Sometimes a distinction is made between ‘formative’ evaluation and ‘summative’ evaluation. In practice the distinction between the two is blurred, since it is always important to begin to collect data early in the life of the project.

Types of Evaluation

Formative evaluation takes place in the lead up to the project, as well as during implementation, in order to improve the project design as it is being implemented (continuous improvement).  This type of evaluation is about getting learning you can use to make improvements while it is still possible to do so.

Summative evaluation takes place during and following the project implementation.  This will usually involve looking at whether you did what you said you were going to do, whether and to what extent your planned outcomes were achieved, and whether you achieved any unintended outcomes.  Summative evaluation does not mean waiting until the end to collect any evaluation data (although it might involve collecting some additional data at the end), but rather ‘summing up’ data that’s been gathered all the way along.

There areother types of evaluationbut the boundaries are fairly blurred. There are a number of evaluation books that provide a discussion of these and their most appropriate uses. For example, Owen and Rogers' (1999) Program Evaluation: Forms and Approaches (Sage Publications, CA).

The Big Lottery Fund has put together a useful Guide to Understanding Self-evaluation.  This acknowledges that self-evaluation takes time and effort but can bring real benefits.  It also suggests some benefits from external evaluation.  While useful as a list of issues to consider, the decision will depend on a number of potentially conflicting issues. 

A table listing some of the considerations in deciding on who does the evaluation is at the end of this section.  Some of these are contentious; e.g. the idea that external evaluation saves staff time.  This may be true, but if data is not routinely collected and easily accessible, staff may find they spend more time seeking this out.  There is also a trade off in terms of time saved and the organisational skills and learning that could be developed if it was done in house. 

Sometimes a funded organisation, funder, or both will decide that an external evaluation is useful.  External evaluation should add value to - not replace - an organisation’s own self-evaluation and learning.

Peer support can also play an important role.  Groups and organisations in your sector can support each other to undertake evaluation activity.  As an illustration, Evaluation Exchange was a time-limited peer support network created by IRISS and Evaluation Support Scotland.  You can read about this in the Animated Supporting Peer Support Booklet.

The Life Changes Trust is keen to encourage peer support and learning among the organisations it funds.  It will do this through the development of communities and networks of learning for both of its Programme Strategies.