Pursuing a Career in Program Evaluation

There are approximately 115,000 program evaluation positions in the U.S. and the field is expected to grow by 27 percent between 2016 and 2026. Program evaluation is a leading resource in government and human services sectors. Policymakers rely on data-driven research and evaluation as a decision-making tool for programs and funding sources. Administrative leaders recognize the importance of evidence-based practices and learning agendas are becoming as relevant as operating plans. Program evaluation jobs are expanding to keep up with these trends. Currently, the national salary average for program evaluation is $81,390 per year, with the federal government as the highest paid industry, averaging at $111,570 per year. Below we’ll take a closer look at the role of a program evaluator and program evaluation career paths.

Importance of research and analysis and demand for program evaluation professionals

If you’ve ever considered whether a program is economically organized and operated, you’ve probably reflected upon the important role of a program evaluator. Regardless of a program’s level of quality control, more often than not, determining program effectiveness and efficiency requires the research and evaluation of an unbiased, external professional.

The inherent nature of program evaluation involves seeing things from a different perspective. For example, an employee in a state department is required to work overtime once per week to log the number of licenses issued to applicants on a spreadsheet. The employee then must provide a copy of the license to a different employee in another unit. This process may seem straightforward on the surface; however, through a systematic evaluation, a program evaluator may discover that when the second employee receives license copies, they too are entering the same information in an additional spreadsheet. Using the perspective of the program evaluator, the state agency has the necessary tools to make operational decisions, such as merging the two documents into one shared file and relieving the first employee of the requirement for overtime. Saving the program money, and saving the employee time.

Program evaluation also has a unique part in shaping the way our society is built by extending awareness on important issues and driving policy shifts. Through evidence-based policymaking, legislators can use research to make important fiscal and operational decisions, such as how the government spends money or how a hospital should care for patients. Rather than rely on bureaucratic influences, clear and transparent evidence allows for data-driven policy and regulation shifts, fostering a bipartisan effort among the branches of government to make positive changes. Program evaluation results in funding changes, establishing or abolishing programs, and shifts in policy development. It many times is the facilitator for progressive change within an organization.

Evidence-based policymaking evaluates what we know about programs and outcomes to determine better practices for the future. From a clinical perspective, it is proven that evidence-based practice results in better patient outcomes and a reduction of costs. Program evaluators are often commissioned by federal, state, and local administrative entities, to conduct research and evaluation that will result in storytelling evidence. The evidence becomes the tool policy-makers use to direct the path of various programs.

Program evaluation is in-demand and growing. The American Evaluation Association was originally established in 1986 and the number of members has more than doubled since 2001. Among other factors, this is driven by the desire for government entities to modernize practices, especially those involving information technology systems. The President’s Management Agenda (PMA), released in March 2018, includes goals for government to effectively steward taxpayer dollars and provide excellent service. The PMA was established to modernize the government’s use of information technology; provide data, accountability, and transparency; and bolster a modern workforce. They will achieve these goals by developing a federal data strategy that will support program effectiveness.

Overview of program evaluation career paths

Named the “best-kept-secret career,” program evaluation systematically investigates the quality of programs for the purpose of accountability, improvement, and learning; program evaluators are commissioned to do this work by people who make decisions about, run, design, fund, or are in any way impacted by a program in various fields, such as education, recreational, charitable, human service, healthcare, and government. Program evaluation can result in keeping or cutting a program that requires government funding or has an impact on the public. It’s often used to evaluate government spending on social services or prison operations by determining the effectiveness of treatment and rehabilitative programs.

Program evaluators can also work for the entities being evaluated. Depending on the type of program or agency, external research findings can be difficult to interpret; thus, many of those entities will hire a program evaluator to interpret data evidence so high-level administrators can make decisions. They will also assist in creating an action plan to move forward with developing or implementing solutions and strategies to resolve issues or conflicts that surfaced during the study.

Below is a list of program evaluation career paths as well as program evaluation salaries.

