Having ways to check on your progress (monitoring) and take stock of where things are at on a regular basis (evaluation), are important for your group to function effectively.
Monitoring and evaluation are critical for taking stock of progress and for helping to ‘learn as we go’. Monitoring and evaluation can help groups to identify issues, measure success and learn from any mistakes. This notion is closely linked to the ‘learning’ principle of successful community conservation projects.
You can use this worksheet for step-by-step guidance on how to plan your evaluation. Work through the questions, fill in the worksheet as you go and refer back to these sections for ideas.
Monitoring is the systematic gathering and analysing of information that will help measure progress on an aspect of your project. Ongoing checks against progress over time may include monitoring water quality in a catchment or monetary expenditure against the project budget. Monitoring is not evaluation as such but is usually a critical part of your evaluation process and should therefore be included at your project planning stage.
Before undertaking any monitoring it is important to consider:
Why you want to monitor?
Keeping records and monitoring activities helps people see progress and builds a sense of achievement. Records can be useful and even essential when promoting the group or applying for funding.
Monitoring also has significance for the wider field of conservation. Ecosystem monitoring is not a fully developed science, so any work undertaken by your group has the potential to contribute to the refinement of measures of ecosystem health.
What you will monitor
The following list of questions will help you decide on your monitoring objectives:
- What information will help us make informed decisions? What will help us know that our project/group is on track?
- What’s the appropriate scale for monitoring e.g. catchment, district, reserve boundary, whole forest or whole ecosystem?
- What are our timeframes for monitoring e.g. days, months or years?
- Do we need input from other groups or agencies?
Features of effective monitoring
Monitoring can be considered to be effective when:
- Scientifically valid techniques are used.
- Aspects relevant to your project are measured.
- It’s carried out regularly and consistently.
- Accurate records are kept.
- It is used as part of your evaluation to support or adjust project goals and actions.
Evaluation provides an opportunity to reflect and learn from what you’ve done, assess the outcomes and effectiveness of a project and think about new ways of doing things. In other words, it informs your future actions.
Evaluation should ideally be factored into your initial project planning (see setting your direction). When you are setting your vision, goals and actions, you need to be considering how and when you’ll check your progress against them. You may decide that you will:
- Refine your project as you go, so that evaluation is part of your regular project activities.
- Evaluate the project at agreed milestones e.g. on a yearly basis or after major activities.
- Carry out an initial baseline exercise against which you compare progress at the end of the project.
To ensure your evaluation is effective, it is important to consider:
Once evaluation data has been gathered and analysed, remember to check your conclusions against your goals and objectives. Make sure you put your results into practice - take them on board and use them to influence how you work!
Your purpose - what to evaluate
When designing your evaluation, make sure you’re clear about your purpose. It’s helpful to determine what questions you want answered - make sure everything you ask or investigate during evaluation relates back to these questions.
As a first step, decide what it is that’s important to evaluate. It might just be finding out what worked and what didn’t, so you can improve things. It might be more specific, such as the extent to which your project is achieving the outcomes set for it (in most cases, these will be conservation outcomes), how well organised you are or whether you met the expectations of sponsors.
Your approach - how to evaluate
There are many different ways to evaluate your project, depending on what your purpose is. However, it’s important to make sure the evaluation process involves valid and sound methods for information gathering and analysis. This doesn’t mean you need to go to great expense but requires that you be clear about the methods involved.
A small project, for example, could be evaluated using a well-structured workshop at an evening meeting attended by all project partners. In comparison, a large, expensive multi-year project might warrant employing a specialist or at least getting their help with the evaluation design.
Assess the impact of the project