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Evaluation, Inspection, Audit: Is there a difference?

While working with various development organisations over the years, I realise that sometimes the term ‘evaluation’ is sometimes used rather loosely. For example, the staff of an organisation visit the office of an implementing partner, tour of the project site, speak to the beneficiaries/recipients and then write an ‘evaluation’ report. However, was it really an evaluation that was undertaken? Or was it an inspection? Or an audit? I find that these terms sometimes causes confusion and hopefully this article can shed light on the matter.

Evaluations are:

  • the systematic and objective assessment of an ongoing or completed project, programme or policy, its design, implementation and results. Evaluations usually employ a rigorous methodology (or evaluation method, for example Most Significant Change or Appreciative Inquiry).

Evaluations are now commonplace in life (and death!)

Inspection tends to be:

  • a general examination of an organisational unit, issue or practice to ascertain the extent it adheres to normative standards and good practices.

  • done to make recommendations for improvement or corrective action.

  • performed when there is a perceived risk of non-compliance primarily for project management.

Audit tends to be:

• an assessment of the adequacy of management controls to ensure economical and efficient use of resources, the safeguarding of assets; the reliability of financial and other information; the compliance with regulations, rules and established policies; the effectiveness of risk management; and the adequacy of organizational structures, systems and processes.

• focused on compliance while evaluation is more closely linked to learning and development.

Reviews tend to be:

• distinct from evaluations and more closely associated with monitoring.

• periodic or ad hoc, often light assessments of the performance of an initiative and do not apply the due process of evaluation or rigour in methodology.

• emphasize operational issues.

• Unlike evaluations conducted by independent evaluators, reviews are often conducted by those internal to the commissioning organisation.

Research tends to be:

• a systematic examination completed to develop or contribute to knowledge of a particular topic.

• can often feed information into evaluations and other assessments.

Understanding the objectives of an investigation can help an organisation to determine whether an inspection, an audit, an evaluation or a review is needed. Subsequently the appropriate reporting templates may be developed to capture the findings from these investigations.

To cite the example at the start of this article, 7 out of 10 times these periodic monitoring visits are really a review instead of an audit. As such, if we were to get technical, the document with the findings from this visit should read ‘Review’ (or something similar) but not ‘Evaluation’.

It may seem like a minor thing, but I have seen in the past where the inability to distinguish (and communicate!) the different types of investigations led to serious misunderstanding and resistance among project staff. There are times when the staff really believed that a routine monitoring visit undertaken for the purposes of a review, was an inspection. Likewise persons may make certain decisions about the programme or project without realizing the site visit failed to have the rigor of an actual evaluation.

Thanks for reading!

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​​​Ann-Murray Brown

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