Stop! If that’s your opinion of evaluation I think you’ve got it all wrong, and here’s why.
Evaluation is a vital part of any piece of work. It helps you measure success and see your achievements, as well as helping you understand how to improve in the future. If job satisfaction is important to you and your colleagues (whether paid or unpaid) you’ll all benefit from seeing the impact you’ve made and knowing how you can build on it.
And evaluation is not some add-on that you ignore until the ‘real’ work is done. You need to think about it from the beginning, make a plan, and act on it throughout. As I have discovered to my peril, it’s no use deciding that you need to talk to participants at every event when three quarters of the events have already happened.
Have a plan
The first stage of evaluation is to think about what the aims and objectives of your work are. I’m constantly amazed at how often this doesn’t happen despite being essential for both project planning and evaluation. This is how you will measure success. Try evaluating a piece of work that had no clear aims and objectives and you soon realise you have no way of knowing how well (or badly) you’ve done.
Once you know what you’re trying to achieve, think about how you can monitor it. It’s important that you try to include measures relating to each of the aims/objectives of the project. This is likely to include:
- Quantitative information. For example the number of clients you worked with, number of visitors at an event, participants in a workshop, clicks on your website, hours spent doing an activity, how many people would recommend you to a friend.
- Qualitative information. What did people get from taking part? What difference did you make to the lives of your clients? How did the partners involved feel about the event? What change have people experienced as a result?
Qualitative information is often thought of as impartial and is generally easy to analyse and present. However, it can be dry and often doesn’t say much about the actual impact of the work.
Quantitative information, by contrast, can be difficult to assess, open to different interpretations, and hard to present, but can really speak to people about impact and individual successes of the programme.
A good evaluation will include a mixture of quantitative and qualitative information.
Next you have to think about how to collect the information you want. This could include questionnaires, surveys, counting numbers, looking at clicks on your website, …, the list is endless. Think about how practical it is as well as whether it will actually get you the information you want.
A word of warning - it’s not always possible or practical to get it all. For example, if you send out a questionnaire you might get a very low response rate which won’t give enough data to be of any use. Or your website might not be technically advanced enough to track the user information you want to measure; or counting the number of people attending a street festival might require a lot of staff presence on the ground which is financially unviable, etc.
If a particular measure won’t work or isn’t manageable, try to be creative and think of another way of collecting information that will enable you to assess performance against that aim or objective.
Collect the information
It goes without saying that you need to make sure you collect the information identified as you go through the programme. It’s no use looking back and realising you’ve missed the opportunity, you need to be on top of it. It can be useful to build evaluation activity into the project plan and/or to have a lead person responsible for the evaluation who can make sure it doesn’t get pushed aside through the life of the project.
Think about how you present it
Once you’ve got all the information you need you will need to analyse it and think about how you’re going to present your findings to others.
A good starting point is to look back at each aim and objective and assess each separately. That way you can see where your successes were and which areas may need to be improved in future.
Think about using graphs, charts and tables to present your findings, as well as text. This can make it easier for people to take in the information and can break up a report.
Don’t keep it to yourself
Now you’ve evaluated your project, share it with the world! If the evaluation report is very long and makes for dull reading despite your best efforts, write an executive summary or think about pulling out the conclusions, or producing a separate document of just the graphics and a few key points.
- Send it to everyone involved in the project so they can see its successes and the potential to build on it.
- Write a blog or a web article summarizing the findings.
- Tweet about it.
- Find a human interest angle and send a press release to the local media.
Charities can be good at telling people what we’re going to do or what we’d like to do (if only you’d give us the money…) but sometimes aren’t so good at reporting back on our successes.
And voila, the evaluation zombie has become a trusted critical friend.