Monitoring is the regular collection of information to describe the characteristics and outcomes of a program or service. Evaluation is a thorough analysis of all the information collected, and can assist an organisation in assessing how effectively the program or service is meeting its goals. Evaluation occurs less frequently than monitoring. It often occurs at the end of a program, or once a year, depending on what is required or appropriate.
Evaluations are important for many reasons, including to:
- verify if a program is meeting its aims and objectives
- help staff understand, confirm or increase the impact of a program
- support an organisation in making strategic decisions about a program
- help an organisation plan how to spend funds and resources effectively
- motivate staff and give them direction
- promote best practice
Evaluations do not have to be a standalone project. In fact, the best evaluations occur when staff recognise the evaluation process as an integral part of program delivery itself.
Some common evaluation approaches are:
- Design evaluation concentrates on defining a program. A design evaluation is used to document a program already in operation, or plan a new program
- Process evaluation is concerned with what actually happens in practice, focusing on the activity of a program
- Impact evaluation measures the impact of the program in terms of client or community benefits. It focuses on the extent to which the program has been able to achieve its objectives and deliver the desired outcomes
- Action research uses a series of cycles to research and reflect on practices within a program. The approach allows practices to be continually developed and refined over time while the program is being implemented
Your goal should be to select the evaluation method (or methods) which will be the most cost-effective and practical for your organisation, and the audience who will read the results. Whichever approach you use, you will need to plan an evaluation process involving four steps: Design, Implement, Reflect and Review.