Program evaluation is the assessment of processes and/or outcomes of a program with the intent of promoting its development and improvement. According to the American Evaluation Association, evaluation involves assessing the strengths and weaknesses of programs to improve their effectiveness.
Evaluation is a necessary step in any program that seeks to answer the questions:
- Is what we are doing working?
- How do we know it is working?
- Under what conditions does it work best?
There are a number of reasons to undertake an evaluation of community benefit programs. Most notably, it is a required component of the IRS rules governing nonprofit hospitals. IRS guidance (final rules dated December 29, 2014) requires that the CHNA report include an evaluation of the impact of any actions that were taken since the previous CHNA to address the identified significant health needs.
Evaluation is important, because it provides information to determine if community benefit programs make a difference in people’s lives. Evaluation results can provide concrete, definitive information on the impact of community programs and clearly show a program’s contribution to the community.
With greater scrutiny on community benefit as an indicator of nonprofit status, hospitals are increasingly being asked to prove that their community programs are producing good results. Hospitals must demonstrate that they are good stewards of their charitable resources.
There is a clear need to document and improve the quality of care provided to vulnerable populations. Effective measures allow hospitals to report performance across the population they serve and compare performance over time. Data obtained through program evaluation will help track progress and develop effective programs.