This book is for students of public health and health promotion and for health promotion practitioners. Evaluation in a Nutshell is intended to equip the reader with the ability to understand, interpret and assess the quality of published research, to excite interest in evaluation and promote further study that will lead to the development of core skills in evaluation.
In writing this book, we have drawn on many years of experience in conducting evaluations of health promotion programs, working with practitioners and teaching public health students. From this experience we recognise the need for students and practitioners to understand the basic principles of evaluation in the real-world and the application of these principles in evaluation design, both to conduct evaluations and to assess the work of others.
Any review of published research will reveal that not all health promotion projects, interventions and programs are equally successful in achieving their goals and objectives. Programs are most likely to be successful when the determinants of a health problem are well understood, when the needs and motivations of the target population are addressed and when the context in which the program is being implemented is taken into account. That is, the intervention ‘fits’ the problem and can contribute to the solution.
Similarly, the evaluation methods for a health promotion program need to fit local priorities and the circumstances of the program. Health promotion and disease prevention has changed over recent decades, both in program content and methods of delivery. Programs can be evaluated in a range of ways, may demand differing levels of resources and may use various evaluation designs. This book illustrates how evaluation questions change as a program evolves and matures. It emphasises that innovative programs need closest scrutiny and comprehensive evaluation. By contrast, interventions that have previously been shown to work in a variety of circumstances, and are low cost and low risk, will require more modest monitoring for accountability and quality control. We identify how the rigorous evaluation of projects with tightly defined objectives in a controlled environment will be different to the evaluation of multi-component and more complex programs, emphasising that no single method or design will be ‘right’ for all programs.
Evaluation in a Nutshell introduces the practical and scientific challenges in the evaluation of health promotion programs. The book takes a real-life and pragmatic public health perspective. It is not meant to be a comprehensive textbook that includes all methodological aspects of evaluation but provides a guide to real-world methods for assessing programs. Even for experienced researchers and practitioners, the book provides a useful prompt on key issues, as well as guidance on how to organise and conduct evaluation studies.