The Life Changes Trust is clear that external evaluation should add value to - not replace - an organisation’s own self-evaluation and learning.
Where external evaluation support is agreed as an essential component of the overall evaluation, the Trust will support the costs of this. These should be built into early evaluation planning.
One drawback of using external evaluators is that development of staff skills and expertise is more limited. External evaluation support can offer advantages, particularly for managing relatively short-term projects. These can include access to specialist skills, independence, a fresh perspective to your work, and knowledge of other areas.
Depending on your budget it may be appropriate to put the evaluation out to competitive tender. For small projects drawing up a short list of who to approach may be more appropriate.
Evaluation Support Scotland’s concise guide to Getting the Most from External Evaluation suggests that using consultants can be helpful, but only if you know what you want them to do and manage them well. Among the helpful tips are:
- Take time to think through and write a clear brief
- When you have chosen your evaluator, draw up a contract for the work
- Ensure that someone has responsibility for managing the work
- Build an effective relationship with the consultant and communicate well
- Make sure the consultant has access to the information required
- Check that deadlines are met, payments made and outputs delivered as required
In practice, your organisations access to external evaluators is likely to be determined by the existing capabilities within your organisation and the funding available to you. An excellent starting point is to use Inspiring Impact's Measuring Up, a step-by-step self-assessment that will help gauge the way that your organisation currently plans, evidences, communicates and learns from the difference that your work makes. Always think about what you already have in place before you look externally.
- The BOND Impact Evaluation: A Guide for Commissioning Managers has a useful table (p26) on how to draw up a Terms of Reference for an evaluation and also how to assess quality.
- Evaluation Support Scotland’s Consultants Database can help you identify consultants to approach.
- Evaluation Support Scotland’s guide to Getting the Most from External Evaluation