Book Review: Program Planning and Evaluation for the Public Manager

As part of a graduate course on program planning and evaluation for the University of Wyoming, I had the class read Program Planning and Evaluation for the Public Manager* by Ronald Sylvia and Kathleen Sylvia. I found this book to be very practical and a great foundational book for the class. The authors provided a straight forward look at program planning and evaluation. While it is not a comprehensive book on the topic, it does point out important elements to keep in mind for someone new to the idea of program planning. It serves as a starting point. I would continue to use it in future courses. 

The book is 246 pages long and spread across 9 chapters, an appendix of case studies, and a glossary. The chapters are arranged in three parts:

  • Part 1: Frameworks for Organization Analysis
    • System Concepts
    • Planning: The Often-Ignored Function
    • Getting the Program Authorized and Funded
  • Part 2: Process Evaluation: The “Other” Approach
    • Standards-Based Evaluation: Matching Operations to Expectations
    • Monitoring and Improving Internal Processes
  • Part 3: measuring Organization Outcomes
    • Conducting an Outcome Evaluation
    • Research Validity and Evaluation Designs
    • Cost-Benefit Analysis
    • A Ten-Point Checklist for Program Evaluators

The book begins with a discussion about systems. Systems are scalable and are made up of subsystems that impact each other. Each system and its subsystem have inputs and outputs. Some of these outputs are inputs for other parts of the system. Nothing works in isolation; one change has a ripple effect affecting other parts of the system with unintended consequences.  Sylvia and Sylvia also pointed out there are many different parts to systems such as laws that affect the system, the culture of the organization, the amount of finances available, etc. I thought this was an appropriate way to start the book because implementing plans and changes can result in unintentional consequences. A change in one department may affect another department. Prudent planning is, therefore, essential.

The Sylvia & Sylvia book pointed out that planning function was one of the most critical but also the most often neglected function. It is a lot easier to evaluate a program if it is planned properly. However, to plan a program, you must first understand what you are doing; therefore, a mission statement, vision, and values are essential pieces to start with. Sylvia and Sylvia also touched upon a number of forecasting methods. These are a nice set of tools to have available to the process. Additionally, they discussed the planning process hierarchy from a national level to a unit level. Each of these levels has a different scope and intention. I see program planning closely related to project management. Here is a short list of benefits related to project management.  Program planning is also critical for getting grants funded.

Throughout the book, Sylvia and Sylvia referenced tools and provided checklists to be used. When planning, you need mechanisms in place to ensure that you are moving in the right direction.  In their book, they shared Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT), Gantt charts, and the critical path method.These are tools to help you keep your program on track. By adding all the different program tasks and their due dates along with their dependencies to other tasks, you can determine the critical path. As you’re moving through a program when one part of the program takes longer than planned, it will affect the critical path. This will let you know whether or not you are going to complete your project on time and on budget. To show accountability and responsibility for a program, they included the equivalent of a RACI matrix.

As Sylvia and Sylvia discussed program evaluation, they walked the reader through a guide for designing an outcome evaluation. This began at the theoretical goals -> program goals -> program functions -> proximate indicators -> program measures -> program outcomes. They used a community health program to help illustrate how you would use this guide. Throughout their book, they provided ample examples to illustrate the concepts they were presenting.

I found this book to be a very practical guide for program planning. If I were involved in planning or evaluating a program, I would pick up this book to help craft a way forward. The book came with plenty of examples, tools, and checklists. As I noted earlier, if I am fortunate enough to teach the same class again, I will use Program Planning and Evaluation for the Public Manager again. A definite recommend.

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