It is essential to evaluate your project so you know if you are achieving your objectives, to recognise and respond to change in your project, and to recognise and address any challenges you encounter or to make necessary shifts in the project plans. It may also be a requirement of your funders that the project is evaluated on the criteria for which the funding was provided. As such it is imperative that the evaluation plan be designed at the outset of the project and implementation should commence at the very beginning.
Selecting the most appropriate evaluation tools is very important if your activities are to be adequately assessed. Making a case for the value of your work requires the creation of an evidence base. It is advisable to choose evaluation processes that have been tried and tested by respected institutions and modified to suit the needs and particular context of your activities as these will have been designed to a high standard and infer credibility on your findings. Projects will often benefit from external evaluation if the scale of the project and resources permits. For all projects evaluation should be considered when applying for funding and always included in both your budget and your schedule.
The first step in evaluating your project is to understand who are the stakeholders for the purposes of evaluation are and what each stakeholder expects from the project. For example: in an Arts Council funded project with a youth group, the stakeholders may include the Arts Council, the Youth Service, the Artists, and the Young People. What are the anticipated outputs and outcomes? What does each stakeholder want to achieve? What change is expected? What learning will accrue? Some of the information required here will already have been discussed and agreed as part of your planning and may have formed part of your Memorandum of Understanding.
For evaluation to be useful as a project management tool as well as a reporting tool, you may want to define different sets of expectations for different stages of the project. This may not be necessary for all stakeholders, but in addition to tracking the achievement of concrete milestones, this will provides you with a planned process for checking in with different stakeholders, to ascertain if the project is achieving its objectives and working well for everyone.
Robust and reliable evaluation requires the collection of good evidence or data. This can be quantitative (things that can be counted, such as the numbers of workshops, attendance, creative outputs) or qualitative (changes in behaviour, attitudes, confidence, knowledge or skill levels). Data can be gathered in many different ways such as group discussion, interviews, comment boxes, questionnaires or surveys. However, collecting and analysing data takes time and effort and as such consideration should be given to only collecting essential data that will be useful and used. To do otherwise is a waste of resources and will only obscure the more valuable information.
Repeating an evaluation process at regular intervals may be appropriate to assess progress over time. If the project is progressing as expected, this will allow the stakeholders to have confidence in the process. It may cause you to adopt a more ambitious approach or to explore opportunities for a further development of the project. Conversely, it may become evident that a project may be not be achieving its objectives as expected for some people. Your evaluation process will tell you this and allow you to take remedial steps.
Much of the data collected in order to evaluate the project may also be used to communicate the value of a project. While this may be considered as part of publicity or advocacy, it can be a key component of evaluation supporting your analysis. Documentation should be in keeping with the project theme, be feasible for the budget and agreeable to participants and take the most suitable format for your purposes eg. audio, video, photographic, verbal or written.
Documentation and evaluation will likely involve personal data and so must be considered and included under GDPR (and Child Safeguarding policies and consents if applicable).