Have you commissioned an evaluation or a piece of research that resulted in a report sitting unused? Anecdotal evidence suggests that more than half of evaluation results go unused. There are a number of aspects of evaluation reporting that can affect how information is used. The study purpose, stakeholder needs and target audience should be considered when communication results. Evaluation reports need to take into account how information might be received and used.
To implement research or evaluation results within an organisation is not a simple rational process. It requires the study become part of a complex interplay of informational, personal, political and organisational variables, all working simultaneously in ongoing decision making.
There are six things that are likely to increase the likelihood of an evaluation report being utilised after its completion. It is advisable to discuss these things with your evaluator before a project commences to be sure systems are in place that will result in a report.
1. Clear purpose
An evaluation needs to have a clearly defined purpose statement that articulate the reason for and the intended use of the findings. At regular intervals throughout the evaluation process, the purpose should be reconsidered, agreed upon with the evaluator, and revisited if there are any changes in stakeholders, priorities, information needs, or organisational context.
2. Addresses its target audience
An evaluation report should clearly address its target audience. Ot should address questions raised by key stakeholders, respond to the action required by its audience, be culturally appropriate, and meet the audience’s perceptions and expectations.
3. Succinct communication style
Reports should communicate relevant findings succinctly. The level of detail required should respond to the needs and expectations of the audience, but reports that are focused, strategic, succinct and targeted at their reader audience are more likely to be adopted.
4. Stakeholder engagement
It is possible that evaluation reports may reveal unexpected findings. If stakeholders have been engaged throughout the evaluation process, they are less likely to be surprised by evaluation findings. Open and regular communication between the evaluator and client is important to ensure that findings are ready to be received and acted upon.
5. Credible evaluator
The reputation of the evaluator and the higher the client’s confidence in their work seems to have a considerable influence on the likelihood of the report being used. This is regardless of evaluation findings. A credible and experienced evaluator who can justify the evidence presented in a coherent and logical way is more likely to have an evaluation report adopted and used.
6. Commitment or receptiveness
The more involved a client has been in the evaluation or research process, the more buy-in they will feel, which, ultimately, gives them greater carriage and a sense of ownership of the report. Consequently, reports with a greater sense of client ownership are more likely to be confidently adopted.
Whether evaluation results are used to improve planning, decide on a program’s future, assist policy-making, indicate where more action is needed, improve monitoring, or indicate where improvements need to be made, there is little point commissioning an evaluation report if it will ultimately have little chance of being adopted and used. It can be prudent to discuss these six points with your evaluator, and to encourage them to prepare a report that will quickly move into the hands of those who will want to use it.