Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs

PA 871 is not accepting client proposals at this time. The course may return to accepting client-based projects in the future. Please check this website for updates for the 2017-18 academic year.

PA 871: Public Program Evaluation is an elective course for second-year master’s degree students at the La Follette School of Public Affairs. The course covers issues in program evaluation such as evaluation ethics, working with stakeholders, logic model development, causal inference and validity, experimental and quasi-experimental evaluation methodologies, using data for continuous quality improvement and performance management, and communicating evaluation results. The culminating project for the course requires student teams to work with a “real world” client to develop an evaluation plan for a program or policy, contributing to the University of Wisconsin–Madison's outreach mission and to the Wisconsin Idea.

The La Follette School of Public Affairs welcomes public, non-profit, or private sector organizations to apply to be clients for its Public Program Evaluation course.

Client Project Overview

Client-based projects are completed by student groups under the direction of La Follette Associate Director and instructor Hilary Shager, within the context of a semester-long course, beginning in September. By early January, students submit a professional-quality written evaluation plan, modeled after the type of plan often required as part of recent federal grant applications. Contents of the evaluation plan include:

  • program or policy’s theory of change (including relevant literature review)
  • a logic model
  • key research questions and hypotheses
  • the most rigorous, but also practical research methodologies that can be applied in order to identify program or policy “impacts”
  • target population/sampling plan
  • data sources and data collection plan (including definition of impact measures)
  • quality control and human subjects protection processes
  • discussion of potential challenges and limitations
  • budget narrative
  • dissemination plan for results

Please note that students develop an evaluation plan, which may include some baseline data analysis, but they do not complete the full recommended evaluation.

Project Criteria

The main criteria used to assess the viability of public program evaluation projects are:

a. Is there a clear and high- profile client, with a point of contact in a position to respond to students and facilitate the conversations

  • Although students work quite independently, projects are most likely to succeed when they have an ongoing point of contact available to meet at least a couple times during the semester, to get the project started, to provide feedback on drafts, and to be responsive to questions.
  • The project should also have a high-level agency sponsor who will be interested in reading (and potentially implementing) the final written plan.

b. Program/policy characteristics

  • The course is primarily focused on “impact evaluations” involving at least some quantitative data, although we would certainly consider working on “mixed methods” evaluations, which include both quantitative and qualitative components.
  • An ideal candidate for the project might be a policy or program being developed for a potential grant application, a pilot program that you are considering “scaling up” at some point, or an existing program that has proven a challenge to evaluate thus far.
  • The program or policy must be clearly defined and the scope of the potential evaluation focused enough for students to be able to develop a plan within a single semester.
  • Any policy area is applicable—in the past few years, students have completed projects for state, county, and local government agencies; the University; and several local and international non-profit organizations.

How to Submit a Proposal

If you are interested in submitting a public program evaluation project proposal, please develop a brief written description including the information below and submit it via email to the course instructor, Hilary Shager, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., by July 31. If your organization is considering multiple proposals, please submit each one separately.

Project proposals will be vetted in early August, and Hilary will contact you if your project is a good fit for that semester's course. Please note that we always have more requests than we have possible project slots.

Proposals should include the following information:

  • Name of organization;
  • Names of client sponsor, and (if different) person who will serve as the primary point of contact and liaison with the client teams throughout the project, and contact information for both;
  • Brief description (1-2 paragraphs) of the program or policy for which the evaluation plan is to be developed, the key evaluation questions to which the client seeks answers, and why evaluation of the program would be valuable at this point in time (e.g., how results from an evaluation might be used);

Thank you for your interest in working with La Follette School students. Please direct any additional questions to Hilary Shager, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Sample Evaluation Plans