• Sanjukta Moorthy

What is Evaluation? (The E in PMEL)

So what exactly is evaluation? There is a big difference between the evaluation I talk about here and an impact assessment, which I will discuss in a separate blog post!

I like the abbreviation PMEL because it illustrates the cycle of planning, monitoring, evaluating, and learning from our work. I've found it's the most thorough process to ensure our programmes are meaningful to the people we work with and impactful.

Evaluation is the third step, though it is ideally done while monitoring your work and the implementation of:

  • a one-year project

  • a longer-term project

  • a programme (collection of projects with a longer-term goal, such as your organisation's education programme. These are sometimes called portfolios)

  • your organisation's work as a whole

  • your strategic approach to target the needs of your communities

  • your national or regional context

  • the work of your organisation and partners, or a consortium

  • your context or field, which includes everyone from the people you work with, to your NGO partners, to your donor (sometimes this is called a situation analysis)

[In these blog posts, I use the word 'project' to talk about your work. But as you can see above, you can use all of these PMEL techniques from short-term projects to your organisation's strategic approach! Just substitute the relevant word for your needs]

Evaluation is internal, like your monitoring. In an efficient system, both monitoring and evaluation are done simultaneously throughout the project (which is why my industry is sometimes referred to as M&E). They naturally flow together, and evaluation is a process that you and your team will engage in at various levels throughout the project.

Evaluations are conducted during a project and are often done close to a reporting deadline so that there is a body of data from which to draw upon. However, many organisations also conduct their own evaluations after a project has ended.

This can help you to learn about:

  • your key strategic approaches and assumptions contained within the Theory of Change, and assess whether they are still relevant

  • whether the [roject's activities have been efficient

  • go up the results chain to look at whether and how your activities and outputs led to specific outcomes

  • whether your work has been relevant to the communities you're working with and addresses key needs

  • the efficiency of your project - for example, should you have spent more time on advocacy activities, and would that have helped you achieve better results?

  • the smaller contributions to an impact (though impact assessment is different and can truly only be done at least a year after the project has ended)

You can learn about what worked and what didn't during the project's entire cycle or the latest implementing period or phase. The analysis you uncover during your project evaluation can often go into a donor report and is really useful to share with your senior management, Board members, and external stakeholders as relevant.

You should also evaluate your work at key moments during the project (sometimes called 'decision gates'). This could be before you launch a new phase, increase the scale of an existing activity, or start working with a new demographic group. Taking some time to review the work done to date and assess what should change to make your project more effective in the coming phase can help you better meet your results.

Evaluations focus on the outcomes and contributions to impact, while monitoring looks at activities and outputs. Looking at the two processes together, you can help see how your work contributes to change up the results chain.

This is all different to an external evaluation and an impact evaluation, for which you would use an external consultant or firm, like me. If you are interested in such an exercise, get in touch to tell me more about your needs. I would love to help you!