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Research Questions

  1. What are the most common types of suicide prevention programs, and what are their specific evaluation needs?
  2. Which evaluation measures and evaluation approaches have been used and tested by previous evaluation studies, and how can program staff incorporate them into their own evaluations?
  3. How can program staff design an evaluation that is appropriate for their program type and available resources and expertise?
  4. What are the most useful ways to analyze the data resulting from an evaluation of a suicide prevention program's effectiveness, and how can these data be used to make improvements?

Evaluating suicide prevention programs can be challenging because suicide is a rare event, data on suicides often lag by several years, and programs tend to have multiple components, making it difficult to discern which characteristics contributed to a given outcome. The RAND Suicide Prevention Program Evaluation Toolkit was designed to help program staff overcome these common challenges to evaluating and planning improvements to their programs. It begins by walking users through the process of developing a program logic model that ties program activities to intermediate outcomes, helping staff better understand the drivers of any changes in long-term outcomes, such as suicide rates. It then offers information about the latest evaluation research, helps users design an evaluation that is appropriate for their program type and available resources and expertise, supports the selection of measures for new evaluations and to augment or enhance ongoing evaluations, and offers basic guidance on how to analyze and use evaluation data for program improvement. Through checklists, worksheets, and templates, the toolkit takes users step by step through the process of identifying whether their programs produce beneficial effects, ultimately informing the responsible allocation of scarce resources. The toolkit's design and content are the result of a rigorous, systematic review of the program evaluation literature to identify evaluation approaches, measures, and tools used elsewhere and will be particularly useful to coordinators and directors of suicide prevention programs in the U.S. Department of Defense, Veterans Health Administration, community-based settings, and state and local health departments. A companion report, Development and Pilot Test of the RAND Suicide Prevention Program Evaluation Toolkit, offers additional background on the toolkit's design and refinement.

Key Findings

In Evaluating a Suicide Prevention Program, It Is Important to Select the Right Evaluation Measures and Approaches

  • The RAND Suicide Prevention Program Evaluation Toolkit can help program staff overcome common challenges to program evaluation by identifying the appropriate measures and approaches for their program type and available resources and expertise.
  • The program evaluation literature offers a wealth of information to guide staff through the evaluation process. The toolkit drew on this prior research to develop checklists, worksheets, and templates to help users find and implement the right evaluation approach.

A Step-by-Step Approach Is Important: The RAND Suicide Prevention Program Evaluation Toolkit Is Best Applied Sequentially

  • For the most accurate and customized evaluation, it is important for program staff to follow each step in the toolkit; each step builds on prior steps to help users design the most rigorous evaluation that their program can support.
  • Beginning with the development of a logic model, the toolkit helps users identify the target population for their program, whether the program has brought about expected changes, and where their program could be improved.
  • It can be difficult to know where to start: Interactive resources, such as checklists, worksheets, and templates, are designed to give users a complete picture of their program and guide changes and improvements.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND tool series. RAND tools may include models, databases, calculators, computer code, GIS mapping tools, practitioner guidelines, web applications, and various toolkits. All RAND tools undergo rigorous peer review to ensure both high data standards and appropriate methodology in keeping with RAND's commitment to quality and objectivity.

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