Section 2 noted the various stages of the Program Cycle where Missions or Washington OUs should formally consider evaluation needs and requirements, including Mission-wide evaluation planning. This section addresses the planning phase for an individual evaluation, from the decision to evaluate to the procurement of evaluation services.
Ideally, evaluation planning should start during the project or activity design stage. This will help ensure that a project or activity and its monitoring system are designed with the planned evaluation in mind. However, the decision to evaluate a strategy, project, or activity may occur at any time in the Program Cycle as new evaluation needs are recognized. In addition, evaluations should be timed so that their findings can inform decision making (for example, exercising option years, designing a follow-on activity, making mid-course corrections, creating a country or sector strategic plan, or making a policy decision). For a typical performance evaluation, this means the process to solicit an evaluation should begin at least 12–18 months in advance of a decision point.
While early planning is beneficial for all evaluations, it is particularly important for impact evaluations. These studies parallel the life of a project or activity and sometimes require substantial modifications to the design of interventions (e.g. randomized assignment of treatment and control groups, modifications to selection criteria, modifications to roll-out timing, etc.). Understanding impact evaluation requirements at an early stage can help inform the drafting of implementing partner agreements in a way that builds implementer/evaluator cooperation and communicates how the evaluation will affect implementation.
In planning an individual evaluation, sufficient time should be allocated to:
- Draft a strong Statement of Work (SOW) that is peer reviewed prior to finalizing;
- Develop an Independent Government Cost Estimate (IGCE);
- Commission the evaluation to allow partners several weeks to prepare and respond;
- Review proposals and select a finalist;
- Award the contract;
- Conduct the evaluation using high-quality methods; and
- Review, reflect upon, and act on the evaluation findings, conclusions, and recommendations.
For Missions and Washington OUs with M&E Support contracts, the steps outlined here may be somewhat different because the contract to conduct the evaluation may have already been awarded.