Monitoring and Evaluation Analyst: Manage and support developments of governance and strategy to track and understand program impacts; tailor frameworks to specific programs and geographies; and develop and update processes, protocols, and tools for monitoring, evaluation, and learning activities. Average Salary: $65,470

Research Analyst: Design and facilitate the creation and distribution of evaluation and research reports and presentations; create project plans, facilitate meetings, and support program leadership in understanding trends and identifying areas of improvement; oversee data management; analyze and interpret qualitative and quantitative data; and assist in writing and submitting proposals. Average Salary: $65,687

Outcomes Specialist: Support quality improvement efforts; identify needed enhancements to current process flows and assist in the implementation of change; manage and maintain relationships with stakeholders; compile data; conduct statistical tests; create data visualizations; and prepare reports. Average Salary: $70,562

Evaluation Consultant: Develop and maintain client relationships; create and manage qualifications, methodologies, scopes of work, and budgets for project proposals; conduct qualitative research through interviews and focus groups; manage large datasets; and develop written report on findings, including recommendations. Average Salary: $77,000

Research Strategy Analyst: Plan, coordinate, design, conduct, or oversee research and evaluation activities; provide training to personnel to facilitate informed decision-making regarding use of data for the improvement of programs; operate at a high level of independence; serve as a technical resource; and monitor legislative changes and recommend creation or adjustment of policies, regulations, and procedures. Average Salary: $77,593

Senior Research Analyst: Manage ongoing research and evaluation projects; provide high level contribution to new proposals, prepare evaluation reports, and write grant applications; oversee daily evaluation operations; communicate evaluation plans to clients; manage collection of data; and summarize and prepare findings for publication. Average Salary: $78,717

Evaluation and Research Manager: Manage project teams to ensure effective and timely implementation of client projects; manage and develop client relationships; facilitate meetings, training, and presentations; lead complex projects; edit all final products and provide research expertise; and conduct data analyses and collection as needed. Average Salary: $81,119

Director of Evaluation and Research: Design, implement, and manage evaluation activities, including literature reviews, research/evaluation design, data collection and analysis, interpretation, reporting, and dissemination; and maintain an evolved sense of the role evaluation can play in program improvement. Average Salary: $117,621

Inspector General: Detect and prevent waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement; prepare and review audits, inspections, and evaluation reports with recommended remedial actions; define goals and objectives; review proposed and existing legislation affecting an agency; report violations of state or federal criminal law to the appropriate personnel with the state or federal Department of Justice. Average Salary: $126,000

Senior Director of Evaluation and Research: Provide scientific and strategic leadership for research activities; direct and design research and evaluation studies; provide content expertise on program evaluation research and data analysis; participate in client presentations; and seek new funding opportunities. Average Salary: $136,337

Chief Evaluation Officer: Coordinate, promote, encourage, and build understanding of evaluation; strengthen evaluation capacity in federal, state, and local entities; make evaluation as relevant and useful as possible to agencies; work closely with agencies to gain trust; and oversee and ensure high-quality research and maintain credibility. Average Salary: $183,270

Program evaluation knowledge and skills

Program evaluators require training on ethical and appropriate evaluation practices, as well as various forms of systematic inquiry specific to evaluating a program. Program evaluators must also know how to interpret and manage results of a study and be able to guide managers and administrators on steps to moving forward once a study is completed. You must have a strong writing ability in this field, but more unique is the necessity to communicate interpersonally with clients and entities. When administrators are unfamiliar with the process of program evaluation, they tend to resist the process and see it as an intrusion. Program evaluators must learn to observe and collect data without interrupting operations or causing anxiety among staff.

Pursue a career in program evaluation with a Master’s in Evaluation & Applied Research

As part of the School of Social Science, Policy & Evaluation, Claremont Graduate University offers an online MS in Evaluation & Applied Research, instructed by faculty from the acclaimed Claremont Evaluation Center. The online MS in Evaluation & Applied Research program provides the skills employers are looking for to meet their program evaluation needs. The well-rounded curriculum focuses on both quantitative and qualitative methodologies and students will learn how to conduct research and analyze data by using assessment tools and software. The program, designed for students who either have a background or interest in evaluation, encourages students through team-based projects to provide the interpersonal skills needed to work with various programs leaders and stakeholders. Learn more about Claremont Graduate University’s Master of Science in Evaluation and Applied Research and program evaluation jobs.

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