If you asked me for my top piece of advice when it came to evaluation I would say: “have a good plan at the beginning and everything else will flow”. Often the hard thinking work comes up front at this formative stage, but believe me, that pays off.

Whilst we often work with cultural organisations to plan and evaluate learning and engagement programmes, we also deliver workshops in which we support staff and stakeholders to develop their own evaluation plans. This way, they can go on to undertake the evaluation themselves. In either case, the devising of an evaluation framework really then makes the doing much easier.

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I thought I’d share 5 of the most common questions we get asked about evaluation planning:

1. What is an evaluation framework?

A plan that underpins the evaluation. It describes your audiences or participants, the outcomes you want to bring about, what will indicate if you have achieved these, the evidence that can help you prove it, and the methodologies you will use. You can add further detail, such as who will be involved, the resources you’ll need and when you will do the data collection.

2. Who should create a framework?

Far too often, the person who be will delivering the project is solely tasked with writing the framework. Whilst this person often knows the project best, I recommend involving a wider range of people. Certainly the people who’ll be involved in delivering activities, but think also about volunteers, behind-the-scenes staff, perhaps external stakeholders such as community organisations you may be working with.

3. How should we create a framework?

Getting everyone round the table is a great way to start, but what to do once you’re there? Rather than crowding round an empty Gannt chart or spreadsheet we’d recommend you work through some key questions, such as:

  • Who are the stakeholders of this work? Why is evaluation important to them?

  • What difference do we want this project to make? What changes do our funders want to see?

  • What will happen if changes take place? What are the indicators of achievement?

  • Who will feed back? What types of information will tell us this?

  • What evaluation tools might we use?

  • What resources do we need?

We deliver evaluation workshops in which people work through key questions, gather relevant information and facilitate key decisions through a set of group exercises, thereby drafting their framework as they go along. It’s important to either record the conversation or have dedicated note-takers to capture the discussion.

4. How do we choose the right evaluation tools?

There is no easy and short answer to this question and, in many cases, there is no single ‘right’ tool. It is consistently true, however, that the better you know your audiences, the more effective your tools will be. Understanding the rich detail of their lives, motivations, frustrations and so forth, will give you insight to apply when designing your evaluation. We encourage you to use relationships with partner organisations and with communities themselves to both build this knowledge and, ideally, to get help developing and testing evaluation tools. If you want to know what will or won’t work – ask. Crucially, always consider whether the activity is accessible, engaging, fun, embedded into the programme, supporting skills development, providing reflection moments, or even building into creative responses.

5. Why is the evaluation framework so important once the project gets going?

Once a project takes flight it can be tempting to forget the plan. It is a really useful document, though, to help you reflect continuously upon whether things are on track. It can remind you what you are trying to achieve, and whether the evaluation you are undertaking is actually helping you find this out or not. A good framework should be flexible. If you find that the tools you are using are not providing information, you need to evidence your aims, then redesign your approach.

Written by Maya Sharma, Learning and Participation Consultant
Featured in August's edition of The Learning Diaries. To receive The Learning Diaries, visit the sign up page.