Evaluate! Evaluate! We Must Evaluate! – A glossary of evaluation

Let’s start simply. This isn’t a blog for the experienced evaluator, who I guarantee has wielded a whisk in their kitchen and uttered these very words. This is the start of a whole season of Evaluation How Tos, Don’t Dos and a number of Face Palm “I Can’t Believe We Didn’t Dos”.

So where to start? – How about with a glossary of terms of the most confused (and confusing) words in our entire practical work language?

I am on a mission to ensure that organisations who need to make a difference to people are all signed up to using the same language.

Glossary of Terms - Introduction to Planning and Evaluating for Outcomes

Monitoring: the routine, systematic collection and recording of data about a project, mainly for the purpose of checking its progress against its plans.

Evaluation: the process of using monitoring and other data you collect – both qualitative and quantitative –  to make judgements about your project or organisation, how well you’re doing, what can be improved on and whether you’re on target to reach your goals. Or in the words of the National Lottery Heritage Fund:

“Evaluation is a systematic and objective assessment of an ongoing or completed project, programme or policy, its design, implementation and results. The aim is to determine the relevance and fulfilment of objectives, efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability.”

Inputs: the things that must be invested into a project in order to make activities happen such as volunteer time, staff resource, external expertise, or partnership contributions.

Activities or Interventions: these are literally the things you do and undertake with different audiences as part of the programme, your project, or organisation.

Outputs: the things that your project creates or produces such as new products, services, facilities, research papers – all resulting from the activities. These are the things you can count, such as number of visitors, number of volunteers or number of people trained.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or Outcomes Indicators: the specific and measurable data or information you can gather that tell whether you’re on the right track and your activities are actually delivering a change. By deciding what you want to collect, you will be able to determine how you want to collect it and what’s best for different audiences.

Outcomes: The specific changes or differences your project or organisation has, or plans to have, on people.  An outcome is the effect of your activities, measured through evidenced progress along agreed benchmarks, has over time. Understanding a project’s outcomes takes longer and is more resource intensive than you may expect. This is because you need to understand where your audiences began in order to assess the difference between where they are now compared to where they were when they started as a result of engaging with your activities. It’s always a good idea to set outcomes for the short, medium and longer term – so perhaps the beginning, middle and end of your project.

Impact: The difference and effect your project or organisation is having on your audiences over the long-term (whether this impact was planned or not!) They are hard to measure and even harder to attribute to your organisation or project’s activities. Plan for measuring impact by considering how you will assess the larger changes to people’s lives AFTER your project. Remember, you will need to set a benchmark before your project starts to really tell your story of how you have made an impact.

Knowing each of these terms is the beginning to understanding how to measure and evaluate your project well. Next month, we will explain how to put them all together into different frameworks.