In our experience, people seem to love or hate evaluation. We love it because – the crucial thing about evaluation is – it can help us to do what we do better!
It is about learning and celebrating, justification and accountability.
It can happen at the end of a project or be integral to everything that you do.
Evaluation is about finding out what has changed, how it has changed and what else happened as a result. It is about uncovering and evidencing achievements, good practice, mistakes and missed opportunities.
Often, our starting point is to think about the potential range of different audiences for an evaluation. It is worth thinking about these, what you want to say to them and why. This information helps to frame the evaluation, identify the most useful questions, the people to talk to and the approach to take.
Over the years, we have asked many people why they want to evaluate what they do. Here are some examples of what they say:
- To tell if we have achieved our goals and objectives
- To find out where we went wrong
- To get more funding
- To find out if we made any difference
- To find out ‘how we feel’ about our work, ‘where we are coming from’
- To learn for the future
- To illustrate what we are good at
- To show the ‘added value’ we bring
- To illustrate what would be missing if we weren’t here
- To help partners understand more about what we do
People evaluate all the time, it is second nature to us. In the example below, Shelagh has planned her journey with an expectation that she will arrive at a certain place at a particular time. Having given the journey a go, she evaluates the situation, learns from the experience and changes her approach to achieve her desired outcome of arriving at work on time.
“on my first day I took the bus to work, it got stuck in traffic and I was later than expected. On my second day I set off 10 minutes earlier and walked, it was great, I arrived in time and the whole journey was in my control – I am unlikely to be late again”
Because we are interested in community development, we tend to undertake evaluations which are about the way in which change happens and its impact on people, as well as the achievement of specific outputs or targets. Wherever possible and appropriate, we like to make visible what community development does and the difference it can make.
We are also interested in seeing if the lessons from one evaluation can inform work elsewhere and so be of wider benefit.
When undertaking an evaluation, we use primary data (views of different stakeholders) and secondary data (written reports and records), discussing the range and scope of material to include at the start of the evaluation.
Examples of changes evaluation
An evaluation which documented the history and activities of three community engagement projects drawing out the learning from them to inform future guidance and implementation of a national strategy on the ground. This evaluation contract involved: observations, interviews, questionnaires, group workshops and collection of secondary data including business plans, press releases, minutes of meetings, Project Initiation Documents and reports.
An entirely qualitative evaluation of aspects of a learning programme to identify what made the difference to participants in terms of content, approach, style and delivery. This evaluation contract involved training past participants in interview skills and supporting them to interview peers and report back in a format which could be reported on.
An end of programme evaluation for a local initiative which required reporting against specific, nationally fixed targets. In order to maximise on the opportunities presented by the evaluation, the client identified a further six audiences for the findings which informed the development of questions and the variety of approaches taken to the research.