Sometimes, it’s not possible to bring in an independent evaluator for your project. It might be something very small or the budget just isn’t there.
But there’s plenty you can do yourself.
And if you bring in help at the end of a project, thinking about some of the things in this article will make everyone’s lives easier and improve the quality of the evaluation.
Here are five areas to look at when thinking about your project evaluation.
1. The importance of planning
Often you will be required to create a Theory of Change or Logic Model for funders. It's a good idea to do this anyway to pin down what you should be measuring and evaluating. For example, do you need to set any baselines to measure the impact of your project?
Get data collection systems in place and consider the format you're collecting things in. How easy will it be to use at the end? This could be a database you already use, spreadsheets, survey platforms or more.
Think about GDPR and consent early on - make sure you're covered for contacting beneficiaries, particularly if they leave a project or programme.
If you’re not sure where to start, speak to people. There are so many projects and evaluations, there’s no need to re-invent the wheel. Learn from others, the good and the bad.
2. Using data to shape your project
Is some of the data you need already out there? There is a wide range of useful data available from national and local sources.
Use it to understand your local community. This can add context to your project and inform the way you deliver things. It also helps you identify data points you would like to collect on your participants/beneficiaries.
And if you’re not at the evaluation stage yet, this type of data can be handy for informing funding bids.
We’re also fortunate to have recent Census data available (unless you’re reading this in 2030). The custom dataset tool from ONS means that, with a bit of thought and time, you can get your hands on almost any data at any level.
3. Collecting good data to measure and understand impact
Is there new data you need to collect as you deliver your project? For example, new fields or categories to add to an existing database.
Do you need to run surveys and gather quantitative feedback? Here are some tips on setting up online surveys.
The kind of data which might be useful for an evaluation includes:
- Profiling and understanding the lives of your beneficiaries
- Status and outcomes linked to the topic of your project
- Interventions and activities that individual beneficiaries have accessed
4. Gathering feedback to add depth and identify learning
Gathering qualitative feedback from beneficiaries, stakeholders and the wider project team can provide a more in-depth understanding of challenges and opportunities of a project and also helps to bring the evaluation report to life. Everyone loves to hear a story!
- Individual interviews are often most useful if you want to capture impact stories or lived experiences
- Focus groups can work well when gathering feedback from wider stakeholders or the project team
- Open questions on surveys and feedback forms can also provide useful qualitative feedback
Think about who is best placed to gather this feedback. Should it be someone independent, or should it be someone known and trusted by the participant, like a support worker? And if it’s the latter, what help do they need to make sure they are gathering the most useful answers?
If you want some tips on writing interview questions the last couple of pages of this Harvard guide might be worth a look.
5. Telling the story of your project
Focus on the outcomes of your project. This is where your Theory of Change or Logic Model will come in handy again.
The more you dig, the more powerful your analysis can be. How does the analysis look by gender, area they live in, support they received and more?
But how do you find these stories?
- Data analysis - if you set up your spreadsheet in the right way, some simple pivot tables can go a long way. Compare outcomes by categories or apply filters to focus on particular groups.
- Survey analysis - most survey platforms will have some analysis functions built-in. If not, download the data to Excel and work from there.
- Qualitative analysis - can you code open-text responses into key themes? Can you summarise key themes from interviews and groups? Could you create some case studies or pen portraits?
Planning to write an evaluation report? We have 50 tips for writing research reports.
However you approach your evaluation, it's a good idea to collect data, gather feedback and share learnings as the project develops, not just at the end. You might find some small changes can have a big impact.
Still not sure where to start?
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