What’s working for women in STEM?

The Office of the Women in STEM Ambassador, Prof Lisa Harvey-Smith, has released a publication entitled Evaluating STEM Gender Equity Programs: A guide to effective program evaluation. It provides a practical, step-by-step resource that’s easy to apply to any gender equity program. The principles and methods in the Guide can also be applied to the evaluation of STEM engagement programs.

The new Guide delivers on a key recommendation of the Women in STEM Decadal Plan and is an integral part of the Australian Government’s Advancing Women in STEM 2020 Action Plan. Its is to create a culture of evaluation for all projects that support girls’ and women’s participation in STEM to help us understand what works and what can be improved.

The Guide can also serve as a useful resource in the design and delivery of STEM engagement programs, providing detailed information on how program organisers can develop measurable objectives, design relevant program activites and measure a program’s impact.

Why evaluate?

The Guide presents a stong case as to why gender equity programs need to be evaluated. The six reasons listed below can also apply more broadly to all STEM engagement programs.

  1. Measure project outcomes. Evaluation is essential to gauge the effectiveness of your program. It helps you know whether your program is doing what it was meant to do.
  2. Use resources efficiently. Evaluation allows you to justify and account for your program resources and investment. Knowing what works and does not work helps you use resources efficiently.
  3. Attract and keep funding and partners. Evaluation results can help you attract and keep sponsors and partners. Results can show that the program is effective, valuable and worth investing in.
  4. Improve and scale-up. Evaluation allows you to refine your program to improve it. For Government and sponsors, it informs decisions on what programs should be extended or scaled up.
  5. Generate useful data. Evaluations can help us understand the issues that affect girls and women in STEM. Evaluation data over time helps us learn what programs work, for whom and why.
  6. Promote best practice and collaboration. Evaluation can inform and guide best practice for STEM gender equity programs.

Four focus areas

The Guide suggests that evaluations should assess different aspects of a program and includes four focus areas:

  1. Design. Assess the design of the program. Think about what the program does, how it is done, who it is for and how it aligns with the goals of the program. Consider also the need for the program. Does the program design address the targeted STEM gender equity issue? How well does it address the issue? Is it targeting the right audience? Does the evaluation assess the intended outcomes using appropriate methods to assess them? You can evaluate the design throughout the program or retrospectively.
  2. Efficiency. Assess the efficiency of a program. Monitor your program’s resources and activities to catch any administrative problems or shortcomings. Did the program run smoothly? Was the program adequately resourced to undertake its planned activities? Was the program completed on time and on budget? If not, why not? You can evaluate efficiency at any time or continuously throughout the program.
  3. Outcomes and impacts. Assess the outcomes and impacts of a program. Outcomes and impacts are positive or negative changes produced by the program. The changes can be direct or indirect, intended or unintended. The purpose of an outcomes-focused evaluation is to assess the extent and nature of this change. Did the program do what it was meant to do? To what extent? Were there any unintended consequences? You can evaluate outcomes and impact throughout the program or at the very end.
  4. Lessons learned. Extract the lessons learned from the program. Draw and reflect on the experiences, strengths, challenges and outcomes of the program. What went well? What didn’t go well? What can be improved and how? Collect this information throughout the program and pull it together at the end.

Access the Guide

The Guide is being piloted in a collaborative project with previous recipients of the Australian Government’s Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship grants. This pilot will allow the Guide to be tested and refined and provide valuable insights into previously funded projects. From 2020-21, the Department will then provide all WISE funded projects with the evaluation Guide.

As the Office of the Women in STEM Ambassador continues to test and refine the Guide throughout 2020, broader consultation is welcome. Anyone wishing to pilot the Guide and contribute feedback is invited to download it from the Office of the Women in STEM Ambassador after registering their interest via this link.

Feature image of Professor Lisa Harvey Smith and two young scientists courtesy of the Office of the Women in STEM Ambassador.