How to Recommend Ending a Program
There is no need to skirt the issue—programs being evaluated have justifiable concerns around what an evaluation report may do to the future of their program. Now, if all stakeholders have been honest with themselves from the beginning, it won’t be entirely unexpected to learn that their program is or is not performing well. However, the evaluation report may be the very first time that the outcomes are displayed in such a concrete way. (We will assume that the evaluator meets all evaluation standards and provides a quality report; issues of ethics are for another post!)
Eddy and Berry (2009) recommend following a simple heuristic. Essentially, the evaluator determines if the factors leading to program closure are flexible or immutable. If the factors are flexible then the evaluator can recommend changes to overcome those factors and improve the program; however, if they are immutable then program closure is recommended (one reason being to uphold the evaluator’s professional responsibility to the public). How do you think a program would feel about this approach?
In some cases, though, it is not the evaluator’s role to recommend program closure. In these situations, the evaluator can still follow the heuristic to identify program strengths and weaknesses. Suggestions about how to address the weaknesses can also be provided, which may help stakeholders determine whether or not to continue with the program.
Ending a program is, at minimum, not enjoyable and can have unpleasant radiating effects. However, when people are receiving services it is critical they have access to quality programs that actually meet their needs. It’s not enough for them to have access to a program that’s well-run but doesn’t meet its stated outcomes. Those individuals running a well-run, but ultimately ineffective, program may not want to see it go, but doing so opens up the possibility for new opportunities that may better accomplish everyone’s needs and goals.
Eddy, R.M. & Berry, T. (2009). The evaluator’s role in recommending program closure: A model for decision making and professional responsibility. American Journal of Evaluation, 30, 363-376.