Having worked with non-profit organizations for several years, I still get asked this question from time to time. What do you mean by evaluation? Evaluation has so many connotations; it can be done on a more simplistic level, i.e., I want to evaluate whether to pursue this software product for my home or business vs developing a full-scale evaluation of an activity, project or program, etc.
According to the online dictionary, it is the making of a judgment about the amount, number, or value of something; assessment. In the public health field, we define it in more concrete terms. After a review of several definitions, I found this one by the United Nations Evaluation Group to be more comprehensive:
“An assessment, as systematic and impartial as possible, of an activity, project, programme, strategy, policy, topic, theme, sector, operational area, or institutional performance. It analyses the level of achievement of both expected and unexpected results by examining the results chain, processes, contextual factors and causality using appropriate criteria such as relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact and sustainability.”
This definition considers there is a systematic assessment of an activity, program, project, etc. conducted to achieve a result. Systematic refers to there being a series of steps involved. Impartial means that the assessment is conducted without bias and subjectivity. The evaluation will examine the expected against the achieved results and decides based on if the expected results have been achieved. This analysis is done by using several methods which I will discuss in another blog.
Due to limited budgets, many organizations will scrimp on this part. For long term sustainability, it is important that organizations conduct an unbiased evaluation to assess the effectiveness of their activities, projects and/or programs, etc.