Formative Evaluation – Best Practices


Formative evaluation, which is also referred to as formative assessment is a type of usability evaluation which assists in forming the design of a product or service when developing. The main aim of formative evaluation is to eliminate usability problems.

Formative assessment is essential for trying to understand the reasons why a program works or doesn’t work. In addition to that, it is used for determining what other factors such as the internal and external are at work during the life of the project.

Even-tough formative evaluation doesn’t require time and money; it should be viewed as a valuable investment that improves the likelihood of achieving a successful outcome using a better program design.

Difference Between Formative Evaluation and Summative Evaluation

Formative evaluation, which is also refereed to as internal evaluation is a method of judging the worth of a program when they are forming. . This part of evaluation focuses on the process. This type of evaluation permits designers and instructors to monitor how well the business goals and objectives are being met.

On the other hand, summative evaluation, which is also referred to as external evaluation is a method of judging the worth of the program at the end of the program of activities. This focuses on the outcome. The various instruments used to collect summative evaluation data are: interviews, testing and observation.

Why do you need to undertake formative assessment? 

There are a number of reasons which can enable you to conduct a formative assessment. The following are some of the reasons: 

  • When there is no formative assessment, you might embark on a project which may be constraint by external factors that cannot be controlled or that may not meet a real need.
  • Formative assessment is significant in behavior change and community engagement projects such as interventions. These projects are often complex and thus requires careful monitoring of the processes so as to respond to emerging properties and any other expected outcomes.
  • When you forsake formative assessment, it means that you are not able to capture and observe the feedback which may improve the implementation of a project. This will result in not being able to achieve the desired outcomes.
  • Formative assessment enables you to develop a better understanding of the changing process. Moreover, it is used for finding out whether a project works or not. This will allow you to gather knowledge for learning and improving future project implementation and design.

Formative Evaluation Categories

There are various categories of formative assessment. The following are some of the types: 

  • Proactive evaluation

This is used for clarifying or understanding the need for the project. Examples of proactive evaluation include: literature review, problem or solution tree analysis and stakeholder analysis.

  • Clarificative evaluation

This type of evaluation is used for making the theory clear or changing the project which is based on. The examples of clarificative evaluation are: log -frame matrix and program logic. 

  • Monitoring evaluation

This is one of the categories of formative evaluation used for project development. T6his will ensure that the project activities are being delivered effectively and efficiently. Some of the instances where monitoring evaluation is used are: budget tracking, time tracking, questionnaires, dash board and observation.

Formative evaluation is often related to qualitative methods of inquiry. The questions asked in this type of evaluation are usually more open. This leads to exploration of the processes not only on the viewpoint of the participants but also for that of the staff and other stakeholders.

Purpose of Formative Assessment

Large scale, medium scale and long term social economic programs are usually design and implemented in changing the policy agendas and unpredictable environmental conditions. Formative assessment is a strategy for dealing with the context of this type.

One of the functions of formative assessment is to strengthen horizontal processes and structures by creating and fostering mechanisms. In fact, it cultivates informal and professional contacts between levels of decision making through the facilitation of inter- and intra organizational dialogue.

Formative evaluation is also a significant catalytic effect used for mobilizing staff around a course of action as well as engagement of the management thinking about the future options.

Another purpose of formative assessment is the fact that it can produce early effects used for tracking linkages and changes between outputs inputs.

Circumstances in Which Formative Assessment is Applied

Formative assessment is usually relevant to programs whose objectives and goals cannot be specified in advance. Nevertheless, they are open to various interpretations of actors of different levels of the programs. The evaluation can be a contributor to the knowledge creation process.

Steps Followed in Formative Assessment Process

Step one 

The initial step is to gain the commitment of key stakeholders and program actors which are available at all levels. This might require negotiation about the use and access of information, relationships, clarification of relationships and roles.

Step two 

The second step is to build evaluation design so that it can be perceived as a significant tool for helping and managing the program so as to adapt to local conditions in a dynamic environment. The success of formative assessment depends on the adoption of the helpful data collection method.

Third step 

This is another step which involves the creation of an evaluation infrastructure used for supporting formative assessment as a development activity. This comprises of working with program staff in an ongoing process in order to:

  • form a culture which supports risk taking and reduces the fear of failure
  • Establishment of channels used for communication which supports the dissemination of information as well as allowing organizational members.

Step four 

The next step is to find out the decision making process, the different stakeholders and their respective information interests and needs. These include: program makers and policy makers at the local site program, program managers and the staff.

Step five 

The fifth step is to foster and dialogue, interaction, action and learning.

Step six

This is the last step whereby the formative evaluation cycle is likely to include implementation of action plan and the monitoring of its progress.


The above is a detailed description of formative assessment. As mentioned above, the assessment is in formative usability testing.









Jessica is the Lead Author & Editor of UsabilityLab Blog. Jessica writes for the UsabilityLab blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to usability.