Monitoring and evaluation: a demon or a virtue?

Most people think of monitoring and evaluation with some degree of trepidation. It can be viewed negatively in terms of ‘paperwork’, ‘extra time’ and ‘bureaucracy’, writes Big Lottery Fund Communications Manager Andrea Clarke.

But planned well, monitoring and evaluation can invigorate your project and staff and set your project on a path for greatness.

At the Big Lottery Fund we love Monitoring and Evaluation for five key reasons:

  • It tells us the difference your project will make over time on beneficiaries, volunteers and the wider sector.
  • It lets us know when things are working well and not so well and allows us to support any changes to your project.
  • It builds a culture of reflection and analysis to improve your work.
  • It lets other funders know how your project is performing and whether it’s worth funding.
  • It identifies good practice to help others make improvements

Without monitoring and evaluation your project might be going down the wrong path, you may be losing beneficiaries, using extra resources or duplicating existing services.  In addition your project will have no evidence base; its success will be based on ‘opinion’.

Monitoring and evaluation is a virtue if planned well. So what should you consider when planning it?

  • The difference between monitoring and evaluation.  Monitoring is the collection of routine data at key stages in your project normally the beginning, middle and end.  Whereas evaluation looks at the deeper questions such as how and why outcomes are achieved.
  • The questions that will be asked and how they will be asked.  Asking beneficiaries ‘do you think the project has worked well’ is leading and the results are likely to be biased.  It is better to ask participants to rate a service or their skills against a scale.
  • The audience + engagement.  I am unlikely to fill in lengthy questionnaires so why do we expect others to?  Monitoring and evaluation methods should be engaging and should allow for an element of anonymity to gain real, unbiased feedback.
  • The size and scale of the evaluation.  Funders want to know about what has worked and not worked with a robust sample size.  It should include your project beneficiaries, stakeholders, staff and partner organisations.
  • How the findings of the evaluation will be used.  Collect data that is relevant and that appeal to a range of funders to help with influence, partnerships and sustainability.
  • Costs and resources.  Make sure you budget for it and that it is included within the work plans for staff and volunteers.  Explain how important it is to those involved and how it will show case your achievements and flexibility- this will help to prevent it being viewed as a ‘burden’.

Finally those projects that continue to monitor, evaluate and adapt to findings are most likely to succeed in securing further and long term funding.

There are plenty of tools and further guidance notes available to help plan the best monitoring and evaluation for your project.  Check out our self evaluation guide and our guide to outcomes as a start.

Good luck

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