Terms of reference
Develop the formal document that outlines the requirements for the evaluation.
The Terms of Reference (ToR) or Request for Proposal (RFP) are an explicit statement of the resources, roles and responsibilities of the evaluators and the evaluation commissioner or manager including:
- why and for whom the evaluation is being done;
- what it intends to accomplish;
- how it will be accomplished;
- who will be involved in the evaluation; and,
- when milestones need to be reached including when the evaluation needs to be completed.
Step 2 already helped to prepare a lot of the information, so writing the ToR is mostly a matter of bringing the necessary information together in this document.
For an internal evaluation - carried out by staff of the organization - the ToR is often called the 'evaluation brief' or the 'evaluation agreement'. Most of the elements of a formal ToR or TFP for external evaluators are relevant to be included in an internal evaluation brief/agreement.
In addition to the specifics about the project or program and its context, the evaluation –the purpose, scope, key evaluation questions and evaluation methodology (or how they should be developed) – the ToR / RFP should also include reporting requirements, milestones or deliverables, time frames, and relevant contractual requirements.
While the ToR or RFP of any evaluation process will need to be tailored to the particulars of that study and follow the requirements of the organization, there are elements which all ToRs / RFPs should include:
- Purpose/objectives/rationale for the evaluation
- Intended user(s) and use(s) of the evaluation
- Key evaluation questions
- The principles and approach that will guide the evaluation
- Roles and responsibilities of different actors
- Reporting requirements (see immediately below)
- Timeline and milestones
- Any specific requirements
Some organizations will include an indicative or ceiling budget.
The reporting requirements for the evaluation (referred to above as section 8 in a ToR) may include:
- The desired format(s) (such oral, written, video, etc.)
- Dissemination materials (such as summary, briefs, presentation materials, newsletter, etc.)
- Intended audience(s)
- Content areas
- Desired length of the report
- Whether the report should include specific recommendations
- Whether the data sets should be returned such as completed questionnaires, surveys, interview notes and tapes, etc.)
- Mode of delivery
- Any specific restrictions or needed permissions to publish information from or based on the evaluation
What it involves
The ToR / RFP should be drafted before the evaluation starts. Consultants may be involved in further refining the evaluation design but the evaluation commissioner has to ensure that the ToR specifies what the evaluation needs to accomplish and what is expected from the evaluators. It is important, as part of the decision making processes, to agree on who needs to provide direct input, review and sign-off the ToR before it is released.
The following steps prepared information needed for the ToR:
- Decide whether the evaluation will be conducted internally, externally, or by a mixed team of evaluators (see Step 2 for more detailed guidance). The ToR should include all the information external evaluators need to decide if they will bid for the work.
- Determine the selection criteria for the external evaluator(s) (see Step 2 for more detailed guidance). Among the range of evaluator qualities, the ToR should be clear which qualities are ‘desired’ and which are ‘essential’. These will serve as criteria to support a transparent process for selecting the most suitable consultant(s). Both the criteria and the process for selection of the external evaluator(s) should be specified in the ToR.
Clarify whether the evaluation design will be developed as part of the ToR, as the first stage of the evaluation, or as a separate project (see Step 5). There are two basic scenarios for addressing the evaluation methodology in the ToR:
- (1) The ToR specifies a particular evaluation methodology that needs to be used and the evaluator competencies can be specified accordingly; or
- (2) The ToR states that the first task of the external evaluator(s) is to design the evaluation and select an appropriate methodology, in which case it is helpful, at least, to articulate some values and/or principles that need to be upheld in the evaluation process.
- Draft the ToR with the input from relevant staff
- Obtain feedback from key stakeholders
- Obtain sign-off from senior management, as per the organization's specific requirements
The ToR / RFP:
- becomes a free-standing, public document
- can be used as the basis for developing the contract with the external evaluator(s)
- can be used to support discussions with primary evaluation users about their information needs
The following items are potential outputs from this step. Where possible, it might be useful to research other deliverables that have also been shown to be effective.
- Evaluation brief or evaluation agreement (for internal evaluations)
- Terms of Reference (ToR) / Request for Proposal (RFP) (for evaluations that include external evaluators)
Use the BetterEvaluation GeneraTOR Terms of Reference tool to write your TOR
You can use a template in a wordprocessing software to write the ToR for your evaluation or you can use the GeneraTOR below which will guide you through writing the different sections of a ToR / RFP. It will generate a word document with your saved information which can then be further refined and/or reviewed by others.
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Further guidance can be found in Writing Terms of Reference (ToRs) for an Evaluation. Evaluation Guideline Nr 5, March 2004.
Note that it is a requirement to alert evaluator(s) that the quality of the evaluation report they produce will be judged by IDRC’s Evaluation Unit on four internationally recognized standards: utility, feasibility, accuracy, and propriety. A copy of “Quality Assessment of IDRC Evaluation Reports”should be given to the evaluator(s) to ensure they understand how the quality of the evaluation report will be assessed (see also Step 8).
IDRC staff can access many examples of actual ToRs used in IDRC-supported evaluations in the repository of Evaluation Terms of Reference which was compiled by the Policy and Evaluation Division.
IDRC staff can also request the Evaluation Unit to review and comment on an evaluation ToR under development.
'Terms of reference' is referenced in:
- Communication for Development (C4D) :
- Manager's guide to evaluation :
- Manager's guide to evaluation :