As financial education programs proliferate in response to increased funding and government attention, evaluating their effectiveness has not been a priority. Many providers of financial education programs view evaluation as an afterthought and, hence, tend to take an ad hoc and imprecise approach to it. As program providers begin to recognize the growing importance of evaluation and seek to measure the impact of the programs they are creating, the need for best practices and sound metrics is becoming clear.
However, there are inherent challenges in the types of evaluation many providers of financial education want to do, particularly in measuring attitudinal and behavioural change. Academics agree that measuring these types of changes takes a sophisticated, long-term and standardized approach based on research and a commitment to longitudinal evaluation. While academic expertise in this area is growing and best practices in program evaluation are being developed, there is still not a large enough body of work around evaluation as it relates to financial education. Moreover, most program providers do not have access to what is available or are altogether unaware of any developments in the area.
This report seeks to respond to and interpret the framework proposed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) within a Canadian context. It reviews and comments on it and includes additional research conducted through interviews with key experts in the area of financial education in Canada and around the world. This report also looks at some additional academic work done since this paper was produced, specifically Adele Atkinson's Evidence of impact: An overview of financial education evaluations (2008), and recent unpublished work shared with me by Professor Angela Lyons at the Center for Financial Education at the University of Illinois. At its conclusion, this paper proposes a reframed and modified version of the OECD framework. It also makes a series of recommendations for steps FCAC can take to support the pursuit of sound evaluation best practices in Canada and to improve the way it evaluates its own financial education programs as an organization.