10 essentials to include in a research or evaluation brief

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To commission an evaluation or research project, it is helpful––to you and the consultant––to prepare an evaluation brief. This is a short document, perhaps two to four pages, outlining what the evaluation consultant needs to know. An additional benefit is that it also helps you clarify your thinking in terms of what you need from the project. But where to start and what to include? Here is a guide.


Before you even start on the brief, you need to consider the purpose of the project. Why do you wish to conduct this work? Will it focus on an entire program or initiative, or just part of it? Will the evaluation or research help you make funding decisions? Perhaps it will help you plan your strategic direction. Otherwise, maybe you just need to know how well a program or service has delivered on its intended outcomes. Consider who will read and use the evaluation report and how it will be used. All of these questions are important to ask yourself, as they will influence your thinking around the preparation of the evaluation brief.


Your brief may include details on the following 10 key areas:


Give a basic outline of your organisation. This may include its core service areas, key responsibilities, core values and numbers of staff.


This should include the aims of objectives of the initiative or service, how long it has been running, how it came about, any relevant statistics like numbers and types of users, as well as contextual and historical influences. Links to relevant documents are also useful, such as business plans, flyers, relevant reports and program statistics.


It is important to articulate the overall aim of the evaluation as well as the full range of specific objectives. For example, an overall aim may be to evaluate how well a program or initiative has delivered on its intended objectives; specific aims may include examining the efficiency, effectiveness and the appropriateness of the program. You may have specific areas you would like to explore, which should be listed here.


You may envisage the evaluation being conducted a particular way, which you should include. Consider whether you want to include a literature search of other best practice examples of similar programs, and whether you anticipate using both qualitative and quantitative research. However, it is important to invite consultants to suggest alternative approaches, which may be more beneficial to your project. Please include in this section a list of documents or information you will make available to the successful consultant.


Include who will be the main point of contact in your organisation for the consultant, what meetings are you expecting to hold with the consultant, and whether an advisory or project steering group has been set up.


It is important to be clear about how you expect your consultant to produce. For example, whether you are expecting a full detailed evaluation report with recommendations and a presentation, or a more streamlined topline findings report and informal verbal debrief. Do you have a reporting style the consultant needs to adhere to? Who will be the readership of the consultant’s report?


You will need to ask the consultant to specify who will be conducting the work, their previous experience and relevant qualifications. Ask for CVs and references, who you may wish to contact before agreeing to work with them. Consider whether you require professional indemnity and public liability insurance and to what value.


It will be important to specify when the project should be conducted, and the outcomes delivered. Include whether you need to factor in any internal feedback on a Draft Report, or whether you simply require a first and Final Report from the consultant. If it is a large piece of work you will need to allow many months. Acknowledge any potential delays that may occur such as the Christmas/New Year period, other public holidays, and your own leave plans.


This can be a contentious issue. Some clients are reticent to provide a budget or even budget parameters for fear of consultants lacking the imagination to provide more. Additionally, there is also a concern that they may be allocating more to the project than consultants will ask for. There are many good reasons to specify your budget for a research or evaluation project, or, at least, a range or upper limit. It is helpful for consultants to have some idea of the size and scope of your project in order to design their approach. It will also help you compare proposals. Evaluations can be designed to fit small or large budgets and any guidance here is useful for all involved.


If you brief is being prepared for competitive tender, it is helpful for consultants to know what criteria they are being assessed on and the relative weighting of each criterion. Selection criteria usually include the proposed approach, past experience, understanding of the sector and value for money.


If you write an evaluation brief it means the proposal you receive from a consultant is more likely to have all the information you need, and the evaluation itself will explore all of things you need to know. It will also help you clarify in your own mind why you are conducting the evaluation and what you need to explore. If your  research or evaluation is worth conducting, it is worth investing the time into this important early stage of the process.

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