The Importance of Strong Program Evaluation

Complex Programming to Meet Higher Regulatory Demand
Behavioral health programs and organizations aim to prevent or control substance abuse, mental health symptoms, disability and death. Over time, as this task has become more complex, programs themselves have necessarily become more complex. Increasingly, behavioral and integrated health programs address large problems, the solutions to which must engage community members and organizations in a coalition to produce coordinated systems of care.
At the same time that programs have become more complex, the demands for accountability from policymakers and other stakeholders have increased. These changes in the environment in which behavioral health programs operate mean that strong program evaluation is now more essential than ever.
Defining Your Appropriate Evaluation Measures
There is no one “right” evaluation. Rather, a host of evaluation questions may arise over the life of a program that might reasonably be asked at any point in time. Addressing these questions about program effectiveness means paying attention to documenting and measuring the implementation of the program and its success in achieving intended outcomes and using such information to be accountable to key stakeholders. Program evaluation is a tool with which to demonstrate accountability to an array of stakeholders who may include funding sources, policymakers, state, and local agencies implementing the program, and community leaders. Depending on the needs of stakeholders, program evaluation findings may demonstrate that the program makes a contribution to reducing morbidity and mortality or relevant risk factors; or that money is being spent appropriately and effectively; or that further funding, increased support, and policy change might lead to even more improved health outcomes. By holding programs accountable in these ways, evaluation helps to ensure that the most effective approaches are maintained and that limited resources are spent efficiently.