Evaluation uses social research methods to systematically assess social intervention programs – it is the process of creating, collecting and analysing qualitative (focus groups and interviews), quantitative (statistical analysis of survey data) and documentary evidence to outline the merit of a given programme and provide useful feedback. What is deemed ‘useful feedback’ depends entirely on the reason why the evaluation was commissioned in the first place – this can range from assessing how the funds were spent to evidencing the impact a given programme had on the participants’ motivation and confidence.
Evaluation of school outreach
In my role as a Widening Participation Evaluation Officer, I learnt a lot of university outreach is government funded either through each university’s Access Agreement, or directly by HEFCE through grants to university consortia under the National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (2015-2016), or, in the most recent edition of the funding, under the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (2016-), which necessitates the production and analysis of data to account for the spending of public money, assess the return on the investment, benchamark the outcomes and provide tangible evidence of the impact of the initiatives on young people and their HE ambitions, motivation and knowledge retention.
School outreach is also a popular avenue for evidencing impact for the purpose of REF in Arts and Humanities subjects, highlighted by the Stern Review recommending that impacts on curricula and teaching (Recommendation 7) should be included more fully to deepen and broaden the definition of impact.
Evaluation of (not only) community archaeology
With evidence-based policy becoming more and more important in higher education (see my work regarding REF on the REF and Impact page) learning the basics of evaluation is a really smart idea. If designed carefully and with data collection executed throughout the duration of the project, evaluation through collecting a mixture of quantitive and qualitative data collected from the participants can be an efficient form of evidencing impact for community outreach run alongside a main research agenda. I am currently working on developing a Fieldwork Project Impact Questionnaire Builder to help others identify stakeholders and design a viable data collection strategy to provide ammo with which to obtain further funding, or evidence the impact of your fieldwork beyond the production of more archaeological data.