Understanding the Formative Evaluation Process

Formative Evaluation

The beginning of a project is often when we seek the most feedback and help to determine if we are adequately preparing for and executing the project. However, this feedback is not always available to us at the beginning of the project, and it can be difficult to assess how well the plan and program implementation process will go.

This article will look at the concept of formative evaluation and assessment, beginning with definitions and how they are used both in the workplace and in schools, also comparing it with summative evaluation. It will look at techniques that can be used to help you perform formative evaluations and how to use them to monitor progress and provide feedback throughout a project. Finally, it will discuss the difficulties that formative assessments present when used and the options for using the process in conflict resolution.

Formative Evaluation Defined

Formative evaluation is the process of assessing the progress and development of a project or idea in the early stages of the project activities. It is done so during this portion to assess the effectiveness and provide feedback on any aspects of the process, whether good or bad. It is a tool to help monitor progress throughout the development process and make any shifts or changes necessary to continue to work toward the goals laid out.

Identifying the strengths and weaknesses in the project helps the team determine how to improve the process or what they should continue to do. By making these adjustments throughout the process, they can create a more effective product with quality in mind. It stops the team from taking unnecessary steps and wasting time or money. The information gathered during the evaluation process can be vital to ensuring quality both in the current project and in projects to come.

The Pillars of Formative Evaluation

To understand what a company or team is looking for when using formative evaluation, you need to understand the three key pillars that the process will address. These are the driving force, the purpose, and the goals of formative evaluation.


The biggest reason that anyone will do a formative assessment is to gain insight into their progress through the feedback they receive. This is why formative evaluation relies so heavily on gathering the necessary information to support and refine the procedures and programs in place. Without the ability to get and provide ongoing feedback, there can be no refinement of program implementation and program outcomes to better produce quality products.


Another key aspect of the formative evaluation process is to identify problems and create ways to solve them. This can only be done through an early program evaluation to determine how and why the problems are arising and the possible ways to overcome them. By undergoing formative assessments throughout the process, potential problems will be avoidable or manageable.


The final key piece of the formative evaluation process is the system that is set up to monitor progress as the team works toward the final product. When the team identifies problems and finds solutions, they will need to set up a process to continue to monitor the implementation of those solutions to ensure that the process continues to work. Process evaluation allows the team to consistently perform micro-formative evaluations as they continue working.

Formative Assessment and Summative Assessment Compared

To better understand formative evaluation, it can be helpful to compare the various forms of evaluation methods, both formative and summative evaluation. The difference between the evaluation methods is the goal of either one. Formative evaluation seeks to monitor progress as it happens, while a summative assessment measures the progress made and the work done at the end of the project. Formative assessment looks forward to improving the outcome, while summative assessment looks back to determine how the process was executed.

For an easily understood example of the different outcomes, consider how the methods are used in student learning. Both instructional practices will measure student achievement but at different points in the learning process. Examples of formative assessment include activities like weekly or daily homework to practice topics and assess understanding. On the other hand, summative assessments include mid-term and final examinations, papers, or final performances. Both processes assess student learning and progress, just at different points in the teaching methods.

Formative Evaluation Process

Now that we have an understanding of what formative evaluation is, it is time to discuss the process and methods used to complete it. Several steps can help you achieve your goals of understanding and evaluating the plan and its progress.

Set Clear Goals

In developing the process, one of the first steps is to set clear goals and objectives for what you hope to evaluate and accomplish throughout the assessment. By creating clear objectives, you can craft and adjust your plan to better understand where you are at and what you need to do next. This helps you receive targeted feedback that can provide early identification of issues and ensure that the program design is moving forward as it should.

Define the Necessary Data and Evaluation Methods

Once you have your goals created, you can define what data needs to be collected to complete the formative assessment and then choose the best evaluation methods to get the best data collected. Formative assessment techniques will include an evidence-based practice that gauges how well your project is performing within the objectives.

