Public Health Assessment & Program Evaluation

Last Updated: April 10, 2019
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What is Program Evaluation?

Evaluation is the systematic application of scientific methods to assess the design, implementation, improvement, or outcomes of a program.1 In this context, a program is defined as a systematic implementation of a set of activities with identified target audiences, utilizing clear objectives, goals, and outcomes. 

Therefore, any combination of structured Army activities can potentially be evaluated – not only those identified as programs.

Although program evaluators commonly utilize scientific or research methods to answer evaluation questions, evaluation differs from research and other public health data collection activities in its purpose and intent.

There are many types of evaluation and reasons to evaluate. Program evaluation in strives to generate results that have a meaningful impact on the program in question.2 This result is accomplished by beginning with program-specific, focused questions, having engaged stakeholders, and following an established set of guidelines and best practices.

It is critical to identify who needs and will benefit from the evaluation results.  Other factors to consider are whether the evaluation process is feasible and will have a direct, tangible impact on the program, and if the results and outcomes are likely to be valid and reliable.  The process of public health program evaluation is not necessarily static, but rather can change over the course and life of the program due to changes in environment, resources, and any number of other factors.

Program evaluation plays a vital role in documenting and building the evidence base of public health programs and activities.

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How does evaluation differ from and complement other types of public health data collection?

As shown in the table below,3 data informs public health in complementary ways:

  Evaluation Performance Data Quality Improvement



Health Impact Assessment
WhoControlled by stakeholdersControlled by programControlled by stakeholdersControlled by investigatorControlled by program, state or national standardsControlled by stakeholders
DesignFlexible designNo specific designTool-based (e.g. Lean, Plan-Do-Study-Act)Tightly controlled designPassive, active; census, sampleFlexible design
DataCombination of data generated by programs and data collected on a one time basisData generated in programs' day to day operationsProcess data; day to day operationsData collected on a one-time basisHealth outcome, demographic, often case definition or question basedCombination of data generated by program and data collected on a one time basis. Analysis is for future expected outcomes; projection
Time PeriodOver a defined period of timeOngoingCyclicalSpecific controlled timeframeOngoingIn response to a potential project or policy. Must be completed before major decisions are made in order to be effective
Why To show how a program is working (either process or outcome)To inform management and program performance improvementTo achieve measureable rather than anecdotal improvementsTo further knowledge, generate evidence based practices or programsTo monitor and inform public health efforts to reduce morbidity and mortalityTo determine the impact on health of a potential project or program and provide recommendations to augment positive health impacts and reduce negative health impacts

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What is the difference between program monitoring and program evaluation?4

Program Monitoring Program Evaluation
On-going assessment that aims to determine the efficiency of a program
Assessment to determine the effectiveness of a program
Decisions based on continuous observations and informal data collectionDecisions based on thorough data collection
Short term resultsLong term results
Conducting internallyConducted externally



1. Rossi, Peter H., and Howard E. Freeman. 1993. Evaluation: a Systematic Approach. Newbury Park, Calif: Sage Publications.

2. Adapted from Centers for Disease Control and Protection Program Performance and Evaluation Office (PPEO). Introduction to Program Evaluation for Public Health Programs: A Self-Study Guide (CDC). Date accessed: 31 July 2018.External Link Link

3. Adapted from the Vermont Department of Health. Healthvermont.govExternal Link

4. Adapted from Hitchcock, Stacey (2014). Monitoring versus Evaluation: A brief overview of these terms and their application for development actors. New Zealand. Council for International Development.

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