Evaluation - 10 reasons why you should
People always seem to post pictures of rulers or tape measures when they talk about evaluation, which, frankly, have to be some of the dullest objects in the world.
- So you know whether it’s working
You want to know whether the project is making the changes to people’s lives that you want it to. You can’t know how well it’s working without evaluating. Like it or not, we are all subject to bias and, at best, only ever have a partial picture of what’s going on. Evaluation helps us to get the big picture and combine different perspectives to understand the impact of a project.
- So you can be adaptable
As well as knowing the bigger picture, you want to be able to dynamically adjust your project delivery. Creating real time evaluation feedback loops helps you to iteratively develop your work to respond to needs of the people you’re working with and the changing context you’re working in.
- To know how things are working
You want to know how things are working, to know which parts of your model are working the best, and which bits you need to change or improve. To do this you need an evaluation strategy that allows you reflect on the different parts of the model. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and you need to be able to understand each separate part.
- So you’re aware of unintended outcomes
You need to know the unintended outcomes for your work, whether positive or negative. Positive unintended outcomes mean more is happening then you thought, negative unintended outcomes means something needs changing. You won’t capture these without an evaluation plan.
- To be able to better communicate the value of your work
It’s vital to be able to communicate the value of your work in a way that people understand, for many reasons – securing funding, advocacy and collaboration to name a few.
-To communicate you need to present your information in a form that they can understand, this often means stories and numbers , you won’t get these reliably without an evaluation strategy.
- 1 person telling you something happened is one thing. Lots of people telling you something happened is something else. Robust evaluation is like lots of people backing up your story.
- To focus your work
Evaluation makes you focus on the core outcomes you want to have for the people you are working with. This is really important for keeping your project focus. It’s too easy to get caught up in logistics and lose sight of the changes we’re trying to make in people’s lives.
- To help look after the people you work with
As well as for the beneficiaries, internally you need clarity about who’s doing what in your work. You won’t know who really needs to be involved, who doesn’t and who need more support unless you capture people’s experiences. Things get forgotten, brushed under the carpet and people can get burnt out or resentful.
- Build organisational resilience
If you are not capturing and making this information about your work understandable to others you not just doing yourself a disservice, but also risk the resilience of your organisation. If one person leaves and has all that knowledge ‘in their head’, you risk it getting lost. A good evaluation approach breaks things down so each part of the work can be understood and shared with others.
- Know why things are working
Perhaps, most importantly, you want to know why things are working. Without knowing why you won’t be able to develop your work and improve your model. Intuition is important but only gets us so far. Imagine trying to build a house by intuition and without plans, measures or tools. Comparatively speaking, building a house is simple; trying to improve the world is far, far more complicated.
- Life is complicated
Ok so this is a bit of cheat as it is part of all of the above. But let’s face it, life is really complicated, changing the world is really complicated. No one can know or keep up with everything that happens in a project, so you need all the sensing, research, analysis and insight you can get to inform your decisions. A good evaluation approach will do this for you.
If you’ve made it this far, well done. I commend you on your staying power. Looking over the list, you may be thinking, as I was, hmm well some of that is a bit project planning, some of it’s a bit project managementy, and some of it is a bit researchy isn’t it? Well yes, you’re right. I was a bit surprised as well when I finished it. But then I realised this is really what evaluation is all about. It’s something that sits across all areas of a project and only really flourishes when everyone is embedding it in their work.
The good thing about doing a top 10 is that people always say there’s a reason you’ve missed – so what have I missed?