Friday October 1st, 2021 ARCO LAB

Benefits of a synergy between external and internal evaluation strategies

valtazione esterna interna singergia externa internal evaluation synergy benefits progetti programmi svilupp development programmes projects

External evaluation of development projects and programmes is increasingly required in calls for proposals by public and private, Italian and European, funding bodies. An evaluation study prepared by an external organization provides a more objective view of the degree of achievement of planned objectives and results. However, benefits of external evaluation are maximised when NGOs have their own comprehensive internal strategy of evaluation, thus, placing external evaluation within a broader, long-term framework of analysis.

External evaluation of projects and programmes: 5 benefits

Outsourcing the evaluation of cooperation and development projects and programmes to an external organization has 5 key advantages:

  • Experience and expertise: An experienced evaluator has a specific training and brings its extensive experience gained by working on different types of projects in a wide variety of contexts, using different methodological approaches. This makes it easier to identify the most effective evaluation strategy for each project.
  • Objectivity: The  work of an external evaluator is more objective and impartial, because of its independence from the organisation that implements or funds the activities.
  • Credibility: Stakeholders and funding bodies tend to give more weight to the results of an independent external evaluation as it is perceived as impartial and rigorous. Even when an organisation is committed to elaboratng objective self-assessments, the conclusions risk to be somewhat self-referential.
  • Detached point of view: An external evaluator provides a “fresh” and detached point of view on the project and its outcomes, noting changes that would otherwise go unnoticed, thus unmeasured
  • Cost-effectiveness: An external evaluation service can be particularly cost-effective for small and/or medium-sized organisations, which often do not have sufficient resources to invest in dedicated staff for data collection and evaluation activities.


The added value of an internal evaluation strategy

The main purpose of evaluation is learning. Therefore, organisations that have their own internal evaluation strategy benefit most from collaboration with external evaluators.

An internal evaluation strategy allows an organisation to substantiate its vision into medium- and long-term objectives, to define measurable targets and to identify the main ways of measuring their achievement. The work of the external evaluator fits into this framework, allowing him/her to carry out an analysis consistent with the learning needs of the organisation.  To reap these benefits, each organisation should also have internal staff dedicated to supervising evaluation activities that is able to interact with external evaluators. The added value is also expressed in terms of:

Internal control
The creation of an harmonious evaluation process that measures the achievement of the expected results and objectives of the various projects carried out by the organisation allows a more precise supervision of the progress and degree of their achievement.

Learning process
Different projects within the same organisation have common characteristics and often face the same critical issues and challenges. The evaluation work combined with shared evidences identified during the study in terms of good practices, lessons learned and recommendations, allows the optimisation of the action of each projects.

Comparability of results achieved in different intervention contexts and projects
The development of an internal evaluation methodology makes it possible to measure the overall impact of the organisation on a certain field, or context, by aggregating the results of separate projects with similar objectives. In addition, the reference to a common framework makes it possible to compare the results obtained by similar interventions in different contexts, detecting important information on factors that facilitate or hinder the success of an intervention.

Easy communication of the overall organizations’ activities
By providing a comprehensive and long-term view of an organisation’s impact, the internal evaluation strategy also becomes an important source of information for communication and dissemination puroposes.


A virtuous examples: the case of SOS Children’s Villages

The international NGO SOS Children’s Villages, with whom the M&E and Impact Assessment Unit worked on the evaluation of the multi-country programme Youth Can! and the Social Impact Assessment of child protection programmes in Kyrgyzstan, has its own internal evaluation system. The impact assessment of projects is always carried out by an independent external evaluator, who is given precise guidelines on the objectives and the methodologies. The evaluators are then asked to contextualise these elements to the specific case under analysis and to integrate the strategy as with any other cohernt methodology.

Although the evaluation is external, SOS staff with specific M&E expertise participate significantly to the work: they supervise these activities, provide logistical support and make sure that the methodology is applied appropriately by the external evaluator.


Checklist to elaborate an internal evaluation system

  • □ Define and share a single Theory of Change describing the action and objectives of the whole organisation (in a certain field of intervention), in order to ensure the coherence of the evaluation questions asked by all externally carried out studies.

  • Identify internal staff dedicated to M&E activities, that is able to define a methodological framework to be applied to all evaluations and supporting the external evaluator in interpreting and applying the guidelines.

  • □ Elaborate tools and foter skills for the collection and systematization of monitoring and evaluation data, aiming also at re-contacting the beneficiaries even after the end of the project (follow-up) in order to measure the change that has taken place.

  • Maintain a constant dialogue with the external evaluator in order to improve and refine the methodology and tools used in the evaluation process.


To learn more, watch the webinar “International NGOs and impact assessment – How some international NGOs are setting up internal systems to assess the social impact of their programmes” organised by Social Value Italia with Tommaso Iannelli, M&E Specialist at ARCO, and Federico Mento, secretary general of Social Value Italia.


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