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The Importance of Assessment and Evaluation for Peer Education Programs

April 28, 2023 Alicia Czachowski Columbia University

The Importance of Assessment and Evaluation for Peer Education Programs

Alicia K. Czachowski, EdD, MPH, CHES

Senior Executive Director of Alice! Health Promotion, Columbia Health, Peer Education Advising Faculty Co-Chair 


The 18 peer educators-in-training stared at me over the top of their half-eaten pizza slices as I prepared to spend the next 45 minutes sharing our campus health needs assessment and utilization data. I was unsure how this would go as you never know how people will react to a data presentation, especially at 7pm at night after a full day of classes. An hour and a half later I still had not finished my slides. So many insightful questions about trends over time, how data might differ between populations, and if we could do interviews or focus groups in the future to gather more detailed information. We talked about how the work they do as peer educators connects to the mission and goals of the group, the department, and the institution. They were excited about what they had learned and how we could use data as a team to help the peer education group meet the needs of the students on campus.  

Assessment and evaluation for peer education matters. They are a building block to start with and how to determine if what the group is doing is working the way you want it to work. As advisors, we can involve peer educators in assessment and evaluation projects. Not only will this help advisors get the work done, but it gives the peer educators an excellent opportunity for learning and development (including the science of our work).

Assessment is collecting information needed to determine what has happened or is happening to support an understanding of needs. Basically, it helps the peer education group to determine their focus. Advisors can partner with peer educators to use this information in a variety of ways.

Advisors can share data from needs assessments, diagnosis information, transports and admit information from local hospitals, and the results from focus groups and key informant interviews with their peer education group. Then, advisors and peer educators can work together to use the data for:

  • Identifying topics or skills needed for peer education training and professional development.

  • Strategic planning for the peer education group. 

  • Developing data-driven goals and objectives.

  • Determining group priorities including topics areas to focus on and priority populations.

Evaluation is the science of understanding the process, outcomes, and impacts of our work.  During evaluation, peer education groups can gather information on:

  • Process – Examples include the number of participants that attended a program, the cost of the program, program satisfaction, and how many events they do in a given semester.

  • Outcome – This is where the group can evaluate learning objectives. This can also include short term changes in participant knowledge, skills, awareness, and beliefs and longer-term changes in decision making and behavior. 

  • Impact – These are long term institutional, organization, and environmental changes that show changes to social norms, policy, and the environment.

Evaluation should be a part of any planning process. As peer educators are planning their initiatives, they must consider how they are going to evaluate. Start with the goal and objectives of the initiative in mind to help determine what data to collect. If the goal is for participants to learn something, then what questions need to be asked and how will you ask them? If the goal was to have many participants, how do you plan on counting participants? By building in evaluation to the planning process, peer educators will avoid forgetting that part of the process or leaving it to the last minute. Additionally, as stated earlier, they can write a post initiative report using the data collected to show future generations of peer educators what worked and what might need to be changed in the future.  When done right the evaluation results can also feed into the assessment process for future efforts.

Peer educators can be part of the entire assessment or evaluation process including data collection, analysis, and reporting. This list is not exhaustive, but they can:

  • Do outreach to promote a campus-wide needs assessment. 

  • Facilitate or take notes during focus groups or key informant interviews. 

  • Conduct mall-intercept surveys in high traffic areas on campus.

  • Encourage program participants to complete pre- and post-surveys.

  • Code qualitative data and analyze quantitative data.

  • Write reports and create presentations using the data collected.

  • Present findings for key stakeholders, their peers, and at conferences. 

Advisors may also consider evaluating the peer educators in the program. Consider a pre/post training evaluation when they go through their initial orientation with the group and an end of the semester or year evaluation. Placing these evaluations strategically throughout the year can help advisors know if peer educators are learning what they need to learn to fulfil their role. Evaluating the peer educators also helps advisors determine if the peer educators are getting what they want out of their peer education experience.  

Part two of the story that began this post takes place at the end of the semester. I was back in the classroom listening to their final projects. The groups developed projects based on the data shared at the beginning of the semester – projects to increase feelings of belonging, to decrease higher-risk alcohol consumption, and to increase use of barrier methods during oral sex, just to name a few. Each group highlighted why this project was needed on campus using the data, their learning objectives, and their plan for evaluating their project. The peer educators in this class used assessment data to build their projects and developed evaluation plans to determine if they worked. They were actively involved in the whole process and some of their projects went on to be implemented in real life.  

Assessment and evaluation for peer education matters. For advisors, it uses science to help us to document that our peer education programs are meeting the objectives and meeting the needs of students on campus. For the peer educators, it creates additional learning opportunities and the ability to show how the work they do matters and makes a difference on their campus. 

As this post is dropping in late spring, consider spending some time this summer considering how you can work assessment and evaluation into your peer education plans for next academic year. If you want to learn more about assessment and evaluation with peer education, an entire module of the Advisor Academy online education is dedicated to it! Want some additional support? Each fall semester graduate students studying evaluation of health programs are paired with a campus to develop an evaluation plan. At the conclusion of the process you'll have a fully designed evaluation plan to implement.  It's a low lift on the part of the campus with high reward for you and for the students.  Please contact Dr. Michael McNeil, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University for more information - [email protected].