Date of Award

Spring 2022

Degree Type

Restricted to Claremont Colleges Dissertation

Degree Name

Psychology, PhD

Program

School of Social Science, Politics, and Evaluation

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Stewart I. Donaldson

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Tiffany Berry

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Darleen Peterson

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2022 Bree Hemingway

Abstract

Program evaluation is an essential function for public health professionals that has also become necessary to acquire funding for public health programs and support evidenced-based public health practice. Despite the importance of evaluation in the public health field, previous research suggests that the coverage of evaluation principles and methodology within the Master of Public Health (MPH) curriculum is inconsistent and may not adequately prepare students to conduct evaluation activities for post-graduation. The present exploratory mixed-methods study was conducted in three phases to better understand how to best cover program evaluation within the MPH curriculum. In the first phase, the findings of a qualitative content analysis of the MPH curriculum were integrated with results from expert interviews conducted with instructors—who had taught program evaluation—to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the current approach to evaluation training within the MPH curriculum. These findings informed the development of an online training course in Phase 2. The online course, Program Evaluation for Public Health, covers relevant program evaluation topics in five modules, with the goal to increase knowledge about program evaluation, positive attitudes about the use of program evaluation in public health practice, and the participants’ confidence to conduct program evaluation in the future. In the third phase, a quasi-experimental design was used to measure the effectiveness of the new training to improve the participants’ knowledge, attitudes, and self-efficacy to conduct various evaluation skills.

Results of the qualitative analysis showed that the MPH curriculum varied regarding the amount of evaluation content that was incorporated—there was some overlap between the MPH competencies and American Evaluation Association’s (AEA) evaluation competencies regarding research methodology and cultural competence; however, there were several challenges to integrating program evaluation topics into the MPH curriculum. A comparison of participants’ responses from before and after the training showed a positive change in knowledge, attitudes, and self-efficacy scores. These results suggest that the newly developed course may be an effective approach for training public health professionals about program evaluation. Effective program evaluation practice is critical to successfully implementing and sustaining public health programs, and the findings of the present study reveal the inconsistences in the way that program evaluation is currently taught within the public health curriculum. This inconsistent training can have a major impact, as MPH students graduate and practice public health in their community without adequate training. Ineffective program evaluation can interrupt the translation research process and result in inaccurate findings, misuse of resources, and a distrust of program evaluation.

The present study’s findings provide a basis for the revision of the way program evaluation is taught in MPH programs. Program evaluation should be taught more consistently, should be differentiated from its practice from social science research, and its importance should be specifically emphasized to move public health goals forward. Although these components do not provide a comprehensive overview of program evaluation, it does set reasonable guidelines for providing a meaningful foundation in a single course. The findings align with those of relevant literature and the recommendations from previous research on the coverage of program evaluation within the MPH curriculum and provides practical recommendations for the integration of program evaluation competencies within the public health curriculum. For evaluation practitioners, these findings demonstrate the difficulties of working across disciplines and provide insight into how to close the divide.

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