Why should I care about evaluation?

As humanitarian evaluation practitioners, we often take for granted the importance of evaluations. We get caught up in setting up our methodology, or choosing the right evaluation questions. Yet without buy in, all of this won’t have any resonance.

During a training event, a Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning advisor put it bluntly:

"The [Evaluation of Humanitarian Action] Guide is great, but can you develop something even more basic? What I need the most is tools and resources to help me communicate to my programme staff in the field: what is an evaluation and what it should mean to them."

Her problem was even more basic than ensuring the high quality of Terms of Reference or finding the right consultants, it was that staff fundamentally did not know why they should care about evaluation. She wanted us to help her explain what value they would see from this process.

"Why should I, a super busy programme staff member with 500 other urgent things to do, care about evaluations?"

A number of reasons jump to mind:

Yet, how much do these responses help? Are we really getting out of our own ‘evaluation echo chamber’? After all, the question is: ‘why should I, a super busy programme staff member with 500 other urgent things to do, care?’

We think there are at least four reasons to care about evaluation:

  1. Evaluations are an opportunity to listen and be listened to.
    An evaluation can be an opportunity for the stakeholders, such as the affected population, to provide feedback on the project, programme or policy and act as a positive opportunity for engagement. For staff , it is a chance to receive constructive criticism, see things from the perspective of others as well as take a step back from the action and critically assess their work. In this way, a good evaluation creates space for reflection and learning.
  2. Evaluations offer an answer to: ‘How do you know it was successful?’
    A strong evaluation provides an opportunity for staff to verify their gut feeling, get beyond anecdotes and convincingly show that the project, programme or policy was indeed good and implemented well. Evaluators gather and assess data to make an objective judgement of worth. Therefore, an evaluation can help staff understand what is working and boost confidence in an intervention.
  3. Evaluations help make sure we have chosen the right response and we are doing that response right.
    Projects, programmes or policies are built incorporating an understanding of the context, the set of needs and capacity of the organisation. But was this understanding correct? Were the explicit or implicit assumptions within the intervention correct? In addition to situation analyses, monitoring and other project cycle activities, evaluations offer an opportunity to check that the right approach has been taken. Moreover, depending on their focus, they can capture intended and unintended results, to make doubly sure that we were not doing harm, and are indeed making a difference.
  4. Evaluations help us do better next time.
    Humanitarian interventions can always be improved and with the ever-shrinking pool of humanitarian funding, it is important to ensure that money is being used well. As ODI RAPID puts is, “To spend resources wisely, we have to understand what works, what doesn’t work – and why. That’s why good evaluation is a systematic process to assess the value of our activities and learn from them to inform future decisions". They help answer two essential questions: Is there a better way of doing what you are doing? Is this the most efficient and effective approach?

For more on why evaluations matter, see our Evaluation of Humanitarian Action Guide.

Discover more M&E commentary and resources on our M&E page

Find out more