Define "Formative Evaluation"


Formative evaluations assess what works and what does not work about a particular activity or project as it is happening. Formative evaluations are commonly used in educational and business settings because they provide organizations with information about how a project is perceived and how successful it is. Understanding what formative evaluations are and how they are used can help increase a person's career success.

The Facts

  • Formative evaluation, sometimes called developmental evaluation or implementation evaluation, is used to assess the value of a project as it is taking place to determine how it can be improved. The goal of formative evaluation is to ensure that a project's purpose is being fulfilled in the most effective ways.


  • Formative evaluation relies on many of the same techniques that other forms of assessment use. Surveys, interviews and collected data are all used in formative evaluation.

    Formative evaluation typically involves a small group of users and participants in the project being evaluated. Participants in formative evaluations look not just at the goals of the process and whether those goals are achieved but also at the process itself and where that process is more and less successful.


  • Formative evaluations are different from summative evaluations, another common assessment tool. Unlike formative evaluations, which focus on the process, summative evaluations are teleological in nature, interested in whether a project's goals have been achieved. Formative evaluations rely on qualitative data--how participants felt about the process--as well as quantitative data, such as charts or test scores, to assess a project. Summative evaluations are more concerned with quantitative data.


  • Formative evaluations allow assessors to find potential problems with a project. If used during the developmental period of project, formative evaluation can help prevent some potential problems from happening at all. Because formative evaluations rely on user feedback, they can be a good way to gauge the public's perception of a particular project. Ongoing formative evaluations can also help projects continue to succeed in changing times, since they constantly revisit the effectiveness of particular methodologies.


  • There are a number of cases in which formative evaluations might be useful tools. Projects, such as website design, can benefit from formative evaluation in soft launches, where navigation problems can be discovered and repaired before full launch. Academic or craft books can use formative evaluation to ensure that instructions are clear for end users. Companies may use formative evaluation to assess the effectiveness of office policies, such as teleworking or employee-reward programs.

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