One of the most important parts of evaluation happens after all of the data collection and analysis are done: using the results to make a difference. Let us look at some important questions you should be asking as you analyze your data.
- When are the results needed? Evaluation, by its nature, is about informing next steps. What do you want to inform and when are the results needed?
- Which people do you intend to share the results with? Identify the specific individuals and the groups of people. Knowing who you need to reach will help you hone in on which information to share.
- Finally, what format is best to share your results? Your answer may differ depending on the purpose of your evaluation. As you put together your results, you’ll want to check in with the few key people to find out their preferred formats.
Your evaluation plan identified its purpose; however, there are a variety of reasons why the purpose may have changed or shifted over the course of the evaluation. These might include the new opportunities that arose from doing the research, such as the release of a grant request for proposals and the contacts you made while implementing your plan. If you originally collected data for program improvement, your final report allows you to rethink that data from the perspective of demonstrating need for more support or capacity to expand a program. Now you need to consider how to use your evaluation data to meet your original or new purposes. Here are a few suggestions for evaluations that are focused on:
How you share your findings for program improvement will be dependent upon several factors. The timing, the place where the information will be shared, and the audience are important considerations. For example:
- Sharing results quickly and in a timely manner is best done by bringing a bulleted list of key findings to a meeting. A food services staff meeting could assess next year’s menu, consider staff training needs, review the bidding process, or discuss potential facility upgrades. If you have evaluation results to inform these discussions, this is a great time to share them.
- Maybe you are a food service director who wants understand if local fresh food is changing student eating behavior and which foods or recipes are most successful. A technical report that shows details about the plate waste study, or survey results of students’ ratings on new foods or recipes can provide the information needed to make minor or major changes in the implementation of farm to school in the cafeteria.
- Maybe you want to help the volunteer garden leader improve upon her approach to developing students’ garden skills. In that case, you might want to share the results in an executive summary format – where you are summarizing the key findings in two pages.
- Maybe you are evaluating teachers’ use of the garden and want to see if the lessons taught through experiential learning in the garden and at the youth farmers market have increased math and science knowledge among the students. In that case you may want to share the results through a workshop with the teachers.
- Maybe you want to help your producers maximize their benefits of selling to the school and hosting farm field trips for students by evaluating the level of community awareness and support as well as increased sales at the farmers market. An informal format like a memo free of evaluation jargon provides straight forward down-to-earth results.
Evaluation results that indicate the need for improvement should not be communicated as an indictment of the program. Rather, an excitement should be generated about the possibilities of developing an even stronger set of program offerings and improving already successful efforts. Regardless of the format, an action plan should be developed based on the results and communicated to implement those improvements.
An action plan is “action” oriented, and the directives set forth in the plan should be very specific and focused on achieving a targeted goal. The following is an example of task-specific suggestions:
- The program evaluation may suggest that connecting with parents on a more consistent basis is needed, and that parents like to use technology.
- In response to this finding, the evaluation team may decide to focus on parent connections in a more directed way by creating an electronic informational newsletter.
- The task-specific suggestion is the creation of an e-newsletter as the specific action or “to do” item.
When it comes to sharing with stakeholders, many different formats are appropriate. However, all tend to be short and oftentimes share evaluation results in a way that can educate your stakeholders about farm to school and your program. Stakeholders can be specific people or can be groups or organizations.
Sharing your evaluation results with stakeholders is an opportunity to raise awareness about your program, develop support for it, attract people interested in volunteering, and find in-kind resources and as well as outside funding. Moreover, when you have a lot of stakeholders who are interested in your program, they can speak up for policy or program changes.
Good ways to share this type of information include a one-page (front and back) “fact sheet” with findings and pictures. Or, you can use PowerPoint slides to present your findings at existing meetings or even a short video that maybe your students helped put together.
If you plan to share information with school staff, parents, or even students, you want to pull out the results that will mean the most to each audience. Parents may want to know that the food being served to their kids is fresh and healthy and that their kids have an increased understanding of where food comes from. School administrators may want to know that the school meal program is helping them meet the health standards set by the state.
