When evaluating your programs, you may want to consider two kinds of measures: process measures and outcome measures. Process measures help you assess what you’re doing and how well you’re doing it, and they are evaluated while the program is in progress. Outcome measures evaluate the effect the program has/had on its target population (its impact), and they can be assessed during or after the program is complete.
Both measures are important, but in this post, I will focus on process measures.
You may know process measures by another name, such as “activity” or “output” measures. These measures are mostly concerned with two questions: “how much?” and “how well?” For example, in an education program, you might track how many students are enrolled (“how much?”) as well as how many students graduated (“how well?”). Each measure offers vital data for measuring the success of your program.
The “how much?” process measure indicates productivity and penetration; in short, you are asking how many of the target population are getting the service. Though it may seem like a simple measure, the “how much” question is important for maintaining fidelity to scale: to measure whether you are doing what you stated you would do in this program. If you said you would enroll 200 kids, are there 200 kids enrolled? If not, knowing that information early on can help you make adjustments to your recruitment processes, access to the program, or even a fundamental change to how your program is meeting a need in your community.
While the “how much” process measure indicates whether you are doing what you said you would do, the “how well” process measure indicates the extent to which the program is being implemented successfully. In other words, it helps you evaluate fidelity to plan. Yes, maybe you enrolled 200 kids, but are they the right kids? And are they receiving the services that were planned? “How well” measures are also a good indicator of participant satisfaction (and whether their needs are being met): Are your participants attending regularly? Are they completing the program? The purpose of these measures is the possibility for course correction: if the answer to any of these questions is “no,” you can use this information to improve the program quickly and position the participants for success.
Process Measures: An Important Partner in Program Evaluation
It might be easy to dismiss process measures as mere “bean counting” - just meaningless numbers. But because they are shorter term, process measures are great indicators of whether you are heading toward your desired outcomes. (And, as mentioned above, they can help you course-correct.) They are partners to outcome measures, not replacements of them. Working in tandem, process measures and outcome measures can provide you with the important feedback you need to determine the effectiveness of your program.
We will talk about outcome measures in a future post. In the meantime, download my Process Measure Worksheet to get started on developing process measures and documenting your program's progress!