LEADER Monitoring and Evaluation
9. Communication - the importance of communicating well
Why is it so important for LAGs and MAs to communicate effectively throughout the monitoring and evaluation process?
Communications play a vital role in three key aspects of evaluation;
- In preparing for and setting up evaluations;
- In conducting evaluations, communicating about the process and within the evaluation process itself; and
- In ensuring that evaluation findings reach the right people in the right way so that they may be acted upon.
What are the key communication considerations in setting up monitoring and evaluation?
In setting up monitoring and evaluation effective communication is the most important tool in ensuring that everyone involved in the evaluation system knows and understands what is expected of them. This applies to everyone, from project beneficiaries right the way through to the MA and is absolutely vital if LAGs monitoring and evaluation activities are to feed in to the overall structure.
What needs to be communicated well about and within the evaluation process?
Effective communication is vital in improving and establishing a common and shared understanding of the monitoring and evaluation objectives, requirements, processes and responsibilities amongst those undertaking and those contributing to the evaluation. One of the most important things to remember here is that communication is a two way process, unless you know that your message is received and understood you have not communicated effectively. The priority is ensuring that the right people have the right information at the right time in the right form and are enabled to use it. This applies equally to external and self-evaluation approaches.
One of the clearest examples here for LEADER is in relation to qualitative effects and indicators. If you want to be able to measure changes in wellbeing it is likely the LAG will need to collect qualitative baselines. The need for this and the relevant indicators must be communicated to the right people at the right time if this information is to be captured and available when required. If not evaluators may be forced to rely on surveys, people’s recollection of how things were rather than reality, perceived rather than real change, a much less robust and more costly approach.
Why should LAGs communicate evaluation findings? How should they go about this?
The most important thing to consider in thinking about evaluation is what is it for? All too often you will hear people refer to evaluations ‘sitting on the shelf’ which, after all the effort and learning is a terrible waste. Evaluation is a tool which can only be fully effective when the results are put into practice, the lessons learned implemented (in both programme implementation and the policy cycle), the use of resources justified and understood and valuable experience exchanged. Effective communication is therefore intrinsic to the effective implementation of evaluation.
LAGs therefore have to consider their evaluation objectives and how they intend to make use of the findings. Who are the target audiences, what should be communicated to communicate to whom and by whom, what are the different information needs for the different target groups, what are the most appropriate media and information channels through which the results of evaluation activities will be made available?
Some of the target audiences of LAGs evaluation communications will be predefined by LEADER’s place within the RDP, i.e. those involved in the overall monitoring and evaluation system of the RDP (e.g. Managing Authority, Paying Agency, Monitoring Committee etc). LAGs also have even more importantly to think about other stakeholders and their needs e.g. partner organisations, match funders, local communities, other LAGs, the NRN, project holders and beneficiaries e.g. to inform their further participation or justify their use of resources.
Wider accountability is particularly important for LAGs to demonstrate the added value of LEADERs way of doing things; the general public is therefore an important target audience to inform them of the benefits of the investment.
What is meant by different target audiences’ needs? This refers to the specific information the different groups need or can utilise. Early identification of target audiences’ information needs is essential to ensure that evaluation results are available when the target audience needs them. MAs and PAs will have specific requirements they need to meet at RDP level, they will be interested in RDP management and implementation improvements. Rural policymakers, LAG, region and national will focus more on the real effects of the projects and activities supported to inform future approaches.
Once LAGs know what they need to communicate and who to they then should consider how this information is best communicated? What are the possibilities e.g. e-mail, internet, intranet, newsletters, local radio or TV, events, workshops, action plans etc? How does this link to the other communications? What is the most appropriate format and the best channel or medium through which evaluation findings are to be disseminated? How interactive do you want to be? Should language be more or less technical? What timing considerations are there, how immediate are these information needs? Once again there are some givens here e.g. some evaluation reports should be made publicly available in an accessible format to ensure transparency.
Planning to communicate
The main questions which LAGs must therefore consider in all communications regarding monitoring and evaluation are about how information is shared;
- what needs to be communicated (and why),
- who does it need to be communicated with,
- who does it, when does it need to be communicated,
- what means and channels should be used and
- how will we know it was effective?