators use aTheory of Change model as a concept to document behavioural change.
In 2017 I was lecturing at Queensland University of Technology into the Master of Business (Philanthropy and Non-profit Studies) program. I designed the unit of study to introduce students from non-profit organisation toEvaluative Theory and Practice and the assessment task was to design and evaluation and prepare the ethics approval documentation.
The journal article below is a great paper by my student Susan Beaton who designed an evaluation to understand the impact of an unemployment program targeting young people. There is a great table inside the article that clearly documents how aTheory of Change model can assist evaluators to understand who the social service is working and the expected outcome and impact for participants.
Beaton, S. (2016). BUZZING—A theory-based impact evaluation design. Evaluation Journal of Australasia, 16(4), 21-29.

Abstract BUZZING is a pilot project which introduces a new way of working with disengaged and long-term unemployed young people (aged 15 to 24 years) to support their transition into employment using gamification and online platforms to drive engagement.

The project is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Employment under their Empowering YOUth Initiatives, and delivered by not-for-profit organisation United Synergies. This article gives focus to the design considerations that underpin the work of an internal evaluator working on the BUZZING project, and enrolled in an evaluation unit within a postgraduate course.

The step-by-step process used to create an evaluation plan inclusive of purpose, context, scope, method and methodology are illustrated, supported by evidence-based justifications. Furthermore, counter-bias design considerations such as a mix of different methodology inquiry, data sources and researchers (triangulation) are discussed and recommendations given for an ethical evaluation framework.

The practice of using evidence-based rigour in evaluation is promoted for organisations which seek to demonstrate positive social change within complex environments. The capacity building and professional development of internal evaluators in the not-for-profit sector is therefore recommended to drive accountability, ethical practices and continual improvement for public good from within the organisation.

Finally, White’s (2009) theory-based impact evaluation is adopted as the evaluation method as it maps out the causal chain from inputs to outcomes and impact, testing the underlying assumptions to understand why a program has, or has not, had an impact.

Lyn Alderman