Evaluation is an essential part of the policy cycle, as it facilitates evidence-based policy design and implementation, increasing the policy’s accountability and transparency, demonstrating achievements towards policy objectives and assessing the policies effectiveness, efficiency, results and impacts.
There are many different types of evaluation (ex ante evaluations, mid-term evaluations, evaluations during the implementation period, thematic evaluations and ex post evaluations) and each of them play a specific role during the policy cycle, as described below.
Phase 0: Point of departure - ‘WHERE WE ARE NOW?’.
Before the policy is designed, it is necessary to describe the social, economic and environmental context which is targeted by the policy. The description of the situation is usually based on the evidence collected (e.g. with the help of context indicators). This evidence is the basis of a SWOT analysis and needs assessment, where stakeholders discuss and identify needs and potential hurtles to be overcome.
Phase 1: Policy design - ‘WHERE DO WE WANT TO ARRIVE?’
Policy is often designed as a strategy, programme, or plan. In the process of designing a policy, stakeholders decide which of the identified needs shall be targeted with the programme and when. Stakeholders further decide on what should be achieved with the interventions in addressing not only these identified needs, but also, what should be the achievements for the entire policy context/environment. During the policy design, the types of actions supported with inputs (budget) are defined in order to achieve the objectives established. During this part, it is always useful to clarify expected policy effects: which outputs are expected for the allocated inputs, which results can be generated with these outputs to address the needs within the group of policy beneficiaries and which impacts will the policy have on the entire policy context/environment. Formulation of objectives, defined inputs, outputs, results, and impacts are the basis for the decision of which indicators will be utilised to measure the achievement of these objectives and observed effects. Indicators measuring inputs and outputs are then used as monitoring indicators.
The role of evaluation in the policy design: At this stage, the ex ante evaluation provides an independent and immediate assessment on the quality of the description of the situation, the SWOT, the relevance of the chosen priority needs and the policy’s strategy (formulated objectives, selected actions, inputs and expected effects) as well as the policy’s potential effectiveness and efficiency. The ex ante evaluation may also be used as a starting point for setting up the monitoring and evaluation system/framework for the future programme’s implementation.
Phase 2: Policy delivery - ‘HOW ARE WE DOING?’
This part starts with the programme approval and lasts through the implementation of all concrete actions by defined beneficiaries. The implementation is monitored through the chosen inputs, outputs and, if appropriate, result indicators. During this stage, monitoring provides immediate information on how the policy is working and allows policy makers to steer and adjust the policy as it is being implemented. This information can feed into ongoing or thematic evaluations.
The role of evaluations in the policy delivery: evaluations during the implementation period and ongoing evaluations allow evaluators and policy makers to observe how the programme is progressing towards the achievement of the objectives. These evaluations can also start to indicate if the policy is generating the expected results and impacts intended. This helps improving and correcting the policy in line with the overall context.
The findings of evaluations during the implementation period may also be helpful to design the next policy cycle. This avoids creating policy gaps between policy cycles.
Evaluations during the implementation period are usually conducted on an annual basis and help to track immediate policy outcomes. However, for the assessment of effects that cannot be seen in the short term, these types of evaluations are not always useful.
Phase 3: Policy review - ‘DID WE ACHIEVE WHAT WE WANTED?’
Once all interventions of the policy have concluded it is time to review if the policy has met the objectives and needs initially programmed and to see if it has had the intended effects and impacts planned. The policy review stage is an essential part of the cycle as longer-term effects and impacts which were not able to be assessed through evaluations during the implementation period should be seen and able to be assessed. Furthermore, this type of policy review can serve to better programme interventions for the future.
The role of evaluation in policy review: The ex post evaluation is conducted after the completion of the policy intervention to demonstrate the achievements of the policy’s objectives, results and impacts. The ex post evaluation assists to determine the long-term effects of certain types of interventions. The findings are typically disseminated to stakeholders and to the broader public to increase the policies transparency and to learn how to improve the policy for the future.