Audit vs evaluation – the importance of asking the right questions

audit vs evaluationAudit’ answers ‘Did we do what we said we would do?’ For example, did we publish the document?, did it go out on time?, did it reach all our clients?

Evaluation’ answers ‘Did we achieve the outcome?’ For example, do our clients now understand our services?, are our procedures efficient?, how well did we predict that outcome?

Both types of questions are important and have a role in managing an organisation well. But often matters that should be evaluated are audited instead.

For example, suppose you recognise a communication need – you want your clients to better understand what you can do for them, or you want the public to take advantage of a new policy or initiative. The usual course of events goes something like this:

  1. Decide you need an information product (people usually think a document or website is the best way to deliver information)
  2. Get a project team together
  3. Develop a project timeline and determine a budget.
  4. Set tasks and assign responsibility
  5. Get the resources you think you will need
  6. Do the work – develop the product
  7. Deliver

How do we usually measure a project? Usually against the project plan. If the product is on time and on budget it is usually considered a job well done. We assume that if the document has been written and published then the job has been done.

But that’s audit, not evaluation. Only rarely are projects measured against purpose.

Evaluation questions are like: Did people see and read the document? Did they understand it, and understand the importance of the information? Have they changed their thinking or behaviour as a result of reading?