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Blog: the value of evaluation from an academic perspective

Sarah Morton is based at the University of Edinburgh.  She is the Co-Director (Knowledge Exchange) for the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships  and the Director for Evidence to Action for What Works Scotland.  She has conducted many evaluations, and also worked with organisations to support self-evaluation.


We are moving to a world where ideas about evaluation are embedded into the way we think about the delivery of services. There are a number of reasons for this.  Most of the public sector in Scotland is committed to delivering on outcomes, mainly derived from the National Performance Framework. Working towards outcomes shifts thinking from ‘what are we doing?’ to ‘are we making a difference?’.  In addition, the squeeze on public spending means that there is much more reflection on ‘are we doing the right things?’

People managing and delivering services are having to get smarter about how they use their own data to measure performance, with an eye on outcomes. But on its own this doesn’t answer the bigger questions about what difference a services or programme makes, for who, how and why. These are the realm of evaluation.

Traditionally evaluation is often seen as an expensive add-on to programme delivery.  It is often conducted by external teams and with ‘independence’ from those delivering the programme seen as an essential component of being able to judge its effectiveness.  This type of evaluation has become less common with shrinking budgets. The mood is shifting much more to self-evaluation, to monitoring progress through constant feedback, and to using evaluative data to help guide programmes to their outcomes, rather than waiting for evaluation feedback once delivery has occurred. At Centre for Research for Families and Relationships we have been working with organisations to help them do this.

This shift in mood means that everyone, from frontline workers, managers, planners, and commissioners of services need to be thinking in evaluative ways on a day to day basis. Having ways of consulting with communities and service users is a core component of that thinking. There is a real need for more support, training, tools, approaches, theories to support this across the sector. ESS is an essential part of that picture, and we are delighted to be working with them through What Works Scotland to develop this essential capacity.

ESS facilitates networks to share evidence and improve practice

Read more about our work with partners including Inspiring Impact, Knowledge Translation Network, and Third Sector Research Forum


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