There are many stakeholder groups that would be interested in your farm to school evaluation results. Consider sharing with
- Parent groups (such as the schools’ Parent Teacher Associations),
- Educator associations (e.g., teachers, school boards, school administrators)
- Food services organizations (e.g., the state chapter of the School Nutrition Association, culinary organizations)
- Health organizations (e.g., advocacy groups for children’s health, groups addressing hunger issues)
- Local community organizations (e.g., local or regional food policy council, local food systems advocacy organizations, community garden organizations, your local Slow Food chapter)
- State agencies (e.g., Departments of Education, Agriculture, and Public Health)
Sharing with stakeholders does not end there. It can and should include next steps, an action plan. Perhaps your FTS evaluation focused on assessing the strengths and successes of its first school garden. The evaluation was able to point to specific components that made the garden successful and the evaluation planning team felt the model could be expanded to other schools.
The action plan strategy here would include:
- Assessing the interest of principals in the district to find out which administrators are most supportive.
- Prioritizing among those schools that have supportive principals, maybe based on how ready a school is to take on a garden (do they have a space and access to water? Those sites would be higher on the priority list).
- Identifying and recruiting those who will help with the garden, including teachers and parents.
- Creating and implementing the process by which the garden will be supported during the school year and summer.
You may have a grant from a foundation, the state, federal government or other funder that provides the money to support your farm to school program. As part of the grant, you must evaluate the program. Providing evaluation results based on a grant must respond directly to the grant requirements. You can also go beyond the grant evaluation requirements and demonstrate additional effectiveness of the program, which can be a great strategy if you intend to submit another application to the same funder.
Providing evaluation results to potential funders is often a strategy that can set you up for future success. Important here is to clearly understand the funder’s priorities (mission, grant making areas) and use their language to show how your farm to school program aligns perfectly with their interests.
Many funders have required formats for reports. If this is true with your funder(s), that should define much of what you share. You can also think about what information may be of most interest based on the funder’s goals or the outcomes you committed to achieving. Write-up your results in a more technical manner and present your findings in a more sophisticated way than you might do for parents or teachers, but don’t make it all about the numbers. Make sure you are telling the story of your program, too. Quotes and anecdotes that accompany your numbers and even pictures are all great ways to make your evaluation findings engaging to your funder.
How do you find funders who will support your farm to school program? The first place to start is in your own community. Many communities have local foundations that support initiatives only within their community boundaries. It is usually easier to secure a local grant than compete for statewide or national grants; however, community foundations tend to give out money in smaller amounts. So consider your need. If you want to buy salad bars for your five elementary schools, a smaller foundation can be perfect. With a local funder, not only can you share the evaluation results in a written format, you can invite them to tour your program. A one-on-one site visit, showing off the opportunity and sharing what evaluation findings along the way is a very effective way to build interest and awareness so when you request funding, you will not just be another piece of paper to them.
State level foundations are better sources of funding for a larger farm to school project. Not all statewide foundations, however, are interested in the entire state. Some focus on various areas of the state, for example the inner cities or the rural counties. When courting these foundations, you want to first develop a relationship with the program officer that oversees the funding initiative aligned with farm to school. Note, most will not specifically have a farm to school initiative; however farm to school fits well within healthy schools initiatives. When developing a relationship with the program officer, you will want to have several key people attend the meeting and each needs to be well-versed on the program and evaluation results. Practice your presentation and talking points together. Bring your evaluation report executive summary and any fact sheets or infographics you have created.
Your evaluation that is intended for funders will also have an action plan. For example, your evaluation team noted it was time to pursue funding from a foundation for the first time. Your action plan would include the following:
- Determine which of the foundation’s programs best fits with your FTS activity.
- Identify the appropriate program officer and meet with that person. Bring your materials to share but also a few other people who can show the passion and commitment for your FTS program can be compelling to the funder.
- After the meeting, follow up with the program officer, thanking him/her for the opportunity to share your program and note your next steps such as intent to submit a funding request.
Tip: Not sure what your audience wants to know? Ask them! Work with a couple key audience members to share the more complete evaluation findings and ask them to help you identify what is the most important information to share more broadly..
