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Principal Investigator's Guide: Managing Evaluation in Informal STEM Education Projects (2011)

An initiative of the Visitor Studies Association, produced in partnership with the Center for Advancement of informal Science Education.

This Guide is designed to help principal investigators and other leaders of informal STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education projects integrate evaluation into all phases of project design, development, and implementation. Such projects include exhibits, media projects, websites, community science projects, afterschool programs, festivals, family activities, online games, citizen science projects, and other efforts to help people learn about science in the course of their everyday lives. 

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Introduction

Project evaluation, carefully designed and conducted in collaboration with project developers, can help any informal STEM project improve its deliverables, achieve its goals, and measure the degree to which its targeted objectives have been met. Also, when results are disseminated widely, evaluations can provide critical information for helping projects throughout the STEM education field improve their overall practice. 

By design, most of the authors of this guide are not professional evaluators. Rather, they are informal STEM education project leaders who have, through many years of experience, developed effective means of collaborating with evaluators. Also by design, this guide is not a how-to manual on developing and implementing project evaluations. instead, it explores the use and application of evaluation in infor- mal STEM education projects with the goal of improving partnerships between project teams and their evaluators. References and links to the many valuable resources that do provide information on how to conduct project evaluations are included along the way. 

This Guide should prove particularly useful for Principal investigators who have received funding from any directorate of the National Science Foundation (NSF) that addresses informal STEM education and which requires external project evaluation. The Guide will also inform prospective Principal investigators who are preparing proposals for submission to NSF. However, the guide is not an NSF policy document. While the authors and editors have done their best to reflect current thinking of NSF staff, all questions about NSF policy should be directed toward an appropriate NSF program officer. 

While the Guide is rooted in experiences and stories that are drawn mainly from NSF-funded projects, the process of developing a proposal, implementing a project, and working with an evaluator described in its pages should be relevant to practitioners working in most informal education environments regardless of the funding source.