Evaluation can help work on public engagement in four main ways:
- clarifying the objectives of the exercise by finding practical ways to measure / assess success (e.g. by identifying clear criteria for success against the objectives)
- improving project and programme management and improvement by building in review and reflection as the work progresses, especially on progress towards the objectives of the exercise
- improving accountability (e.g. for public funds) by fully reporting what is done and what it achieves; possibly linking to performance management
- improving future practice and policy by developing hard evidence and knowledge about ‘what works’ and what impacts different approaches can have have
Audit or learning?
Evaluation can provide a simple audit, answering questions such as:
- have we done what we said we were going to do?
- have we met our targets?
It can also provide a much deeper examination that considers what happened and why, answering questions such as:
- were the objectives we set ourselves the right ones?
- what have the impacts been on the participants, the policy, our decision-making processes etc?
- what have we learnt for the future?
The purpose of the evaluation determines the evaluation design – in exactly the same way as the purpose of the engagement determines the engagement design and methods. For example:
- if the evaluation is designed for an audit, a range of statistical methods will be required and data collected to show whether specific targets have been met
- if the evaluation is designed for learning, among participants as well as policy-makers and government, more qualitative methods such as individual and group interviews, observation and story collection can be used to describe and illustrate why and how something worked or did not. Reporting methods need to be designed to appeal to those for whom the learning is intended.
Independent or in-house?
Evaluation can be done by an independent evaluator, or by a member of the team running the engagement / policy process. It may be important for the evaluation to be independent to achieve external legitimacy but, if the main purpose of the evaluation is internal learning, it may be most appropriate for the whole process to be kept in-house. It will, however, always be important for an evaluation role to be identified and for responsibility for evaluation to be clearly designated.