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Ultimately, the question that must be asked about every project is:
“Has it made a difference for the beneficiaries?”
or at least:
“has it engendered change that will be for their benefit?”
Not enough projects ask themselves these questions and too many give the answer without any basis other than a personal feeling that the project went well. Evaluation – of the results of the project and the output from the project – is as close as we can come, within the life of the project, of knowing whether there has been an impact. Evaluation should be considered and set up when the project is designed. There are many different kinds of evaluation, and good projects often use a combination of several different kinds. Internal evaluation of different elements of the project – done by the organizations involved, the target groups and the beneficiaries (ideally a combination of all these) can take the form of pre- and post-testing (for example, at the beginning and end of a training course, to measure improvement in understanding or knowledge), formal feedback (for example through questionnaires to see whether the methodology engaged those participating), informal feedback (for example through a comments section on a website, to allow people to comment freely on the project outputs), in meetings (for example of partners, to evaluate whether communications have been smooth and deadlines have been met. External evaluation of both the project validity and its outputs can be commissioned from an independent expert, or a team of people who ‘accompany’ the project without being directly involved in it. Generally this will require a negotiated set of ‘indicators’ to be put in place at the beginning of the project – these are like targets that the project must strive to reach; they can measure output (for example whether a planned publication was produced on time, on budget and to expected quality standards), performance (for example whether the partners all met their commitments and the budget and reporting were handled efficiently), or impact (whether the change desired was realized).
Monitoring is a part of evaluation that begins as soon as the project does. Monitoring is effectively a mini-evaluation that is carried out regularly to make sure the project is on track. It, too, can cover output, performance and impact, although it generally (especially in a short project) will focus on output and performance. Often monitoring is done by a team of people led by the project coordinator, whose responsibility it is to see that the project progresses smoothly. The partners should ideally be involved also, as should representatives of the beneficiaries and target groups. The important thing about monitoring is that it should raise alarms when things are not going well, or when plans need to be changed or indeed when new possibilities arise that were not foreseen. It is much better to modify a project that needs review than to carry on regardless and hope for the best.