Common examples of formative evaluation methods include participatory evaluation, where stakeholders and participants engage with the project to determine whether it matches the desired outcomes and focus groups. As well as where the product is shown to potential customers and they evaluate whether they would buy the final product. There are additional qualitative methods that can help encourage formative research, and identifying the one that will work best to give you a better understanding of your progress will ensure that your product is delivered efficiently.

Pick Participants and Data Analysis Methods

Once you have identified the methodology to gather the necessary data, you can begin to determine how the best participants for the formative evaluation will be and how the data will be collected adequately. You cannot identify areas that need to be addressed without having the best participants and accurately recording the data that they provide.

Many factors can influence which participants you choose. If you are testing a product in a specialized field, you may need specific testers who understand the product and its purposes, or you may need people similar to those using the final product, especially in medical testing to improve patient outcomes. If you are conducting an assessment of student progress in educational settings, you will need students who are around the same level of learning to test the instructional unit. The right participants will be those who will provide feedback that can further the development process.

Additionally, your participants will need to learn to provide ongoing feedback and data in the ways you wish for it to be gathered. There are many other factors and additional training on statistical and scientific data processing that will go into how you collect this data. You also need to determine who will be responsible for collecting and analyzing the data.

Create a Timeline and Implementation Plan

Once you have an overview of how the process will proceed, you can create a timeline based both on how quickly you need the information and how much time you realistically need to gather adequate data. Once you have this plan in place, you can begin to work on your formative evaluation, and continue to review and adjust your plan both for the formative evaluation and the final result as you gather your data.

Challenges with The Process

Although formative evaluation can be incredibly beneficial for workplaces and student learning, some challenges can make them less helpful than summative evaluations or other forms of data collection and feedback. It can also make the process cost-prohibitive for some smaller groups. These challenges include the following issues.


If you are attempting to undertake a full formative evaluation process with scientific data collection, this can often take a lot of time. Preparing for and gathering data from a large-scale program may require weeks or months, which can impact program design and overall timelines. However, if you can develop a robust plan for formative evaluation that can be tweaked and applied to various projects, you can increase efficiency and save time in later projects.


Similarly to time, formative evaluation can take a lot of resources and materials to complete, which can lead to increased or insurmountable costs for many people. This means that people with limited resources may not be able to take on the full evaluation and it could be harmful to their bottom line, particularly if the data is not helpful.


Another issue that can impact the process of data collection and outcomes is subjectivity which will be a part of any data and experience-based collection. Each person will be coming to the table with different experiences and may even encounter something in different settings than others when they perform the evaluation. This can impact the data that is collected and often requires additional data to be collected.

On the other end of the formative evaluation, the development team may struggle to identify areas for improvement or how the implementation practices will go. Decision-making, even with all the data, will be difficult and may often require someone to set aside their self-esteem and realize that while their idea may have worked in other settings, it may not be the best option for the current objectives.

Conflict Resolution and Formative Evaluation

Now that we understand the goals and techniques of formative evaluation, it can also be helpful to consider the process as it relates to a field that many of us are familiar with, conflict resolution. For many complex conflicts, it can be helpful to develop a plan of attack with various conflict resolution options to resolve the issue. During the development of this process, it could be helpful to go through a formative evaluation process to determine which resolution options may be the best for the conflict in the long term.

This could help the parties avoid costly and time-consuming options before taking the case to court if there is little chance of resolution. but in many cases, it will also provide ongoing feedback about how the parties perceive the conflict and what steps will need to be taken to resolve it. If the parties just tried various techniques for resolution without a plan, they would only get summative assessments and feedback, and the failures to resolve the case at that moment could have been avoided.

It could show that while mediation may not have been an option earlier on, it could be an option now that the parties are at an impasse. Going through the formative evaluation process can increase effectiveness and encourage the parties toward resolution. In higher education, the workplace, and other places, it will help develop a full understanding of the good processes and the areas that need improvement, giving everyone a path forward that they can follow.

To learn more about formative evaluation, conflict resolution, and more, contact ADR Times!

Emily Holland
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