Week 14: New to evaluation? Here's what you need to read

Alan Mountain's picture 3rd April 2014 by Alan Mountain

Alan Mountain supports BetterEvaluation while he completes his Masters of International Development at RMIT University. In this blog, he looks at which resources have been most helpful to him as a new-comer to evaluation, both to understand the essentials and dive into more detail on different aspects. 

As someone new to evaluation, the variety of tasks, methods and requirements that are available for completing an evaluation can seem overwhelming. Today I’m going to share with you some of the resources that are available on the BetterEvaluation website that have helped me, and can help any beginner, make sense of what to do and how to do it.

First of all, to help you make sense of the big picture of an evaluation, there is no better place to start than the BE pages which guide you through an evaluation from beginning to end. First of all there’s the Plan and Manage an Evaluation page which outlines a seven stage process for conducting an evaluation and  provides links to the BetterEvaluation Task pages which allow you to refine you plan down to the nuts and bolts of the evaluation. The Decide which evaluation method to use page provides a framework for choosing options that will work for you. By analysing the key evaluation questions you want answered it outlines a process for comparing the pros and cons of each option; creating an evaluation matrix and then checking the feasibility of using the selected methods.    

Here are some of the resources on BetterEvaluation that I used when planning for evaluations during my studies.

Preparing for an evaluation

This guide from the American Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services and USAID outlines a seven-step process for preparing for an evaluation.  It includes a range of tools that can be used for each of the stages.  While it is generally aimed at evaluation managers working on larger programmes, many of the steps are easily adapted for evaluators who wish to evaluate smaller projects where resources may be limited. What I like most about this resource is that it is laid out in in an accessible way that makes it easy to navigate and understand each of the steps.  It also not only provides the guidance on how to implement each of the seven steps, it also provides clear tips and a description of the final product for each stage. Overall this is a great resource for beginners to get an idea of the steps involved in planning for an evaluation.

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Evaluation handbook

This guide from the W K Kellogg Foundation provides a comprehensive overview of the whole evaluation process and includes detailed examples for each of the key areas it covers. While I don’t want to go into a detailed description of each section of the guide, I’d like to focus on a part that I think would be most benefit to inexperienced evaluators. Implementation steps 5, 6 and 7 of this guide focus on choosing data collection methods, collecting data and analysing and interpreting the data. These three had always created the most confusion for me as a beginner and the guide provides easy to follow steps and questions that allow you to choose effective methods for your particular context. It also provides detailed examples of a number of data collection methods which allows you to evaluate their suitability. Finally, the guide provides a number of different methods for analysing your data and includes two detailed examples that explain the process of selecting, collecting and analysing data. 

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Methods for monitoring and evaluation

I also found this annex to IFAD’s Guide for Project M&E an invaluable resource for determining the evaluation methods that I could use in my evaluation.  The annex provides detailed description and examples of 34 different methods that can be used to collect data for your evaluation, broken down into seven categories. The best part about the resource is that it not only explains the purpose of the method, but it also provides steps, tips and examples for using it, making it a very user friendly guide.

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Communicating and reporting an evaluation

Finally, I’d like to highlight another guide from the American Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services and USAID.  This time the focus is on the all-important process of reporting and communicating the results of your evaluation. The guide provides detailed discussion and guidance on effective communication and reporting and in particular ensuring utilisation of results.  It also outlines a range of reporting media and provides tips and tools that enable you to clearly disseminate the key findings of your work. As an inexperienced evaluator this is one area that can easily be overlooked, however, this guide makes it clear that it is an essential part of any evaluation. 

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This is just a handful of the diverse range of resources that can be found on BetterEvaluation to support inexperienced evaluators.  If you can’t find the answers to your evaluation questions by searching the website, you can always ask a question of one of our experienced evaluators who will be able to provide you with a prompt answer to support you on your evaluation journey.

What have been your go to resources for learning the basics about evaluation? Which would you recommend to a newcomer?

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rwatkins's picture
Ryan Watkins

Thanks for sharing this list, I will recommend several of these to my students.  You may not have come across it yet, but you would also likely find A Guide to Assessing Needs (published by the World Bank and available for free) useful as well.  It is similar to several of the resources that you mention in that it offers practical guidance for those doing needs assessments.  There are also lots of other free resources at NeedsAssessment.org that evaluators may find helpful to their work.

Max Walsh's picture
Dr Max Walsh

Thank you very much Alan for this helpful blog.

The references that you provided are especially useful.  I would suggest to "new" evaluators that the WH Kellogg "Logic Model Development Guide" that can be located within your links is also important reading, given that many agencies are now looking more and more for clear logic in both designs and evaluations including a "theory of change" and commentary on it.

Alan Mountain's picture
Alan Mountain

Thanks for your comments and suggestion Max, they are very much appreciated.

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