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Formative and Process Evaluation

In examining the development of formative and process evaluation in the field of health promotion and disease prevention, the Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit places less emphasis on quantitative measurement and experimental design, and recognises the need to focus on programme implementation and development (Dehar et al. 1993a).

In the evaluation literature there are differences of emphasis between authors discussing conceptions of process and formative evaluation, and there may be considerable overlap between activities conducted under the labels of process and formative evaluation. However, commonly accepted features of and activities within each approach can be identified.

The major emphasis in process evaluation is on documenting and analysing the way the programme works in practice, to identify and understand important influences on its operation and achievements. The primary purpose is to improve understanding of how a programme achieves what it does. Major uses of process evaluation results are in interpreting programme outcomes and informing others who wish to learn from the experiences of the programme. In contrast, the purpose of formative evaluation is to generate information that can be used by programme decision makers themselves to refine and improve the programme on an ongoing basis from an early stage. For formative evaluation to be most effective, the evaluater needs to work closely and collaboratively with programme personnel, whereas a more detached role is possible and appropriate in process evaluation.

The employment of formative and process evaluation has the potential to lead to improved use of scarce resources as a result of better designed and more effective programmes, as well as a better understanding of the factors influencing programme outcomes for future reference.

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