The New Mexico Evaluation Lab @ UNM works to build evaluation capacity in non-profit community organizations and government agencies throughout New Mexico, and to facilitate the development of sound state policies around evaluation in New Mexico. Graduate students receive training in a two-semester course that includes foundational learning in the classroom and a practicum involving a collaborative project with community organizations. Faculty engaged in related research, staff research scientists from UNM’s policy centers, and experienced community evaluators supervise the practicum. Students, faculty, 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 organizations must be able to assess their own effectiveness, both to satisfy funders, and, more fundamentally, to improve service to their clients. These organizations often lack expertise in program evaluation.
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.