Learning from your project is important because it enables you to:
- explore the reasons why things are (or are not) working well and make changes to help you achieve your outcomes
- gather information about the impact of your project, that will help you report to funders and others about how your project is performing and how you've adapted it to changing circumstances
- talk about and provide evidence of your impact, your achievements and your experience and to identify good practice
- build a culture of reflection and analysis within your organisation, that helps people to improve the quality of their work.
About monitoring and evaluation
You may be gathering information on a regular basis to see how your project is doing. This monitoring information will help you check progress against agreed plans, and will be useful to report back to others in your organisation, to trustees and to funders. You may also wish to answer key questions, for example, how and why certain outcomes were achieved. This will mean bringing your monitoring information together and collecting more information, analysing it, then reflecting and learning from your findings. This is usually called self-evaluation.
Evaluation goes further and deeper than monitoring. Evaluation explores how and why certain outcomes were achieved (or not, as the case may be). It also looks at issues of quality and worth, most importantly asking: What has been the value and significance of the project to those it was intended to affect (and others who have been affected)? It may also identify additional and unanticipated outcomes of the project.
One way of making the distinction between monitoring and evaluation is to consider them in the context of a car journey:
"Monitoring collects information on matters such as average speed, distance travelled, fuel consumption and whether the journey is following the pre-planned route and is on time. Evaluation addresses questions such as whether the route followed was the best one, whether it might have been better by train and whether the journey was worth undertaking in the first place." Scottish Homes, 1991
Learning - key points checklist
- Have you included key review points in your project plan?
- Does your approach take into account our monitoring and evaluation requirements?
- Is there anything else you want to collect for your own learning?
- How will you use your learning to improve your project delivery?
- How will you share your learning beyond the project?
- Have you considered using an external evaluator?
For more information about using learning from your project please see our guide, Understanding Self-evaluation
Find out more about the benefits of learning and how to use learning to improve your project