What Are the Basic Questions an Evaluation Can Answer?
There are different purposes for program evaluations and many questions they can answer; thus, there are different types of evaluations and different terms to describe them. Evaluation experts can help you navigate choosing an evaluation purpose and which type of evaluation best serves that purpose.
The important thing to know is that program evaluation questions are powerful tools for state leaders to track progress and identify why programs are succeeding or failing and what changes might be necessary in the future. These questions can yield compelling information and data for systems and organizational decisionmaking as well as efforts to solve problems. Here are some examples of general questions evaluation processes can answer:
- What is the program trying to achieve?
- How is the program progressing?
- Have desired results been achieved?
- Why were results achieved or not achieved?
- What linkages exist between the program intervention and outcomes?
- What unintended effects have resulted? How do programs need to change?
The answers to these types of questions are often categorized by the terms qualitative and quantitative, which describe the data that are collected during an evaluation. For example, an evaluation may involve collecting both quantitative and qualitative information about program and participant outcomes, or it may collect only one type of data. The types of data collected depend on the purpose of the evaluation and the type of evaluation chosen. Here are a few examples of what can be done with quantitative and qualitative data:
- Quantitative data
- Information and data that can be counted or expressed numerically
- Information and data that can be represented visually in graphs, histograms, tables, and charts
- Qualitative data
- Information and data that can be arranged into descriptive categories that are not numerical
- Information and data that can be represented by themes and enhanced with quotes
 Mark, M. M., Henry, G. T., & Julnes, G. (2000). Evaluation: An integrated framework for understanding, guiding, and improving policies and programs. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (pp. 3–4).
Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2010). The program manager’s guide to evaluation (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Author. (Appendix).
 Horsch, K. (1996). Results-based accountability systems: Opportunities and challenges. The Evaluation Exchange, 2(1), n.p. Retrieved from https://archive.globalfrp.org/evaluation/the-evaluation-exchange/issue-archive/results-based-accountability-1/results-based-accountability-systems-opportunities-and-challenges