- Shackman, Gene (2009). U.S. Department of Education, Educational Associations and Organizations
Deciding upon the methods by which to communicate your evaluation results depends upon a combination of factors. These include the purpose and audience, but also the results of your evaluation (i.e., were the findings positive or negative), the number of times you will share the results, and whether there is an opportunity to meet with the audience, and more. The following criteria will help guide your selection of presentation formats.
The more likely the following criteria are true, the more likely you will want to present your results in a formal format, such as a written report or memo.
The more likely you will want to prepare a formal report:
There are many times when your evaluation results are best shared through more informal formats such as presentations, handouts, and graphics.
The more likely you will want to share your findings through informal formats:
Sometimes you are mostly interested in getting the word out about your program’s components and success of its programming. In this case, you will want to use marketing formats such as press releases, flyers, website features, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.
Writing a Good Evaluation Report
Employ these five strategies when writing an evaluation report.
- Do not wait to draft your evaluation report or outline your presentations until the very end of your evaluation project timeline. A great deal can be done even before you have collected the data. For example, background sections can be written to describe your farm to school program being evaluated, the purpose of the evaluation, the outcomes to be assessed, the key questions to be answered, and the data collection tools used.
- Include only relevant information. Include only the findings and narratives that directly address your key evaluation questions; consider who your audience is for the report and only include information relevant to that audience. For example, if your evaluation has two purposes — to share information with stakeholders AND to inform funders — you will likely create two different reports. Each report will be crafted to meet the information needs of your audience.
- Write succinctly, with no jargon. Your audience wants to get right down to the most important information. Be concise and make your text readable. For example, pullout boxes with quotes that support the key findings are a fast way to get your results across. Graphics interspersed throughout a report break up the text and done well are able to convey a lot of information efficiently.
- Share the draft of your report or presentation with members on your evaluation team and even with key stakeholders. If you include a case study, be sure to have the person who provided you with the resources or information review that section to check for accuracy. A careful review by multiple people will ensure that omissions and misinterpretations are caught before you disseminate the final product.
- Always do a careful final edit. Revise according to feedback that makes sense and read it aloud to catch those awkward sentences. You want your report to be professional and credible.
Tips for Writing the Executive Summary
An executive summary should precede the full evaluation report and, ideally, fit within two pages so it can be a one page (front and back) handout, too. The executive summary is always the last section to be written. It will include the
- Purpose of the evaluation
- Project goals
- Project description: Where the project is being implemented, its current stage of development, and who is being served
- Evaluation recommendations based on the evaluation results. Many evaluation recommendations include specific actions steps. If your evaluation has action steps, include them in the executive summary.
Regardless of the format, you will always want to be prepared to share the basic information about your evaluation: Stating the what, why, who, how, where, and when of your evaluation design and process will demonstrate your rigor and credibility so that your audiences take your results seriously.
- What? Your central evaluation question
- Why? Your purpose for the evaluation
- Who? The sources(s) of information
- How? Your data collection methods
- Where? The locations of where you collected data
- When? The timeframe of when you collected the data
The University of Wisconsin Extension provides more guidance in their two page tip sheet “Basics of Good Evaluation Reporting” (see Resources below)
If you decided to enter your data into an online survey service, such as SurveyMonkey, you will be able to create graphics of your data question by question, download and insert into a Word document or a PowerPoint presentation. There are options for the types of graphics (bar, column, pie, or line charts) and the colors. Below is an example of the same data shown in a bar chart and in a pie chart.
In addition to downloading the images, you can choose to have all or some the data graphics downloaded into a PDF document or as a complete PowerPoint presentation. Both of these are great options if you are reporting your results in an informal format.
When you are trying to reach a wide audience to share the results about your farm to school evaluation, posting the snippets of information on websites, writing a blog about the program and its findings, and using social media is perfect. Several tools are available to help you tell your story even better.
We all use Google Maps to travel from one destination to another. But you can also create your own free map to tell your story. For example, if your district is large and has many schools with school gardens, you can put in the location of each of the gardens on the map. The map can be inserted into a website or blog. It can be linked to a Facebook post or in a Twitter “tweet.”
