There’s a common mythology that it’s impossible to evaluate prevention. How, the question goes, can you evaluate something not happening? As part of this myth, many people believe it’s possible to evaluate only the process of prevention (how many trainings we did, how many people came, whether they liked the trainings) but not the outcome (what changed in the community as a result of our efforts). In actuality, though, there are many ways that we can evaluate our prevention efforts. Evaluating both our process and the outcomes we achieve can help us learn more about what’s working, whether our work is making the kind of difference we hope to see, and what difference that difference makes.
Prevention work is essentially change work. To evaluate your prevention efforts, just think about the kind of change that you are working to see.
Timeframe for change
Consider the timeframe of your prevention effort. In the long run, all of our prevention efforts are aiming to end domestic violence. That’s a large goal, and evaluating whether we’re on track calls for some benchmarks along the way. What are the short-term changes that you hope will result from your activities? What are the long-term changes that those short-term changes will build up to? It can be a helpful exercise to use fill-in-the-blank sentences to frame your thinking about benchmarks: If our approach is working, then in the short term, we can expect to see _______________. Then, as a result of that short-term change, we can expect ____________.
Level of change
Where on the spectrum of prevention are you focusing your activities to create change? If your prevention efforts are focused on the individual level, then you would track changes taking place for individuals; for example, changes in attitude or behavior. If your prevention efforts attempt to change the environment, then you would want to track changes taking place in the environment; for example, changes in organizational practice or policy.
Once you’ve identified the kind of change you want to see and the appropriate timeframe, then you can consider how you will know that change is taking place. For example, if you’re working to change attitudes about manhood and violence through a program that promotes positive coaching practices, you will want to think about how to evaluate the resulting changes in coaching practices (short-term outcomes) and how to measure the effects those changes have on young people’s attitudes over time. The more specific you can be, the easier your goal is to measure.
The following tools and resources offer additional information about evaluating prevention efforts. TCFV staff are also available to consult with you about creating your own evaluation plans.