The New Mexico Evaluation Lab @ UNM provides high quality policy research and program evaluation services to non-profit social services, health and education agencies throughout New Mexico. Graduate students and advanced undergraduates receive training by enrolling in a two-semester course that includes foundational learning in the classroom and a practicum for which students provide evaluation services to participating organizations. Faculty engaged in related research and staff research scientists from UNM’s policy centers supervise the practicum. Students, faculty, policy center researchers and participating organizations form an advisory board to the lab, and come together at an annual Workshop to share ideas, experiences and knowledge. The Evaluation Lab is affiliated with the Master of Public Policy program at UNM.
Program evaluation training is of growing interest to program funders, providers and students. Public and private funders are increasingly concerned that the money they spend demonstrate impact and be used effectively. In many federally funded programs, providers are encouraged, and in some cases required, to use evidence based programs. At the same time, funders are aware of the dangers of limiting innovation and experimentation, which may be an unintended consequence of promoting a small number of programs that managed to attract the resources needed to run a randomized trial. Funders would like to be able to support local, homegrown programs that can establish their effectiveness.
Community organization service providers must be able to assess their own effectiveness, both to satisfy funders, and, more fundamentally, to improve service to their clients. These organizations, however, rarely have the expertise or time to conduct their own program evaluations and typically they have limited resources for bringing in outside help
Finally, students in the social sciences are keen on receiving training in program evaluation. Graduates who have skills in assessment, evaluation, data collection and analysis will have strong employment opportunities in business, government and the non-profit sectors. Participation in the Evaluation Lab will also provide students with networking opportunities.