Audit vs Evaluation – what’s the difference?
‘Audit’ answers the question ‘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 the question ‘Did we achieve the outcome?’ For example, do our clients now understand our services?, are our procedures efficient?, how well did we predict that development?
Both types of questions are clearly 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 government policy or initiative. The usual course of events goes something like this:
- Decide you need a product (people usually think a document or website is the best way to deliver information)
- Set goals and assign responsibility to someone (their job is to deliver the product)
- Tell your boss and colleagues about the product
- Get a project team together
- Develop a project timeline and determine a budget.
- Get the resources you think you will need
- Develop the product
How is a project like this measured? Usually against the project plan.
If the product is on time and on budget it is usually considered a job well done.
But that’s audit, not evaluation. Only rarely is the project measured against purpose.
Where do things go wrong?
There are at least two points of disconnect in this scenario:
1. Deciding a particular product (brochure, white paper, website) will achieve the objective even before the team has had a chance to explore options. This product is then locked in with your boss and colleagues so that it is hard to work on a new idea even if it is better.
2. Shifting the goal from ‘communicating’ to ‘producing a product’. While it’s easier to measure product production it is not the right thing to measure.
The solution is simple, but not easy.
Suspend judgement about what needs to be produced until after you have explored the users’ needs, the content to be communicated and the purpose of the communication. Never lose sight of the overall goal. Always be prepared to consider a change to the product if you come upon a better idea. When dealing with particularly complex material it is usual to have some ideas that initially look very good, but that are later rejected. Going up a few dry gullies is not failure, it is the nature of exploration.