Why Counting Attendees Won’t Cut it for Evaluation in the 21st Century: Planning and Evaluating Informal Science Programs
Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?” One could ask the same question to those of us who work in science education and outreach—if you haven’t articulated clear goals about what you would like your program to achieve, how on Earth will you know whether you have achieved them? While all of us want to do the right thing for our audiences, knowing that we have actually done so is another story. Without sound planning (clarifying outcomes) evaluation is a moot point, and with more and more funding agencies asking their grantees to evaluate their informal science education efforts, planning with the end in mind is becoming a necessity. With budget, staffing, and time limitations, it’s easy to lose track of the value of planning and evaluation. And evaluation can seem a daunting task for those who have not done it, especially when an audience is temporary or spread out over a region or the entire nation.
To respond to the demands, many good books are now available with ideas for evaluating projects outside the formal classroom, including several published by the National Research Academies and NSF. In this article, we will discuss the importance of planning and evaluation, no matter what your budget size, we will share examples
of how unusual projects have been evaluated, and we will suggest questions you can ask yourself and your audiences that will help you think like an evaluator. To achieve
results, program leaders must first clarify what they want to achieve and then align all actions and resources towards achieving those ends. Will your strategic and daily work change as a result? Absolutely! But only if you want your program to make a difference in people’s lives.