Last year, we launched Client Voice, a new service offering consultation, research and evaluation support to third sector organisations. One of the questions we’re most frequently asked is: What’s the difference between monitoring and evaluation and why do we need to do it?

Monitoring involves the routine collection of data against specific criteria or outcomes. Most organisations record basic information such as numbers of referrals, demographics etc to help them profile their service users and beneficiaries.

Funders nearly always require reports and monitoring data forms the basis of these. In many cases the outcomes are agreed between you and the funder at the start of your grant and monitoring focuses on progress made towards achieving these outcomes. The various stages working towards achieving the outcomes are milestones, or indicators, and these usually have timescales attached.

Evaluation goes  more in depth than monitoring and explores the strengths and challenges of the project. It looks at the quality and worth of the project and, crucially, the significance of the project to beneficiaries and other stakeholders. An evaluation cannot only highlight where things have gone well, but must also address areas for development. It’s a great tool for:

  • exploring why things are working well (or not!)
  • identifying any unexpected outcomes
  • sharing learning
  • professional development
  • building a culture of reflection and analysis within your organisation that helps individuals and teams to improve the quality of their work and your services
  • reporting to funders (current and potential) about the impact of your project, what you’ve learned along the way and how you’ve adapted it to changing circumstances.

Funders (especially larger ones like Big Lottery) now require an evaluation at application stage, particularly for continuation funding or where funding is requested for an existing project.

If you are thinking of undertaking a self-evaluation there are lots of useful guides and resources out there – larger funders publish their own guidance which highlights what they are looking for, Big Lottery and Paul Hamlyn are good places to start.

If you’d like to discuss your ideas or wish to commission an external evaluation then take a look at the services we offer through Client Voice and get in touch!