Public Health Program Planning and Evaluation
Chris Lovato
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0027


At the most basic level, program planning is a process that is designed to address questions such as “What is needed?” and “How will the needs be addressed?” Through a systematic process the answers to these questions form the basis of an intervention approach. Program evaluation focuses on addressing whether the intervention is working. Evaluation includes questions related to how and if a program is working as it was intended and if there are any unintended consequences. With a new intervention, program planning is obviously the initial mandate, but over the life of the program, planning and evaluation are both part of an ongoing cycle of continuous improvement and renewal. The methods and approaches used in program planning and evaluation occur throughout the lifecycle of a program—from planning and implementing to assessing outcomes. Typically, the program planning cycle begins with the needs assessment process (see Oxford Bibliographies article titled Needs Assessment), progresses to identifying strategies to address needs, and then moves into implementation and evaluation that occurs in a continuous cycle, which facilitates ongoing review of needs and program improvement. In practice, the process and methods used in needs assessment and program planning are the same for evaluation; for example, connecting with stakeholders, developing a program description, specifying a target process and outcomes, identifying or developing measures, designing and collecting data, and disseminating results. Generally speaking, the roles and competencies of program planners overlap with those of evaluators. In the past, some authors have addressed program planning and evaluation separately; however, they are highly interrelated. When a clear program plan is not in place, it is difficult and often impossible to conduct a credible evaluation, and over the long-term evaluation will include program planning as the program is improved or modified to meet evolving needs. Because the types of questions addressed in program planning and evaluation are relevant to a broad array of disciplines including education, business, health, and the social sciences there are a range of perspectives and resources available on the topic. Whether planning or evaluating, the practitioner applies theory, research findings, and the most rigorous methods possible to a real-world setting to address practical questions relevant to stakeholders including funders, those who benefit from a program, or others who have some connection or interest in the problem being addressed. The methods applied seek to apply the logic of science in settings that cannot be controlled and are often highly political in nature. Thus, program planning and evaluation are as much art as science; they are part of an ongoing cycle of development, improvement, and adaptation in public health programs.

Introductory Works

A number of excellent introductory materials and resources are available online including Building Healthy Communities, and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. The Framework for Program Evaluation in Public Health (Centers for Disease Control 1999) and the Program Evaluation Toolkit (Porteous, et al. 1997) both lead the user through the stages of program evaluation. The Community Toolbox (Work Group for Community Health and Development 2010), sponsored by the University of Kansas, is a comprehensive website for program planners and evaluators that also links users to a variety of helpful resources. The Evaluation Checklists Site includes a variety of practical checklists for those involved in planning and conducting an evaluation. Mathison 2005 is an excellent source of succinct information on a broad range of fundamental topics in planning and evaluation. The Online Health Program Planner from Public Health Ontario is a practical resource with step-by-step guidelines for planning.

  • Centers for Disease Control. 1999. Framework for program evaluation in public health. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 48.RR-11.

    A widely used framework comprised of six steps in program evaluation practice and four key standards for effective program evaluation (i.e., utility, feasibility, propriety, and accuracy). Provides a good model for thinking about the steps involved in planning and evaluating a program. For more information, see the Centers for Disease Control’s Office of the Associate Director for Program: Program Evaluation

  • Evaluation Checklists.

    This Western Michigan University website provides checklists for every aspect of the evaluation process (e.g., designing, implementing, report writing, etc.). A practical guide for many aspects of evaluation practice.

  • Mathison, Sandra, ed. 2005. Encyclopedia of evaluation. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Concise descriptions on a broad range of topics related to the who, what, where, how, and why of evaluation. A good source for introductory information about any topic related to evaluation and planning. Some additional resources on each topic are also provided.

  • Porteous, Nancy L., Barbara J. Sheldrick, and Paula J. Stewart. 1997. Program evaluation toolkit: A blue print for public health management. Ottawa, Canada: Ottawa-Carleton Health Department.

    This resource describes the evaluation process in five major steps, beginning with “Focusing the Evaluation.” There are worksheets for each step that are very useful for evaluators and planners at all levels.

  • Online Health Program Planner 2.0. Public Health Ontario.

    Provides health planning tools, including worksheets. A six-step program plan to facilitate evidence-informed decision making. A Business Case Creator guides the user through three steps designed to help make a decision about whether a project should move forward. A practical site for professionals at all levels. French and English.

  • W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

    This website provides resources to support the Foundation’s mission to “develop, capture, and communicate useful and usable information for key stakeholders and other audiences.” This website is a widely used, excellent source of information with step-by-step guides and user tools.

  • Work Group for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas. 2010. Part J, Evaluating community programs and initiatives. In The community toolbox. Lawrence: Univ. of Kansas.

    Located within the Community Toolbox website, this toolbox has been recognized as the world’s largest resource for supporting community health and capacity building. Part J, which covers chapters 36, 37, 38, and 39, offers users excellent support for planning and conducting program evaluation. Provides a practical step-by-step guide with resources, real world examples, and hyperlinks to other sites. Users should click through on links for additional sections.

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