A recent newsletter by research consultancy, Development Works, attempted to determine where evaluation should be on NGO priority lists in their article: ‘Evaluation in the time of funding crisis’. They rightly state that evaluation should remain an important priority despite a restrictive funding environment for reasons including the fact that evaluation can enable organisations to secure funding because it illustrates “responsibility, accountability and credibility”. I agree, but I also believe that there are ways in which organisations and the NGO community can approach evaluation to make it simpler and more cost effective.
Firstly, in terms of individual organisations: Evaluation should be simplified in the minds of NGOs. Evaluation is simply a way of answering the key questions about whether, why and how an intervention worked, and if not why not? An essential first step for them is to establish an evaluation plan that is linked to a good monitoring strategy. A simple, doable plan will be better and selecting standardised indicators when these are available will go a long way towards achieving this. Although some indicators are better measured through once-off research interventions, there are many that can be monitored and the variables being regularly monitored provide context for the findings of those that are not. The next important task is for the organisation to systematically collect good quality data that can be used to inform evaluation studies. This is admittedly a challenge, but one that does not cost a lot of money, requiring motivation and good management instead. By implementing the above organisations will not only be improving their programmes through better monitoring, they will be collecting a large part of the data required for evaluation, thus reducing the cost of such a study significantly. Funders might also be willing to fund useful evaluations, especially where high quality data is available. At the DG Murray Trust we see evaluation and research as projects with high catalytic potential and have therefore funded a number of these projects since we started implementing our new strategy last year.
Secondly, in terms of the NGO community: Organisations can save a lot of money on establishing monitoring and evaluation plans by sharing indicators and data collection methodologies. It is important that we provide a space for organisations to share their experience and it is also important for them to take the initiative to interact with similar organisations and to learn from each other (see our community of partners platform for an example of an online space where organisations can share resources and learning). The development of standardised indicators will go a long way towards helping us understand which strategies work best towards achieving a certain end. This information will be useful for the entire NGO community, including the funders who are faced with making decisions on which organisations to invest in. Something else to consider by the NGO community is the establishment and support (by funders) of ‘Evaluation NGOs’. Evaluation and all research for that matter can be expensive, but costs can be reduced for individual organisations if overheads are covered once (by a funder or group of funders) and if groups of similar organisations can be evaluated at the same time.
In conclusion, I think the question posed by Development Works is relevant and requires urgent consideration by NGOs and I fully agree that it should remain a priority for organisations. Priority in this case should not only mean budgeting though, by getting serious about planning and monitoring, evaluation can become simpler and more achievable even for organisations with limited funding.