Evaluation at Sunset: Considerations When Evaluating a Program as It Concludes

by Blair Beadnell; Holly Carmichael Djang

Apr 1, 2017

While the benefits of beginning evaluation efforts at program inception are well known, many organizations simply cannot do so. There are a variety of practical reasons for this: funding concerns, lack of capacity, the need to focus energies on program development and implementation, and changing program goals and activities. As a result, many such efforts begin closer to a program's conclusion -- they are often termed "sunset evaluations."

The "sunset" descriptor has been used since the 1970s in such phrases as "sunset review" and "sunset evaluation" -- public-policy terms referring to an almost always mandated periodic review of a statute, agency, or program to determine whether it should be terminated, continued, or modified. Here, we reframe the phrase "sunset evaluation" to describe a rigorous and useful evaluation that is conducted at or nearing a program's conclusion. Characteristics of these sunset evaluations are that they are voluntary and are intended to provide a road map for other foundations by describing program effects, accomplishments, and lessons learned.

We previously reported findings from an evaluation conducted at the end of a community-wide effort to improve school food sponsored by the Orfalea Foundation. This sunset evaluation of the foundation's School Food Initiative (SFI) showed positive outcomes from the initiative's activities and provided recommendations for organizations interested in engaging in similar efforts (Carmichael Djang, Masters, Vanslyke, & Beadnell, 2016). Because the evaluation was begun as the foundation was spending down and exiting initiatives, it required creative.

This article uses the evaluation of the Orfalea Foundation's initiative to provide a case example of a rigorous and useful sunset evaluation, and discusses other possible extensions of these kinds of methods. design approaches. This article's goal is to use the foundation's SFI evaluation as a case example showing methods for engaging in this kind of sunset evaluation. This example illustrates approaches we implemented as well as other extensions of the methods used.