There is an increasing demand for the evaluation of expenditure and regulatory measures undertaken by the European Union in order to improve accountability and achieve "value for money" objectives. At the most general level, the task of organizing evaluation systems for these programs falls to the European Commission. Historically, the commission has focused on developing policies rather than monitoring or delivering them. With the maturing of certain policy areas, the commission's role is shifting in the direction of review and evaluation.
Canadian health care organizations are in the midst of' rapid change. Reduced federal transfer payments have necessitated radical cost containment measures, including megers reconstructing downsizing, and outsourcing. At the same time, health care organizations are undergoing a transition in approach to management and accreditation, from quality assurance (QA) to continuous quality improvement (CQI).
Needs assessment, a tool for program planning, involves collecting data from service agencies, key informants, and potential clients, and drawing inferences from indicators of community needs. As portrayed in the literature, this approach to evaluation should only be used prior to program development. Both the utility and the timing of the needs assessment approach have been restricted by this portrayal, as case studies will illustrate. Needs assessments should be conducted not only in the initial planning stage but periodically after a program has been implemented.
Since all programs operate within an organizational setting, the utility of evaluation activities can be enhanced by considering an organization's structure, evaluation readiness, and the related functions of evaluators. This article focuses on the application of a set of complementary principles derived from the evaluation literature using three projects as case studies. Two of the projects involved large Canadian health-related organizations, while the third focused on the evaluation needs of a medium-size social service agency.