Existing documents

existing documents; project documents; programme documents; document review

Reviewing documents produced as part of the implementation of the evaluand can provide useful background information and be beneficial in understanding the alignment between planned and actual implementation.

Types of existing documents

Existing documents can include those produced as part of implementation and those produced as part of other monitoring and evaluation activities. 

Documentation of implementation

  • Budget and financial reports: documents showing project expenditures, budget allocations, and financial accountability.
  • Communication materials: any public communication materials, such as brochures, websites, or social media posts, which may provide insights into project messaging and outreach.
  • Internal and external evaluations: previous evaluations of the evaluand (thing being evaluated) whether conducted internally or by external evaluators, which can provideincluding findings, insights, lessons learned, and recommendations.
  • Meeting minutes: records of project-related meetings that may include decisions made, action plans, and discussions relevant to the evaluation.
  • Project reports: regular project reports such as monthly, biannual, or annual reports that document the progress, achievements, challenges, and outcomes of the project.
  • Training materials: documents related to training sessions or capacity-building initiatives conducted as part of the project.

Previous monitoring data, evaluations and research of the evaluand

  • Baseline data: initial data collected at the beginning of the project to establish a starting point for comparison during the evaluation.
  • Needs assessments: assessments conducted before or during the project to identify the needs, priorities, and concerns of the target population or community.
  • Research papers and publications: any scholarly or academic publications resulting from research conducted as part of the project.
  • Site reports: reports generated by staff or representatives working at a project site, detailing observations, challenges, and successes during project implementation.
  • Surveys and questionnaires: any data collection tools and results, including surveys or questionnaires, that were used during the project for monitoring or data gathering purposes.
  • Technical advisor input reports: reports or recommendations provided by technical advisors who offer their expertise to the project.

Advice for choosing this method

This method is appropriate when:

  • It will be possible to gain adequate permissions and consent and ensure privacy and ethical concerns are addressed both when selecting documents to review and in using these in an evaluation. This is particularly important when documents contain sensitive or personally identifiable information.

This method can be useful when you want to:

  • Develop an initial description of the evaluand – especially when some or all of the evaluation team do not have a good understanding of it already, or when there have been changes over time that have current significance.
  • Develop a theory of change – including whether there have been changes over time in how the evaluand is understood to work, or work differently in different contexts
  • Sample from a population – informing how samples of participants, sites or time periods might be usefully sampled for data collection
  • Use measures and indicators – including developing baselines and drawing on existing data
  • Analyse data – filling in gaps in evidence or providing possible explanations for findings

Advice for using this method

  • Clearly and comprehensively document the data sources used and the data search, selection and extraction processes.
  • Effective communication and collaboration with stakeholders is important in order to gain access to and understand the context of documents.
  • Consider possible gaps in the available documents that are available, any significant changes since the documents were created, which can affect how relevant the information in the documents are to the evaluation.
  • Ensure adequate permissions to use existing documents and data are obtained, and that adequate data security and data privacy processes are followed


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'Existing documents' is referenced in: