Summative and formative evaluations

Formative and Summative Evaluations

When thinking about different types of evaluation, a common distinction is between formative and summative evaluation. What distinguishes them is when the evaluation is carried out. A formative evaluation is carried out while the program activities are in progress. It is usually conducted when a new program or activity is being developed or when an existing one is being adapted.(1) A summative evaluation is carried out towards the end of the program, or when a program is well established.

Within the categories of formative and summative, there are different types of evaluation. Typically, formative evaluation considers process (implementation), and summative evaluation assesses outcomes and impact.

What does formative evaluation help with?

Formative evaluation provides feedback to improve a program.(2) It involves gathering information about program design and implementation, with a focus on the views and experiences of program participants. It ensures that a program is feasible, appropriate, and acceptable before it is fully implemented.(3)

What does summative evaluation help with?

Summative evaluation tells us the effectiveness, outcomes or impact of a program, project, activity or other initiative. It assesses the extent to which a program (or other initiative) achieves its goals and objectives.

A different focus

Formative and summative evaluations have a different focus. There may be differences in the target audience, the focus of data collection, the evaluator role, and how the results are reported.

(1) Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2006) Types of Evaluation. [Online]  Accessed on 14 July 2020. Available at:

(2) Scriven, M. (1991). Beyond formative and summative evaluation. In GW McLaughlin & DC Phillips (Eds.), Evaluation and education: At quarter century. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.(2) 

(3) Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2006), ibid.

Kim Morral

Kim Morral is a freelance researcher, Credentialed Evaluator (CE), and Owner of Qualitas Research Inc.  Qualitas Research provides evaluation services to organizations across Canada.