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Developing Evaluations That Are Used

Strategic Learning & Evaluation


This resource will help you develop evaluations that you can actually use to make a larger impact on your initiative. It outlines why evaluation methods are needed and how to use them correctly. Questions are asked that will help you clarify your specific purpose and why you need evaluations in place.

The Tamarack Institute calls evaluation reality testing: a systematic process of testing ideas, hunches and beliefs about the nature of a challenge and how it might be addressed through the use of data and rigorous ‘sense-making’. Most evaluation findings are not used by their intended users for their intended use.

  • There are a variety of different factors that affect the uptake of evaluation findings; e.g. interest in findings of evaluation user, evaluability of intervention, skill of the evaluator, political context, etc.
  • Research suggests that the “personal factor” is the most important: the interest of the evaluation user in the evaluation process and findings, the quality of the evaluator, and the trustful working relationship between the two.
  • The probabilities of getting intended users to use evaluation findings can be improved by embracing a utilization-focused approach.
  • There are many helpful strategies typical of a utilization-focused approach.


  1. Instrumental use – evaluation findings are used to directly inform a decision, improve a program or policy, develop new directions, or contribute to solving a problem – the findings are linked to some subsequent, identifiable action.
  2. Conceptual use – when an evaluation influences how key people think about a program or policy and understand it better in some significant way – but no immediate action or decision flows from the findings. 
  3. Process use – when an evaluation encourages people to more fully embrace the process of evaluative thinking, learning, and use of data in making decisions – but no immediate action or decision flows from the findings. 
  4. Misuse – when evaluation users manipulate evaluation data findings or process for some political or self-interested purpose.


  1. Judgment (Summative) – to help decision-makers decide whether to sustain, wind-down or expand an intervention.
  2. Learning (Formative) – improve or refine an intervention.
  3. Accountability – demonstrate that resources are well-managed, intervention plan followed and results attained.
  4. Monitoring – manage the intervention, routine reporting, early identification problems.
  5. Development – create or radically adapt an intervention in dynamic conditions.
  6. Knowledge generation – enhance general understandings and identify generic principles about effectiveness.

Three Critical Questions

  1. Primary Intended Users: Who are the primary intended users of the evaluation and what are their major questions?
  2. Primary Intended Use: What is the intended user’s primary intended use of the evaluation findings?
  3. Tailoring Key Features: What are the key features to keep in mind to improve the probability that primary intended users “use” the evaluation findings (‘interpretive lens’, preferences for data and methods, window-of-use)?