In a program or service evaluation, it is crucial to involve key stakeholders in a collaborative approach to properly address the research objectives. Stakeholders can include those who are the primary intended users of the research or program and others who may be impacted by the project results.
- “Primary users” are those who will be making decisions on the basis of the evaluation findings.
- “Affected stakeholders” are those whom the program or service targets. These stakeholders can be program staff, program participants and beneficiaries, and also include the secondary users of the evaluation findings like policy-makers and advocates for or against a particular course of action.
In our experience, understanding and taking into account the concerns and priorities of different stakeholders for the evaluation to be considered credible and for getting “buy in” from all those involved when it comes to generating action from the research.
More specifically, we have found that involving the stakeholders during evaluation planning and implementation usually brings the following value to the process:
- It give us perspectives on what will be considered a quality and useful evaluation;
- It support the understanding of the program logic and framing of key evaluation questions;
- It is helpful in facilitating the data collection;
- It helps to understand the meaning of the data that has been collected;
- It increases the utilization of the evaluation’s findings by building knowledge about and support for the evaluation.
Finally, we have learned that engaging stakeholders helps manage risks, especially when evaluating a contentious program or policy. It is particularly important to understand different perspectives in such cases in order to have the most unbiased view possible.