Phase 4

Evaluate and Review Your Work

Social workers conduct both process evaluations and outcome evaluations.

Process Evaluation

A process (formative) evaluation documents and analyzes the early conceptualization of the intervention. Were the interventions proposed to the client actually implemented as intended? This is a process question. In the disaster response context, this may take the form of a critical incident debrief, where people involved in the effort assess the extent to which the developed procedures were followed. Were supplies distributed quickly? Did information go out as intended? These process questions do NOT address the larger question of whether the individuals’ needs were met, but it does lay the foundation for evaluating the outcomes of the intervention. Further, process evaluation may point to needed changes to improve the response in the event of another disaster.

Outcome Evaluation

Outcome evaluation is concerned with results. Did the intervention enable the desired change? Here, you might look at how well the response restored people to permanent housing, or you might evaluate mental health outcomes post-disaster—the ultimate outcomes of the intervention. Evaluating the outcomes of a disaster prevention effort requires determining how much damage was prevented in a subsequent event, which increases the importance of process outcome for knowing how interventions are going in the interim.

Evaluate during the entire process.

Although evaluation is presented here as the last step in the social work change process, you are likely to be evaluating any case in your practice throughout the process. Good social workers continuously monitor progress toward the achievement of goals.

Clients may not reach their goals for a number of reasons:

  • If the goal is more a reflection of what you think is best for a client than what the client wants to achieve, then the outcome is likely to be disappointing. Goals must reflect the client's desires, so that they are intrinsically motivating.
  • Some goals are too daunting to achieve all at once and need to be broken down into smaller, more achievable steps.
  • Accomplishment of goals may fail because they may not engage clients or other participants, who therefore do not bother to work toward them. Evaluation depends on carefully constructed goals. Good goals are ones that are challenging enough to be meaningful, but feasible enough to be achievable.
  • Unintended circumstances such as environmental changes, loss of resources, intrusion of other systems, and random events may impede completion of goals. Goals and methods may need to be revised in response to ongoing evaluation.

In disaster relief, there are additional considerations that can complicate goal achievement, including the need for external resources, the unpredictability of future disaster events, and, especially in this era of climate change, the sheer scope and scale of the presenting challenge. Evaluation is nonetheless a valuable aspect of social work practice in this arena. Asking the right questions and interrogating our own practice allows us to see more clearly where the intervention process started and where it still needs to go, as well as to measure effectiveness in producing positive change.

My Evaluate Tasks

Task 1

To initiate your evaluation, review your notes, assessments, and intervention suggestions.

Task 2

Include both process and outcome variables that you think would effectively measure processes and outcomes for this case. How will you decide when an intervention is “working”? Whose voices will you center in that process?

Task 3

Once you have completed the evaluation phase, take a moment for reflection.

At this point in your social work journey, what are some of your professional strengths? What tasks or skills are more difficult for you?