What is evaluation?

There are many different ways that people use the term 'evaluation'. 

At BetterEvaluation, when we talk about evaluation, we mean:

any systematic process to judge merit, worth or significance by combining evidence and values

That means we consider a broad range of activities to be evaluations, including some you might not have thought of as 'evaluations' before. We might even consider you to be an evaluator, even if you have never thought of yourself as an evaluator before!

Different labels for evaluation

When we talk about evaluation, we also include evaluation known by different labels:

  • Review
  • Assessment
  • Impact analysis
  • Social impact analysis
  • Appreciative inquiry
  • Cost-benefit assessment

Different types of evaluation

When we talk about evaluation we include many different types of evaluation - before, during and after implementation, such as:

  • Needs analysis —​ ​which analyses and prioritises needs to inform planning for an intervention​
  • Ex-ante impact evaluation — which predicts the likely impacts of an intervention to inform resource allocation
  • Process evaluation —​ which examines the nature and quality of implementation of an intervention​
  • Outcome and impact evaluation —​ which examines the results of an intervention​
  • Sustained and emerging impacts evaluations —​ which examine the enduring impacts of an intervention sometime after it has ended​
  • Value-for-money evaluations —​ which examine the relationship between the cost of an intervention and the value of its positive and negative impacts​
  • Syntheses of multiple evaluations —​ which combine evidence from multiple evaluations​

Monitoring and evaluation

When we talk about evaluation we include discrete evaluations and ongoing monitoring, including:

  • Performance indicators and metrics
  • Integrated monitoring and evaluation systems

Evaluations by different groups

When we talk about evaluation we include evaluations done by different groups, such as:

  • External evaluators
  • Internal staff
  • Communities
  • A hybrid team

Evaluation for different purposes

When we talk about evaluation we include evaluations that are intended to be used for different purposes:

  • Formatively, to make improvements
  • Summatively, to inform decisions about whether to start, continue, expand or stop an intervention.

Formative evaluation is not the same as process evaluation. Formative evaluation refers to the intended use of an evaluation (to make improvements); process evaluation refers to the focus of an evaluation (how it is being implemented).

  Formative evaluation Summative evaluation
Process evaluation Focused on processes: intended to inform decisions about improving (primarily implementation) Focused on processes: intended to inform decisions about stop/go
Impact evaluation Focused on impact: intended to inform decisions about improving (primarily design characteristics) Focused on impact: intended to inform decisions about stop/go

As you can see, our definition of evaluation is broad. The resources on BetterEvaluation are designed with this in mind, and we hope they will help you in a range of evaluative activities.

How is this different to what other people mean by 'evaluation'?

Not everyone defines evaluation in this way because of their diverse professional and educational backgrounds and training and organisational context. Be aware that people might define evaluation differently, and consider the implications of the labels and definitions that are used.

For example, some organisations use a definition of evaluation that focuses only on understanding whether or not an intervention has met its goals. However, this definition would not include a process evaluation, which might be used to check the quality of implementation and provide timely information to guide improvements. And it would not include a more comprehensive impact evaluation that considered unintended impacts (positive and negative) as well as intended impacts identified as goals.

Some organisations refer only to formal evaluations that are contracted out to external evaluators, which leaves out important methods for self-evaluation, peer evaluation and community-led evaluation.