Arts and health organisations often look outwards when evaluating because they feel they don’t have the skills or the capacity to evaluate internally. External evaluation can appear more credible, avoiding issues around areas where bias may creep in. An external evaluator provides specialist skills and knowledge and may be able to disseminate findings more widely. However, these benefits may come at a significant financial cost or mean that evaluation is ‘one off’ and that learning is not embedded within the project team. In reality, many successful projects develop by using an iterative process involving both internal and external evaluation. It may be useful to think through carefully where you need to be on a continuum between simple monitoring and academic research and the organisation AESOP has developed a number of tools designed to help think through this process. And sometimes, it is useful to accept that your evaluation just needs to be ‘good enough’ for the context in which you are working.
Is internal or external evaluation best?