You want it to go smoothly, so you can keep your other work moving.
Here are five steps which will help you keep your evaluation hassle-free.
1. Get people on board
Getting people on board at the outset saves hassles later on. You don’t want to work all the way through the evaluation, come up with a good set of recommendations and then find senior management have other priorities, or project staff are resistant to the proposed changes.
- Prepare your reasons why the evaluation will benefit: your organisation / the project / partners / stakeholders / other parties, taking into account the wider picture of these parties, and how your project fits in.
- Be prepared to genuinely listen to difficulties the various parties may raise, and then seek ‘win-win’ solutions to these difficulties. This may involve modifying your plans.
- Get people on board at the outset, that way you can create a positive environment from the start.
2. Foster a positive environment
A positive environment around the evaluation will help diminish the threat that some people feel when they hear the ‘evaluation’ word. Those closely involved with the inception of the project, and those running it on a day to day basis may think of it as ‘their baby’, and feel defensive at the thought of it being ‘assessed’, particularly if an outsider is involved. This might discourage them from engaging fully in the evaluation.
- Tell people about the evaluation as early as possible, and take every opportunity to remind them about it.
- Keep them fully informed as the evaluation progresses, particularly of changes.
- Show your own positive attitude in practical ways, and make it clear you’re personally learning from the evaluation.
3. Treat the evaluation as a learning opportunity
A good way to take the threat out of the evaluation is to treat it as a learning opportunity. In this way ‘criticisms’ can be turned into ‘suggestions’, and ‘mistakes’ into ‘lessons for the future’.
- Proactively adopt a no-blame culture yourself; where mistakes are OK so long as lessons are learned.
- Encourage this learning culture within your team and wider sphere of influence.
- Include an aim ‘to learn from the evaluation process’ in the evaluation specification.
4. Allocate time to the evaluation
If you’re short of time you may plan to contract some or most of the evaluation out to a consultant. If this is the case, you’ll still need to spend time helping the consultant understand what your project aims to achieve, what your stakeholders are looking for etc. Otherwise you may end up with an evaluation report which isn’t particularly helpful to you.
- Schedule enough time to ensure any consultant involved really understands your project – how it originated, its aspirations, and how it works on a day to day basis, They will also need to know how your organisations works.
- Schedule admin time to collate lists of clients, stakeholders, project achievements, and any monitoring data. It’s very unlikely an outsider can do this for you.
- Schedule regular times into your diary to be in touch with the consultant. If everything runs smoothly this time may not all be needed; if there are hitches you’ll have the time to deal with them.
5. Develop a specification for your evaluation
Without a spec, like a meeting without an agenda, evaluation feedback will drift off in all directions, and you’ll have a hard job drawing any conclusions.Even if you plan to carry out the evaluation yourselves, you’ll need a specification of what it aims to achieve, as well as any constraints such as timescale and budget.
You can use the evaluation specification as the basis of a contract with any consultant you decide to appoint to help with the evaluation.
- Prepare the evaluation aims and objectives in consultation with colleagues, project staff, funders and any partners. This will help get them on board, and the whole process will focus attention on your project.
- Focus the evaluation on key project objectives; usually it’s impractical to check out achievement of all of a project’s aims and objectives.
- Include timescale and budget, and any suggestions you have for the evaluation methods. Be open to revising the specification if needed as the project progresses.
You’ve probably noticed that three of the five steps to a hassle-free evaluation are ‘people’ factors: getting them on board, fostering a positive environment and treating the process as a learning opportunity.
Taking steps to address these ‘people’ aspects greatly increases your chances of setting up the evaluation, running it and achieving positive follow-up. Someone inside the organisation needs to be involved in addressing these steps; they can’t readily be achieved by an outsider, though an outside perspective can certainly help.
Of course there can be all sorts of technical hitches too, and an experienced evaluator will help you take care of these. Allocating time to the evaluation and having a clear evaluation specification will minimise these hitches.
The bottom line: Address these five steps and you’ll be well on the way to a hassle-free evaluation!© May Johnstone, 2008, Project Perspectives.co.uk. Please feel free to circulate this article provided it is used in its entirety, including this acknowledgement.