Introduction & Key Concepts

This section of the toolkit provides a basic overview of the theory and language around evaluation of project outcomes/impacts, with an emphasis on information relevant to small/medium-sized projects. This section should help to answer the following questions:

  • What do we mean by evaluation?
  • What do we mean by outcomes and impacts?
  • Why focus on outcomes & impacts?
  • Does the project’s design allow for evaluation of outcomes/impacts?
  • How can unintended outcomes & impacts be measured?
  • Was any change caused by the project?

Tips for effective evaluation

Start early
The earlier you start to think about how you will measure project outcomes & impacts, the easier it is. Starting late in a project is still possible, but often makes it harder to demonstrate change and to link outcomes and impacts to project actions.
Be clear about why you want to evaluate
There are many potential ways that the results of an evaluation could be used. For example you might want to demonstrate results externally, use results to learn internally or a combination of both. Investing time to clarify who the evaluation’s key stakeholders are, and how the results of the evaluation will be used, will help you determine the most appropriate evaluation questions, which in turn will influence the methods and your plans for applying and communicating the results.
Don’t try to measure everything
Measuring one useful element of a project effectively is better than measuring several things poorly. For smaller projects the key to effective evaluation is to focus on the outcomes & impacts of the project where the most useful results will be generated with measures that are feasible to implement.
Ensure the project has a clear design
Having a project design which clearly outlines how your actions will bring about change (going from actions to outcomes and impacts) will provide a framework you can use to guide the evaluation, and will make interpretation of results much simpler.
Don’t just view evaluation as a reporting requirement
If fulfilling reporting requirements is the primary purpose when evaluating it is unlikely to generate enough motivation within the team to carry it out effectively. Perhaps most importantly evaluation allows you to test and improve what you are doing; for example by informing future decisions, both within the project and beyond. Sharing evaluation results helps to promote transparency , adaptive management and to create an evidence base for conservation learning.
Remember that negative outcomes/impacts are as important as positive ones
Evaluation is often driven by a desire to show that a project was successful or worthwhile. However, understanding and sharing what didn’t work is sometimes more important, and can help others to avoid unfruitful efforts. Don’t be scared to report these things to donors; most donors will welcome this, especially if you can demonstrate that you learned something from the experience.