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close this bookBasic Guide to Evaluation for Development Workers (Oxfam, 1995, 96 p.)
close this folder4 The purpose and use of evaluation
View the document4.1 Reasons for evaluation
View the document4.2 Judging success and failure
View the document4.3 Measuring quantity and quality
View the document4.4 What evaluation can do
View the document4.5 What evaluation can not and should not be used for

4.1 Reasons for evaluation

There are many different reasons why evaluations are carried out. Some good reasons are to measure progress and effectiveness; to look at costs and efficient use of resources; to find out if it is necessary to change the way things are being done; and to learn from what has happened in order to make plans for the future. These are all constructive reasons, within the control of those organising their work.

There are other, less good, reasons why evaluations are carried out. An evaluation might be demanded by a funding agency, who are wondering whether to go on supporting a project; or there might be a statutory requirement for evaluation from a government department. Evaluations are sometimes done as part of a research project as a way of testing out new techniques for gathering information; or sometimes because people who raise funds for an organisation need something to put in their publicity material. Evaluations may be done routinely, as a matter of policy at some high level of the organization, without anyone being very clear about why they are done. Evaluations done for some of these reasons are likely to be seen by those most directly involved in the work under scrutiny as being imposed from outside. The people who are taking part in the activities being evaluated are probably not fully informed in advance, and have little say in the matter of what is evaluated and how. They will seldom be told about the results of the evaluation.

Sometimes, expensive and disruptive evaluations have been carried out by funders when decisions have already been made about whether or not to continue financial support. Evaluations can be used as excuses for getting rid of certain staff, when what was needed was a management review. Where there is a suspicion of serious misconduct within an organisation, is better to do an audit than an evaluation. Evaluation can be misused, to cover up weaknesses in a programme by only focusing on what is 'good'. Conflicting groups within a project or organisation may demand an evaluation, when what is really needed is a facilitator to deal with the conflict, after which an evaluation should be a more constructive process.

If used well evaluation can contribute to development action, but it cannot solve every problem, or answer every question. Above all, evaluation cannot be a substitute for good management and firm decision making; it can only provide information to help in these processes.