What is evaluation?


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

On BetterEvaluation, we use the word ‘evaluation’ in its broadest sense to refer to any systematic process to judge merit, worth or significance by combining evidence and values. 

What is evaluation? 

Our definition includes evaluations that have different labels, such as: 

  • review
  • assessment
  • impact analysis
  • social impact analysis
  • appreciative inquiry
  • cost-benefit assessment

It includes different types of evaluations that are done before, during and after implementation, including: 

  • 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 examines the enduring impacts of an intervention some time after it has ended​

  • value-for-money evaluations —​ which examines 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​

It includes discrete evaluations and ongoing monitoring, including:

  • performance indicators and metrics
  • integrated monitoring and evaluation systems 

It includes evaluations done by different groups, such as: 

  • external evaluators
  • internal staff
  • communities
  • a hybrid team

It includes 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

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 which 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 options for self-evaluation, peer evaluation and community-led evaluation. 

Where can you go from here?

Want to learn more about what evaluation is? Follow one of the pathways below. 

Learn more about BetterEvaluation

As an organisation, BetterEvaluation takes a broad view to what constitutes 'evaluation'. Learn more about our work, and how our principles shape our approach to evaluation and our mission to create a better world through better decision-making.

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