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What Is a Summative Evaluation?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2016
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    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
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A summative evaluation is a type of assessment that occurs at the end of a project or activity. The purpose of the evaluation is to go over the particulars of what transpired during the course of the activity, identify the key events or factors that influenced the outcome, and determine what could have been done to address negative aspects or to reinforce positive aspects of that activity so the outcome was more profitable or positive. Performing a summative evaluation can be very helpful as a tool to learn from the experiences of one activity so that future activities can be structured with greater efficiency.

The idea behind a summative evaluation is different from that of a formative evaluation. With the former, a project that is now complete is assessed with the goal of learning from the experience, both in terms of what worked and what did not. By contrast, a formative evaluation occurs prior to or at the point at which a project is launched, with the goal being to identify potential strengths and weaknesses that are likely to impact the outcome. Both forms of evaluation are critical, with one making it possible to minimize liabilities with a new project and the other serving to provide data that can aid in achieving success with future projects.

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Conducting a summative evaluation will involve identification of all benefits and liabilities that came to pass during the course of the project or activity. While the focus is often on direct benefits and liabilities, the evaluation may also consider indirect results as well. For example, along with noting that a project increased sales revenue by ten percent for the most recently closed accounting period, it may also be noted that the project also had the benefit of increasing efficiency in one or more departments by a significant margin. While the goal may have been to increase sales revenue, identifying the additional benefit of higher productivity makes it easier to determine if the overall benefits received were worth any costs that may have been incurred during the course of the project.

Just about any type of organization can make use of a summative evaluation at the end of an activity. Small businesses can use this approach to determine what transpired during a realignment of a manufacturing floor, especially in terms of creating products to fill customer orders with a greater degree of efficiency. Larger corporations can determine whether or not a marketing campaign is generating sufficient results to merit continuing that campaign, or if some changes are in order. A non-profit organization may conduct a summative evaluation on a recent fund raising activity and decide if a similar event should be held again, or if the costs were not offset by the funds collected, making the project less than profitable.

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