February 12, 2015
Background: Recent reviews suggest that many plausible programs are found to have at best small impacts not commensurate with their cost, and often have no detectable positive impacts at all. Even programs with initial rigorous impact evaluation (RIE) that show them to be effective often fail a second test with an expanded population or at multiple sites. Objective: This article argues that more rapid movement to RIE is a partial cause of the low success rate of RIE and proposes a constructive response: process evaluations that compare program intermediate outcomes—in the treatment group, during the operation of the program—against a more falsifiable extension of the conventional logic model. Conclusion: Our examples suggest that such process evaluations would allow funders to deem many programs unlikely to show impacts and therefore not ready for random assignment evaluation—without the high cost and long time lines of an RIE. The article then develops the broader implications of such a process analysis step for broader evaluation strategy.