What is Program Evaluation?

Program evaluation helps people discern which programs and policies are successful in improving society and which are not, and what we can do to make programs and policies work better.

Program evaluation specialists use applied research methods and other tools to determine how people can improve programs and policies, and which programs and policies are effective in addressing important social problems.

Program evaluators systematically investigate the quality of programs of all kinds and all sizes, including:

  • educational and school-based programs.
  • recreational programs.
  • charitable programs.
  • human service programs.
  • health-care programs.
  • government programs.

Program evaluators study programs using tools from many different research traditions in order to figure out if programs are working and how programs might work better.

Program evaluators work with the people who commission an evaluation and are affected by its findings to make sure that the findings are understood accurately and are properly used.

Evaluators produce information for people who:

  • make decisions about programs.
  • run programs.
  • design programs.
  • fund programs.
  • use programs.

These audiences can use evaluations in lots of different ways, including accountability, improvement, and learning.


What are the career possibilities for program evaluators?

Careers in program evaluation are Diverse, Exciting, and Growing!

With an M.A. in program evaluation, you could work in any number of settings, including:

  • non-profit organizations such as foundations or social services agencies.
  • schools and other educational institutions.
  • health care organizations.
  • government agencies.
  • corporate evaluation firms.
  • Evaluation Careers in Organizations

    Many organizations from school districts to community-based organizations to hospitals have internal departments dedicated to program evaluation. In these departments, evaluators typically conduct evaluations to help their colleagues and the organization’s leaders assess potential consumers’ needs, improve internal programs, and determine if programs are meeting objectives or benefitting consumers.

    There are also evaluation firms that are contracted to conduct external evaluations on behalf of diverse clients. Some of these clients come through bidding on contracts and others request the firm’s services.

  • Evaluation Careers in Government

    State and federal government agencies also have roles for evaluation specialists; most have staffs that conduct evaluations to hold government units accountable for their performance and to investigate policies and programs at the request of elected officials.  

    Master’s-level evaluators are on staff in these contexts to direct or assist with all aspects of evaluation projects.

  • Independent Consulting Careers in Evaluation

    There is also the option of working as a consultant. This involves winning bids for evaluation contracts and then designing, conducting, and reporting findings to your client. This work can either be done independently or with a team of other evaluation professionals.

    For more information on evaluation consulting, check out Gail Barrington’s book Consulting and Start-up Management.

Program Evaluation Career Examples

Check out some of the organizations that hire master’s level evaluators and some of the websites of independent evaluation specialists: 


  • What kind of training do program evaluators have?

    People who work as program evaluators have diverse professional training.

    Evaluators may have a background in program evaluation, in a social science (e.g., psychology, sociology, anthropology, social work) or in a field such as education, communications, economics, public health, nursing, or medicine.

    No matter what their background, evaluators also have training in:

    • professional guidelines on ethical and appropriate evaluation practices.
    • diverse forms of systematic inquiry specific to evaluating programs.
    • managing evaluations.
    • written and oral communication.
    • competent interpersonal interaction.
  • How do I find evaluation job opportunities?

    Evaluation job opportunties are posted on general job websites such as IndeedCareer Builder, or Glassdoor, as well as evaluation-specific sites such as the American Evaluation Association jobs site,or evaluationjobs.com.

  • How has evaluation changed over the prior decade?

    Evaluation has grown dramatically over the past decade in the United States and around the globe. The number of people who are members of the American Evaluation Association, the largest professional society of evaluators in the world, has more than doubled since 2001! There are about 160 active professional societies for evaluators worldwide.

    Major government institutions have established policies on evaluation in the last decade, including the U.S. State Department and theU.S. Agency for International Development, helping to grow the field. Government policies, such as the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA)  -- which requires routine government performance assessments -- have also given evaluation a huge professional boost by establishing the important role evaluation plays in making society better and assuring investments in programs are well spent.

    Other professional trends that are shaping the future include:

    • movements to certify and accredit evaluation professionals in some countries.
    • emphasis on evaluating the quality of evaluations.
    • increasing calls for accountability and for evidence-based programming and practices.

    These trends mean that specialized training in program evaluation will be in even greater demand moving forward.