The Attribution Dilemma in Evaluation

How do you know if your program or intervention is responsible for outcomes that are being observed? If it is apparent that the program is playing a role, how much of an influence is the intervention having on observed outcomes? These questions often challenge evaluators and are commonly referred to as the “attribution versus contribution” dilemma. In actual fact, most evaluation studies are only able to demonstrate relationships, rather than cause and effect. While rigorous evaluation methods are available to demonstrate cause and effect relationships, most social and health service programs are not conducive to such evaluation methodologies. However, there are several strategies that can be used to examine a program’s contribution or attribution more directly, such as contribution analysis. Better Evaluation, an international collaboration of evaluators, provides a useful description of how a credible contribution argument can be developed.

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Elayne Vlahaki, MPH
Program Manager
BC HIV/HCV Evaluation Advisory Group