Designing Education Projects

Helpful guidance on the project design and evaluation process

The Designing Education Projects (DEP) manual was created in 2010 to help NOAA education and outreach personnel develop and evaluate education projects.

The manual has been used in a professional development course that provided participants with an overview of the project development process and an opportunity to learn and practice skills in designing projects, creating evaluation plans, and using evaluation tools for environmental education and outreach projects. While this course is not being offered currently, you can download the Designing Education Projects manual.

The following is a summary of the four parts of the manual.

Part I. Needs assessment

An education needs assessment establishes the need for a particular project by systematically examining audience interest and knowledge, agency mission, authorities and capability, and the significance of particular environmental conditions or issues.

Questions that might be addressed by a needs assessment include:

  • What are the nature and scope of the problem? Where is the problem located, whom does it affect, and how does it affect them?
  • What is it about the problem or its effects that justifies new, expanded, or modified projects or programs?
  • What feasible actions are likely to significantly ameliorate the problem?
  • Who is the appropriate target audience(s)?
  • Who are the stakeholders and sponsors?

Part II. Project planning and implementation

Once the need for a project is understood and authorization to proceed is secured, the planning team faces the task of designing a specific education project that addresses that need. The time involved in planning an education project usually depends on the project’s complexity and the number of stakeholders involved.

The following 12 steps of planning and implementing an education project break down a complex process into manageable steps:

  1. (Re)assess need and capability
  2. Establish the project planning team
  3. Develop project goals and objectives
  4. Develop a logic model
  5. Select and characterize the audience
  6. Establish program format and delivery system
  7. Ensure quality instructional staff
  8. Ensure quality instructional materials and strategies
  9. Assemble materials, resources, and facilities
  10. Plan for emergencies
  11. Promote, market, and disseminate project
  12. Implement project

Part III. Project evaluation

This portion of the guide has been developed to help education coordinators take project development to a new level by truly integrating evaluation into the process. Part III walks through the basics of evaluation, outlining everything from types of evaluations and ways of collecting information to the use of outside evaluators and ethical considerations in gathering data from program participants.

Project evaluation helps determine a project’s merit (does it work?) and its worth (do we need it?). Evaluation helps decision-makers determine if a project should be continued and, if so, suggests ways to improve it. 

Steps in planning a project evaluation:

  1. Reexamine the issue, audience, and project objectives
  2. Establish the planning team (including stakeholders, audience, and evaluators)
  3. Identify a purpose for the evaluation
  4. Focus on project improvement
  5. Assess project outcomes and impacts
  6. Clarify the time frame in which the activities and impacts (outcomes) are expected to occur
  7. Perform a literature search
  8. Select data collection methods and develop questions based on the evaluation goals and objectives
  9. Determine the audience sample
  10. Design and pilot the data collection instrument
  11. Gather and record data
  12. Perform data analysis
  13. Manage data
  14. Synthesize information and create a report

Part IV. Data collection instruments

Project coordinators and evaluators have an array of data collection instruments available to them. The type of evaluation being considered will determine, to some extent, the most appropriate data collection instrument(s). Likewise, the level of evaluation being conducted, the audience involved, and the amount of resources available will all help determine which data collection instruments should be used. 

The following list provides some ideas of the appropriateness of using specific kinds of data collection instruments to assess knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behavior.

  • Interview
  • Focus group
  • Questionnaire and survey
  • Observation
  • Literature review
  • Test
  • Concept maps
  • Document or product review
  • Case study