The Colorado Farm to School website includes a google map of all Colorado districts that have FTS programs. The Google map below is embedded on the website.
A user can click on the map to open it into full screen view. Each point on the map can have detailed information about the location, which pops up when a user clicks on the locator dot.
Does your evaluation include case studies? If so, it is easy to convert a case study into a blog. People like learning the details of farm to school programs in their region and state. If you have school teachers who have their own websites/blogs, see if you can post a story about some aspect of the farm to school program and highlight the information you have learned through your evaluation.
Blogs are also a great way to highlight one component of your farm to school evaluation and dig deeper. If you have evaluated your school garden program from start to finish, you could break out the growing season into separate blogs, describing each part of the garden program with pictures and quotes from the kids and teachers and intersperse what you learned through the evaluation.
- Salm, M. & Stevens, K. (2014). Newsletters, Bulletins, Blogs, Briefs and Brochures, at Better Evaluation
- Creating Maps Using Custom Maps for Google Maps
Everyone knows the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Pictures can be photos, maps, graphs, or infographics.
The Colorado Farm to School Task Force tracks and shares the growth of farm to school using the state’s school district map. It becomes apparent from looking at the map, which is color-coded by the year when a district began its farm to school program, that farm to school is (1) happening in specific regions around the state and that (2) new districts are most likely to show up next to districts that have a farm to school program.
An effective way to share information is through infographics. Infographics take graphics to the next level by creating a visual that tells a story. Using text, clip art, graphs, and data, this format is attractive and efficient in the sharing of data. According to Joitske Hulsebosch (2014), infographics have three special features that make them standout from other formats of evaluation reporting:
- An infographic forces you to condense your results into key messages and lessons, making it easier for readers to scan whether the results are interesting. You can still link to longer reports for the people who really care about a topic and want the full details.
- An infographic can be easily shared online and many people can see it. Sharing the link through sites like Twitter, Google+ or on Facebook pages can help get exposure. You might also print them in larger formats for face-to-face events.
- An infographic is focused on figures and facts – leaving the interpretation for the reader. This makes them good discussion starters, either on or offline.
Infographics range from simple to complex. Yet all are designed to confer important information that is intended to stick with its audience. Consider the two examples below.
The graphic of a place setting with text reporting the proportion of a child’s daily nutrition intake at school is unforgettable. This infographic drives home that schools are not just places for feeding the mind; they are places for feeding the body. In the same way we expect high quality academic programming, we should expect highly nutritious meals in schools.
Infographics can also take a lot of information and display it in a story format. The USDA Farm to School 2013 Census has produced a wealth of infographics to report on the data collected nationwide as well as state by state. Below is the infographic that tells the story of farm to school nationwide.
There are a variety of websites that make infographic design easy. The mechanics of doing the graphic is straight-forward; however, to create a good infographic you will need to do pre-planning. The most important thing is to consider what story you want to tell in your one page infographic. The story you tell visually may be different than the data you would tell in a presentation or through a formal report. Consider the following when designing the content for your infographic:
- Who is my audience? If these are a definable group, then choose the information that will be of most interest to them. Are you trying to entice more teachers to use the school garden? Your infographic should focus on how students are experiencing academic learning in the garden. Is it parents you want to reach? You might want to emphasize the healthy eating outcomes students are experiencing, and also use it as a way to educate parents on how to support healthy eating at home.
- What results are fun, surprising, or novel? If you want your infographic to grab the attention of your audience, look for the results that will be newsworthy. The USDA FTS Census infographic captures your attention with the sheer number of students – 21 million – who are in districts with farm to school programs!
- Hulsebosch, J. (2014). Week 16: Inforgraphics to Make Your Evaluation Results go Viral.
To make infographics:
- USDA Farm to School Census Results
Webinar #5: Reporting Results is the last in a series of training webinars on the Farm to School Evaluation Toolkit. This webinar covers considerations about what should be included in report and presentations of evaluation results and which formats are best for different audiences. At the end of the hour, there is a 15 minute “bonus” training about graphics. By the end, you will have learned about different ways to present evaluation results, how to fit the formats to the audience, and why and how to create compelling graphics.