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April 2011Vol. 12, No. 3Using Performance Management and Evaluation With Social Programs

Child welfare programs are under increasing pressure to measure and analyze program data, but there can be uncertainty about the types of assessment necessary for reporting to funders or doing program improvement. A new Research-to-Results Brief issued from Child Trends tackles the differences between performance management and evaluation. The brief describes performance management for social programs, how it’s different from evaluation, and why both are critical for having a strong program.

According to the brief's authors, the goal of performance management is to develop an understanding of how the program runs and find solutions for improvement if the program is not running as intended. This is accomplished by having staff collect ongoing information about the quality of services offered and the satisfaction levels of those who use the services. Benchmarks are used to track progress, and program staff are responsible for ensuring that the program is running at its best. Performance management results are generally shared internally.

In contrast, an evaluation is often required to make a strong case to funders regarding how effective the program is. Evaluations are conducted periodically, usually by an external evaluator. There are several different types of evaluations, each one serving a specific purpose.

The brief emphasizes that both performance management and evaluation provide important information about a specific social program, but they are not interchangeable. The goals of each are different, as are the strategies to meet those goals.

The full brief, Performance Management and Evaluation: What’s the Difference? by Karen E. Walker and Kristin Anderson Moore, is available for download on the Child Trends website: (298 KB)