Evaluation also needs to be planned for during the project planning phase rather than left to the end of the project.
The quality of an evaluation can be compromised if you are scrambling to just get some kind of evaluation done, rather than being thoughtful and intentional about what you want to find out. It is critical especially if you are reporting to funders for the project, as well as for learning and continuous improvements.
If you do not have funds to hire an evaluator, you may be able to involve graduate level students to assist in the development and implementation of the evaluation tools.
Evaluation can take many forms including: informal comments and word-of-mouth feedback from participants, to more formal questionnaires and surveys. The evaluation can be immediate, that is, done at the end of or shortly following the event. It can also be done after some time has passed focus groups, and can include either or both quantitative and qualitative inquiry.
The first questions to ask yourself are what do we want to know and why? Will we be reviewing the evaluation for just ourselves, or will we be sharing the results? There may be questions that the funding bodies are expecting you to ask. Or maybe it is entirely up to you as to how you are going to measure success and impact. If the project is a demonstration or pilot project, i.e., intended to test out and potentially make a case for a longer-term project or ongoing program, the evaluation will form the needs assessment for the next proposal.
For an evaluation to have weight or validity it is important to have someone or some entity that was not responsible for developing or delivering the project to conduct and compile the evaluation results. It can be very helpful to partner with an academic or research institution for the evaluation stage. The primary partners would have input into the evaluation and what questions get asked, but someone else would be conducting it and doing some initial analysis. It will be up to the partners ultimately to synthesize the results and make any resulting changes or adjustments if it is a project that will happen again or is intended to become an ongoing program.
Once you have completed your evaluation it is good to think outside of the box about how to share and disseminate the results. If we take time to do this step we have the potential to go beyond our immediate community to reach out and make new connections and bring recognition to the project and the parties involved, and the participants of the project as well.
We need to be able to be strong enough to be open to critical feedback, hearing not only what worked well or was appreciated, but what could have been better or different. In addition to thinking about feedback for the partner, you should reflect on what you feel you did well and what you would do differently.
It is important that once we have taken some time to reflect and prepare, we should make the time, to share that feedback in a good way. This can help both parties grow individually and in their relationship. It can lead nicely into a form of celebration and thanks and acknowledgement for the commitment of working as partners on a common goal.