Program Evaluation for Social Workers: Foundations of Evidence-Based Programs

Program Evaluation for Social Workers: Foundations of Evidence-Based Programs

Program Evaluation for Social Workers: Foundations of Evidence-Based Programs

Program Evaluation for Social Workers: Foundations of Evidence-Based Programs


First published in 1994, this text is designed to be used by graduate-level social work students in courses on evaluation and program design. Over the course of 20 years and 6 editions, the goals of the book have remained the same: to prepare students to participate in evaluative activities within their organizations; to prepare students to become critical producers and consumers of professional evaluative literature; and to prepare students for more advanced evaluation courses and texts. Grinnell, Gabor, and Unrau aim to meet these objectives by presenting a unique approach that is realistic, practical, applied, and user-friendly. While a majority of textbooks focus on program-level evaluation, some recent books present case-level evaluation methods but rely on inferentially powerful -- but difficult-to-implement -- experimental baseline designs. This text assumes that neither of these approaches adequately reflects the realities of the field or the needs of students and beginning practitioners. Instead, Program Evaluation for Social Workers offers a blend of the two that demonstrates how they can complement one another. The integration of case-level and program-level approaches provides an accessible, adaptable, and realistic framework for students to more easily grasp and implement in the real-world.


Excellence is a continuous process and
not an accident

˜ A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

The previous two chapters presented the rational of how case- and program-level evaluations (internal and external) help us to become more accountable to society. As you know, our programs are extremely complex and dynamic organizations that have numerous outside pressures to attend to, as well as concentrating on their own internal struggles—all at the same time providing efficient and effective services to clients.

Not only do program evaluations (i.e., need, process, outcome, efficiency) bring us a step closer to accountability; they also help line-level workers and evaluators alike learn about our clients’ life experiences, witness client suffering, observe client progress and regress, and feel the public’s pressure to produce totally unrealistic “magnificent and instant positive change” with extremely limited resources.

Integrating evaluation activities into our program’s service delivery system, therefore, presents an immense opportunity for us to learn more about social problems, the people they affect, and how our interventions actually work. For organizational learning to occur, however, there must be an opportunity for continuous, meaningful, and useful evaluative feedback. And this feedback must make sense to all of our stakeholder groups. All levels of staff within a program have an influence on the program’s growth and development, so they all must be involved in the “evaluative processes” as well. Thus we now turn our attention to the evaluative process.


What’s this “evaluative process,” you ask? The answer is simple. It’s a tried-and-true method that contains six general steps as presented in Figure 3.1. As with the previous editions of this book, the steps and all related text have been adopted and modified from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; 1999a, 1999b, 1999c, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2013); Milstein, Wetterhall, and CDC Evaluation Working Group . . .

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