How Can Evaluation Make a Difference?
I recently spent three fantastic days in Montreal attending the 36th annual Canadian Evaluation Society Conference. The conference theme was, 'Evaluation for the world we want' and featured many informative and educational plenary, panel, and presentation sessions from national and international keynote speakers in the world of evaluation.
The conference got me thinking about how evaluation makes a difference and the reasons organizations and governments should conduct or commission this type of work. The decision to evaluate is usually motivated by things like material investment, high risk, innovative approaches, a high political priority or a desire to understand a program and its impacts. Here are a few of the insights I noted from the Conference on how evaluations can make a real difference:
- They can answer basic questions about a program's effectiveness and can be used to improve programs. Program Managers can find out what works and what doesn't. Knowing what works can preserve valuable resources and time. Knowing what doesn't work can assist program managers to make improvements in these areas by fostering critical thinking.
- Evaluation findings can demonstrate to funders and other stakeholders that a program has value and relevance. Sometimes it's hard to see the benefits until they're laid out in clear, objective detail.
- Conducting an evaluation can be useful in understanding issues in programs, assessing performance and identifying areas where additional support (whether in the form of funding or manpower) may be required
- Evaluations can provide a voice for stakeholders and staff to discuss the challenges they face and can offer potential solutions. Not everyone finds it easy to bring up negatives in a team environment; why not let the evaluation start the conversation?
- They can be a useful planning tool for similar programs and projects in the future
- They can provide evidence to support decision making around public policy, program continuation and improvement, replicating projects and developing budgets
- They provide a means of acquiring and providing information to citizens or groups on outcomes expected from policies and programs. This information is often seen as being more objective when it comes from a third party evaluator.
- Evaluations can add credibility and foster better governance by promoting accountability and transparency among stakeholders
How do I think evaluation can make a difference in our professional lives? I believe evaluations provide knowledge, which can lead to social betterment and act as a call to action. A well-executed evaluation encourages stakeholders to plan and reach for better policies, programs and workplaces. And this undoubtedly affects all of us as both employees and citizens.