Grant Project Evaluation

When government agencies and private foundations solicit grant proposals, they have a legitimate interest in knowing whether their money accomplishes the purposes of the projects they fund.  Principal investigators and project participants share this interest; a thoughtful evaluation plan lays a strong foundation for the investigator to disseminate project activities and results to others through conference presentations and publications, and also strengthens the likelihood of future funding.

In order to support members of the college community who are seeking funding from external sources, we have compiled information detailing how to develop an effective evaluation plan for your grant proposal.  While this is not a comprehensive discussion of evaluation, it is a tool to help you conceptualize how you will evaluate your project’s goals and objectives.  If you would like assistance developing or feedback on your grant evaluation plan, contact IE&A at

There are several purposes to developing your grant evaluation plan. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Detailing the goals of the project
  • Providing information to help make planning decisions about the project
  • Developing evaluation criteria to evaluate progress toward project goals and the impact of your project
  • Refining project procedures while developing the project
  • Determining the extent to which the project goals were met
  • Developing criteria for program improvement
  • Working to develop policy
  • Supporting future requests for funding
  • Increasing the likelihood of dissemination

A strong evaluation plan is a core element of your project, and should be considered throughout the development of your grant application.  Do not develop the evaluation plan as an afterthought!

Additional resources to assist you in developing your grant evaluation plan:

Project evaluation basics

There are two general types of evaluation, with somewhat different purposes:

Formative evaluation details a plan to evaluate the project during the implementation of the project; it assists in identifying the changes or modifications that are needed along the way.  A formative evaluation:

  • Occurs while the project is ongoing;
  • Focuses on improving the project activities or program;
  • Identifies improvement, modification, and management needs of the project;
  • Judges the value of a project during the implementation of the project;
  • Can be completed more than once.

Summative evaluation details a plan to evaluate the extent to which you accomplished the goals or objectives of the project; it assists in identifying the changes or modifications that are needed for the next iteration of the project.  A summative evaluation:

  • Occurs after the completion of the project;
  • Evaluates the outcomes or accomplishments of the project;
  • Judges the value of a project after it has been fully implemented;
  • Suggests what changes need to be made to improve the project activities or program the next time they are implemented.

Be sure to follow the instructions provided in the grant application when choosing between these types of evaluation and describing your plan.  If an evaluation type is not specified, choose the type that will best help others understand the goals and objectives of the project.  Many applicants include both types of evaluation in their plans.

Questions to guide the development of your project evaluation plan:

  1. What are the intended outcomes of your project? Describe them as simply, clearly, and specifically as possible.
  2. How can you “operationalize” the outcomes of your project so they are measurable?
  3. What evidence would indicate the extent to which the project outcomes are achieved?
  4. What evaluation tools are most appropriate for collecting evidence of project outcomes?  Appropriate tools may be qualitative, quantitative, or both. For more information, please see our Survey and Questionnaire Design page. Possible tools include:
    • Written or electronic questionnaires
    • Interviews
    • Journals
    • Focus groups
    • Observations
    • Meeting notes
    • Record reviews
    • Case studies
  5. From whom do you need to collect the information? If you do not collect information from everyone who participated in the project, how will you ensure that those from whom you do collect information are a representative group?
  6. Who will gather and summarize the results?
  7. How and by whom will your findings be used after you complete the evaluation? In addition to the funding agency, who is the audience for the findings?
  8. How will you communicate your findings? Possibilities include:
    • Journal articles
    • Professional meetings and conferences
    • Reports
    • Websites
    • Software
    • Manuals

Evaluation vs. Assessment

Some people use the terms evaluation and assessment interchangeably with respect to documenting the outcomes of a grant-funded project.  However, though evaluation and assessment are related, they are not identical.  Assessment at St. Olaf refers specifically to the measurement of student learning outcomes–that is, what students know, can do, or value as a result of their educational experience at St. Olaf.  Evaluation is a broader concept; it describes not only program outcomes, but program inputs (resources and activities) as well.  Projects may also have outcome goals that are not related to student learning.  When a grant-funded project is intended to sustain or improve student learning, then assessment of student learning outcomes might very well be one component of the project evaluation plan.  When a project has different purposes (such as furthering scholarly understanding of a specific subject), assessment would probably not be featured in the evaluation plan.

If your project is intended to improve student learning, there are a number of instruments intended to measure student learning outcomes that are available on campus and that might be useful components of a grant project evaluation plan.  More information about these instruments can be found on this page (as well as here for instruments related to alumni outcomes).  For a description of other assessment activities and initiatives at St. Olaf, see our Assessment of Student Learning page.  Additionally, Kelsey Thompson, the Assistant Director of Assessment (, is available to assist you in developing the assessment component of your grant project evaluation plan.

Protecting human subjects: the St. Olaf Institutional Review Board

Many grant projects and/or their evaluation plans involve “intervention or interaction with a living human being” or the collection of “identifiable private information” through surveys, focus groups, experiments, observations, interviews, or other data-collection methods. Institutional Review Board (IRB) review and approval is required as a condition of funding by many government agencies, and is often required by private and non-profit organizations as well. The good news is that the process of preparing an application for IRB review is very likely to strengthen not only the ethical treatment of human subjects in a project, but the methodological design of the inquiry as well.

When members of the St. Olaf community conduct projects that involve collecting or analyzing data from human subjects, they incur legal and ethical obligations for respecting and protecting their project participants. In accordance with federal regulations, we have developed a set of policies and procedures for protecting human subjects in inquiry projects conducted by St. Olaf employees or students. A key component of these policies is a requirement for project activities involving human subjects is to submit an Ethics Plan For Inquiries Involving People.

All college-sponsored projects with research involving human subjects must meet the requirements of the St. Olaf College IRB. When developing the evaluation section of your grant, be sure to consider and meet St. Olaf’s IRB guidelines.  For a complete description of college policies, procedures, and necessary forms for protecting human subjects, see St. Olaf College’s IRB website.

Grant project evaluation resources online