Importance of Evaluation to Social Work Outcomes

With increasing trend towards accountability and cost-effectiveness, the need to assess the effectiveness of social work initiatives has become more pronounced. Valuation of the effect of social work is however challenging since its structure “allows alternative intervention modalities to reach the same end goal and produces results that are indeterminate [and] variable …” (Cnaan & Kang, 2011, p. 388). Traditionally, when seeking financial support, social work organizations have relied on unscientific approaches such as testimonials to evidence their effectiveness (Cnaan & Kang, 2011). However, the clamour to inform practice on scientific evidence has necessitated the shift to measures that may quantify the effectiveness of various social work interventions.

Although exact valuation of the effectiveness of social work remains a challenging feat (McNutt, 2011), various valuation methods offer promise for addressing the challenge. Valuation of social work could be done based on methods such as contingency valuation, choice experiment, consumers’ surplus criterion, hedonic price value, replacement value, the avertive expenditure and cost of illness (Cnaan & Kang, 2011). In the contingency approach method (CAM), the valuation approach is to measure people’s willingness to pay by asking such a population what they would be willingly pay for a certain public good then averaging the responses (Cnaan & Kang, 2011). However, a challenge with this approach is the possibility of biased results following individuals understatement of the value when the appropriate value of such a good increases their taxation (Cnaan & Kang, 2011). The choice experiment method (CEM), on the other hand, relies on the stated preferences where the value of a good is based on attributes assigned without the intervention and following intervention. For instance, the value of social work in caring for the elderly within a community may be estimated by asking individuals within that community to rate the status of such care based on a scale running from intensive care to medium care (Cnaan & Kang, 2011).

While CAM and CEM evaluate the value based on reported values, other measures evaluate such value based on actual (revealed) preferences. The consumers’ surplus criterion for instance examines clients’ usage of a public good and uses such usage to calculate the expenses associated with accessing such a good e.g. the transport cost to the venue (Cnaan & Kang, 2011). The hedonic price value, on its part, examines how the combination of characteristics and their levels affect the price of goods. For instance, the costs of such aspects as a house could range from place to place based on characteristics such as air quality, park accessibility or water quality. To access the value of a public good, the method then assumes the differences between prices of equivalent tangible goods (e.g. house) from place to place to indicate the value of associated public utilities (Cnaan & Kang, 2011). The replacement value may also help in assessing the value of social work. It assesses how much it would cost to replace a particular public good or asset by assessing the cost of an alternative that would result into equivalent benefit (Cnaan & Kang, 2011). For instance, where volunteers are used, the cost of such an utility may be ascertained by replacing the volunteers with salaried employees. The avertive expenditure method could also prove useful since it assesses what costs individuals incur to avoid consequences that would follow if a public utility was eliminated (Cnaan & Kang, 2011). For instance, such would evaluate the cost that people would pay for bottled water and associated costs if the local supply of water was polluted. In healthcare, cost of a public good, for instance a program targeted to reduce incidence of smoking, could be assessed by medical costs associated with hospitalization and medical care for such individuals (Cnaan & Kang, 2011). In this Cost-of-illness method, the valuation is therefore based on an estimate on the savings that would result if a problem that a program seeks to address, were to be resolved (Cnaan & Kang, 2011). Although imprecise, a combination of such methods could offer a better assessment for value that results from a social work program.

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