Time Well Spent

New research exploring the volunteering experiences and perspectives of people from the global majority. Find out more

The evaluation process

This page is free to all

Use this page to learn about the different parts that make up the evaluation process.

Once you’ve read about what evaluation is, next it’s important to understand the process of evaluation. Evaluation is a process which works as a cycle. The cycle includes a number of stages.

Before you begin an evaluation process, you need to do some work to understand the issues faced by the people or communities you work with.

Understanding people and communities

Before you evaluate something you need to understand what the issue is you’re trying to solve. This could include a ‘needs assessment’ (research into the needs of a community) reviewing the challenges faced by the people and communities you work with.

Find out more about on our guidance on the issues you want to focus on.

The process of your evaluation work

  1. Planning your evaluation
  2. Collecting data
  3. Assessing your data
  4. Reviewing your findings and putting them into practice
An image of an evaluation process in purple. This process works as a cycle going through the stages of plan, collect, access and review. This is shown by a circle split into four parts including these four stages. Arrows are included on the outer part.
The four stages of evaluation

Plan your evaluation

Careful, realistic planning is the foundation for robust evaluation.

Planning requires you to reflect on how and why you think your work can make a difference.

Your evaluation goals will also help you learn about the depth and detail of the information you’ll collect, as well as your plans for collecting it.

You might begin by creating one of these options:

  • A strategy for your work – a set of high-level decisions that set priorities and purpose.
  • Theory of change – a specific and measurable description of a social change that forms the basis for planning, ongoing decision-making and evaluation.
  • An evaluation planning triangle – a basic form of theory of change. It’s a simple tool which helps you reflect on, and clarify, the connections between the work you deliver and the difference it makes.

An evaluation planning triangle, theory of change or strategy at the start of your evaluation will help you define what it is you’re doing, and how that will lead to the change you want to see.

These are also excellent first steps for involving others in thinking about your impact – everyone can get involved in discussing and defining your organisation’s purpose, desired outcomes and impact.

Collect your data

This stage is about data collection - the process of gathering evidence for how and why your work makes a difference.

You need to think about how to collect data in these ways:

  • Ethical – read more about ethical guidelines for research from the Social Research Association
  • Streamlined to your way of working. For example, if you run training, can you build evaluation in as a feature of the training? This could involve asking three questions at the start of the training and then the same three questions at the end to see what has changed.

Data collection may include interviews, focus groups

Assess your data

The assessment stage covers data analysis – the process of bringing together the evidence that you have collected. This is followed by making sense of it to understand how much change has happened, for who, and why.

Along with covering key steps in analysis and making sense of change, you need to consider how you can achieve an objective picture of your overall impact.

This includes thinking about other factors that could’ve contributed to your impact, as well as how much change might have happened independently of your work.

Read more about this in our guidance on analysis and reporting.

Review your findings

The review stage focuses on learning from the findings of your evaluation so you can help your organisation to learn and improve.

It also means thinking through how to communicate your findings clearly, honestly and transparently. You’ll need to think carefully about what format you do to achieve this, for example, a written report.

A key part of the review is learning from the findings and making changes to improve your work.

You should also consider how to feedback to the people who were involved in the evaluation process.

The review stage doesn’t not be at the end of a project. If you work in an agile way, you can do the evaluation process multiple times. Often, you do also need a final project evaluation.

Find out more about this in our guidance on using your evaluation findings to improve your work.

Once you’ve read this section, read our guidance on Theory of Change.

Last reviewed: 18 September 2023

Help us improve this content

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 18 September 2023

Back to top

Sign up for emails

Get regular updates on NCVO's help, support and services