by Kate Menzies
During the course of a grant-funded project,
results and deliverables need to be measured to reflect
the project's success or failure. An evaluation plan can
do just that, by highlighting key measures and goals the
program wishes to meet.
“I like to see it as a roadmap—it
helps you figure out where you want to go and how to get
there,” said Linda Kwon* of the Federal Office of Rural Health
Policy (FORHP). “During the course of the
journey, adjustments will need to be made based on the
Evaluation plans will best serve programs if they are
developed early in the grant period, in order to better
track the results of the program.
“At the beginning, you can focus your resources
better and prioritize what is important, enabling you to
make better decisions,” said Debbie Ferguson,
Director of the Central Mississippi Residential Center.
Sally Buck, of the National Rural Health Resource Center,
added, “Setting up tracking methods early
allows you to tweak processes as the project matures to
align with desired results.”
Working the Plan
Evaluation activities are also useful in engaging
stakeholders. Asking for feedback shows that your
organization is concerned about whether it's meeting
their needs, both now and in the future.
This information can then be used to see what
modifications might be necessary to improve the outcome
of the program.
“[Following] the evaluation plan gives you
feedback on what is or isn't working,” said
Ferguson. “It identifies areas that you are
struggling with to help you reach your goals.”
“It also helps to communicate the value of a
program,” said Kwon. “A powerful
story can be told based on the data collected.”
If a program has a limited budget and little knowledge on
how to create an evaluation plan, there are resources
available to help.
Kwon recommends fostering relationships with local
universities/colleges. “This would be a good
learning opportunity for students who are seeking
“However, getting an outside evaluator is
definitely worth it if the budget allows,” said
Ferguson. “It provides for an objective point
of view and helps garner support from outside
One of the biggest challenges in creating an evaluation
plan is determining measures on which the organization
can collect consistent, accurate data. Data collected
needs to be objective and reliable in order to be
statistically relevant. Staffing challenges also pose a
barrier, as some may lack the knowledge or ability to
properly create and follow an evaluation plan, much less
Additionally, the complexity of a program may hinder an
evaluation plan's development. “If a program
provides numerous services it may be challenging to
create a plan that can effectively evaluate the outcomes
and impact of those services,” said Kwon.
To be successful, programs need to be vigilant in
tracking and measuring processes and outcomes throughout
the course of a grant period. That information can inform
needed changes to improve the program over time.
Proving Results to Funders
Create an evaluation plan that will help you
communicate an impactful story about the investment
made into your program.
The results of the program are ultimately examined by
funders, so they can determine their return on
“Funders are interested in knowing how their
money is being spent,” said Kwon.
“Create an evaluation plan that will help you
communicate an impactful story about the investment made
into your program.”
“Ultimately, evaluations show if a program has
increased knowledge, changed behaviors, or changed the
environment of rural areas,” said Buck.
Program evaluation data is essential for HRSA and the
Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP), as
successful programs can be used as a template to help
rural areas across the nation.
“It is important to evaluate rural health
programs because it helps us know whether the program is
working, how it is working, and why it is
working,” said Kwon. “We can then
share this data with other rural communities who want to
adapt or learn from others who have used similar
As with any project or initiative, outcomes are
important. An evaluation plan is necessary to determine
whether or not program outcomes are worth the money
invested. If it is a positive investment, the potential
for more grant funds increases. This, in turn, can help
create better health outcomes for the residents in rural
* Linda Kwon
left the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy in