The quality improvement process often provides people with the opportunity to consistently monitor their individuals practices as well as programs with the aim of enhancing the service delivery system in entirety. The evaluation process plays a key role in improving professional accountability and can be carried out at a case level or program level. Within the program level, there are two basic approaches to evaluation; the summative or project approach and the formative or monitoring approach. These approaches to evaluation are often used in addition to four key types of evaluations including needs assessment, process evaluations, outcome evaluations, and efficiency evaluations. This paper focuses mainly on the differences between formative and summative evaluation in terms of purpose, goals, and use in social work research.
Formative evaluation is also referred to as monitoring approach, and it relies majorly on reliable and valid evaluation methods that may be integrated into a particular social work program not in addition to the program but as part of the program’s normal operating routine. Regarding purpose, formative or monitoring approach helps in measuring the extent to which a particular program reaches the intended population as well as the extent to which the program’s services are in the services that the program intended to be delivered (Grinnell, Gabor, & Unrau, 2016, p. 26). Formative evaluation also serves the purpose of providing immediate and continuous feedback with regard to how effective client services that are offered are.
Formative evaluation has specific goals when used in a social work program. Some of the approach’s goals include finding out whether a social worker’s efforts during the early stages of the program are as initially planned; revealing obstacles, unexpected opportunities; and barriers that might be encountered during the program; as well as identification of adjustments and corrections to be made midcourse so as to ensure a program’s or intervention’s success (Grinnell et al., 2016, p. 24). Other goals of this approach include provision of an increased understanding of programs; provision of relevant and constant feedback; provision of timely feedback; provision of self-protection; and ensuring professionalism.
When it comes to use in social work research, the formative approach provides program staff with additional activity-related feedback. In most cases, the feedback’s design aims at fine-tuning the program’s or intervention’s implementation (Royse, Thyer, & Padgett, 2016, p. 125). The feedback further encompasses information that can only be used internally by program managers and other stakeholders including supervisors as well as line-level social workers.
Regarding purpose, summative evaluation entails a formal report preparation with the report giving insight into how impactful a program’s efforts are. This approach, through the evaluation report, also serves the purpose of detailing participants in a program; activities impacted by the participants; as well as improvements or gains that can be attributed to individuals who took part in the program (Grinnell et al., 2016, p. 24). The evaluation report that is part of the summative approach also outlines the conditions that are important to the program’s replication, costs and benefits of the program, as well as disaggregated results that reveal specific findings for given participant subgroups.
A major goal of summative evaluation is giving rise to evaluations having six fundamental characteristics including being externally driven, having to deal with worker resistance, intrusiveness, ability to provide periodic feedback only to social workers, the recommendation for large program changes, as well as difficult incorporation in practice settings (Grinnell et al., 2016, p. 24). Several of the mentioned characteristics are undesirable making summative evaluation not only traumatic but also intrusive (Kealey, 2010). The characteristics mentioned may also result in the summative approach failing to meet workers’ need as well as pave the way for fear and resentment (Grinnell et al., 2016, p. 26). Another goal of summative evaluation is to showcase the client outcomes that are associated with the social work program at hand.
The use of summative evaluation in social work research has specific requirements. One of the requirements is the measurement of objectives of the program before, during, as well as after the program is implemented to determine whether is has had a positive impact or not (Campling, 2008, p. 175). The measurement of the program must be accompanied by careful program planning alongside early adoption of data collection methods that are appropriate. These aspects are in addition to availability of a management information database.
Formative and summative evaluation are the two most common approaches to evaluation. Both are undertaken within the program level. There are significant differences between formative and summative evaluation with respect to purpose, goals, and use in social work research. Formative evaluation measures the extent to which a program reaches the population intended. One of its key goals is finding out whether as social worker’s efforts during early stages of a program are as initially planned. In social work research, formative evaluation provides program staff with additional activity-related feedback. Summative evaluation has a formal report that gives insight into the impacts of a program’s efforts. A major goal of summative evaluation is giving rise to evaluations with six fundamental characteristics mentioned above. There are specific requirements when it comes to the use of summative evaluation in social work research including the measurement of program objectives.
Campling, J. (2008). Social Work Research for Social Justice. Palgrave Macmillan.
Grinnell, R. M., Gabor, P., & Unrau, Y. A. (2016). Approaches and Types of Evaluations. In Program evaluation for social workers: Foundations of evidence-based programs (7th ed., pp. 23–60). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Kealey, E. (2010). Assessment and evaluation in social work education: Formative and summative approaches. Journal of teaching in social work, 30(1), 64-74. https://doi.org/10.1080/08841230903479557
Royse, D. D., Thyer, B. A., & Padgett, D. K. (2016). What are Formative and Process Evaluation. In Program evaluation: An introduction to an evidence-based approach (6th ed., pp. 121–153). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.