What is Evaluation?

May 7, 2013

Evaluation is the systematic process of asking questions that matter and then collecting and using data to help answer those questions  in order  to improve the work of your organization  and  tell your story of change.

At its core, evaluation is reflection geared toward improvement.   It is a learning process that helps an organization make better decisions for the future based on a better understanding of the current and past.   And though it is a process of learning from what you have done, evaluation should not be tacked onto the end of a project — it needs to start at the beginning.   Only when fully integrated into your planning and work can evaluation best assist you in determining the effectiveness of your work and thereby help shape your organization’s pursuit of its mission.

Essentials of Evaluation:

  • Planning: Understand what you want to achieve with evaluation and incorporate it from the start
  • Identify your evaluation focus, determine your evaluation design, and develop a plan
  • Making your evaluation fit your needs: ask necessary questions to tailor the process to your needs
  • What is the question you want an answer to?
  • What do you want to learn?
  • Who is this evaluation for?
  • What information will help answer the evaluation question?
  • How will we gather the data? Who will be involved?
  • How much will it cost?
  • What might the results look like?
  • How will you use the evaluation findings?
  • Above all, evaluation should be based on what you need to know and learn
  • Evaluating the process of your work: Did we do  what  we said we would do,  how  we said we would do it,  for whom  we said we would reach?
  • How is the program functioning as it was designed and intended to be?
  • What is delivered, in reality?
  • Where are the gaps between program design and delivery?
  • Evaluating the outcomes of your work: What  resulted  because of this effort?
  • What is the difference made by this program? What is the impact?
  • What changes in attitudes, beliefs, skills, actions occurred among the target audience?
  • Telling your story: using what you learned
  • Know your audience ahead of time
  • Connect your evaluation to decision making, improvement and learning
  • Make your evaluation reports user friendly and customized for specific audiences
  • Share with your Board, staff, funders, partners, and community
  • Share the good, the bad, and the unexpected
  • Use it or don’t do it

Resources from the Evaluation 101 Workshop:

Additional Resources: