Self-evaluation is an essential ingredient in the growth and development of community and voluntary organizations. It is not an optional extra but should be an integral part of the work of all groups. This entry explores and clarifies the following headings:

  • What is self-evaluation?
  • The role of self-evaluation
  • Self-evaluation of the overall organization and
  • Self-evaluation of specific pieces of work.

What is self-evaluation?

To understand what self-evaluation is we need first define evaluation.

Evaluation is the systematic and structured process of reviewing an experience, determining its worth or value and deciding what needs to be changed or further developed.

There are two major categories of evaluation:

  • external evaluation and
  • self-evaluation.

External evaluation versus Self-evaluation

External evaluation is an independent evaluation undertaken by someone outside the organization. The evaluation may be commissioned by the organization itself or by an outside body, for example a current or potential funder. The terms of reference for an external evaluation are usually set by whoever commissions the work.

Self-evaluation is an internal process of self-reflection in order to assess the value of the work of the organization and to plan for future developments.

The management committee, staff and participants se the terms of reference, i.e., the purpose of the evaluation, what they want to evaluate, how it will be done, who will be involved and how the results will be used. Self-evaluation should answer the questions:

  • “How are we doing?”;
  • “Are we accomplishing what we set out to do?”; and
  • “How can we improve what we are doing”?

Self-evaluation does not necessarily mean that the organization does all the work of the evaluation itself. Often the organization contracts an outside evaluator to help plan the process of self-evaluation and/or to facilitate and write up all or part of the evaluation.

The Role of Self-Evaluation

Self-evaluation gives the people involved in the organization the opportunity to reflect on their aims and objectives, progress and difficulties in order to promote further development. This ensures that the organization remains flexible, responsive and open to change. Self-evaluation enables the organization to:

  1. Clarify, review and develop aims and objectives

Organizations need to clarify, review and develop shared aims and objectives on a regular basis. This is the starting point for all the work so it is essential that it is articulated and agreed.

  1. Identify progress towards the achievement of the aims

This is very important in giving people the opportunity to see what has been achieved and helps build confidence and enthusiasm.

  1. Assess the effectiveness of methods and approaches used

This helps generate new ideas and ensures that management and staff remain open to challenge, feedback and suggestions. It also encourages them to try new approaches.

  1. Encourages participation and empowerment

When participants are asked to reflect on their experience of the organization and to plan for change, this is part of the process of empowerment. People feel a sense of ownership and responsibility and that they have a role in an organization when they are part of the process of reviewing and planning. This helps ensure that full use is made of the knowledge, skills and experience within the organization.

  1. Highlight difficulties

Self-evaluation makes it more likely that problems are identified before they escalate. It helps management, staff, volunteers and participants to identify support or training needs that are riot being met at present.

  1. Recommend changes

Self-evaluation identifies specific improvements to be made and the implementation of these leads to growth and development. It also helps people to refocus with fresh energy and motivation.

  1. Document the work

The work of the organization, including the plans, the results and the lessons, is documented as part of the self-evaluation. As so much of the work is innovative, this can be of use to other community and voluntary organizations. The documentation can also be used for funding proposals and to inform funders of progress within the work.

Self-evaluation of the Overall Organization

It is recommended that organizations have an on-going process of self-evaluation with periodic reviews of overall progress, e.g., bi-annual or annual.

There are six stages to undertaking self-evaluation. They include:

  1. Planning the evaluation;
  2. Conducting the evaluation;
  3. Presenting the result;
  4. Using the results;
  5. Evaluating the self-evaluation;
  6. Planning to start the process again.

We'll spend the remainder of this entry treating one after another.

1. Planning the evaluation

  1. Why are we evaluating?

It is necessary to be clear about why you are undertaking self-evaluation, because this will effect every step in the process. Examples of two different reasons for self-evaluation are: to assess whether the organization is working effectively and with maximum participation of the target groups towards achieving its original aims, to assess the effectiveness of the current management structure.

  1. What do we want evaluate?

When you know why you are evaluating it is easier to agree what you want to evaluate. Here are the usual areas included in self-evaluation of an organization.

Overall Plan of the Organization

  • What is our shared vision for the organization?
  • What is our ethos/philosophy and values?
  • What are our aims and objectives?
  • How do we aim to work together within the organization?
  • Have these (vision, ethos, aims and objectives, working methods) changed since the organization began? How? and Why?

Areas of Work

  • What are our main areas of work?
  • What are our objectives for each area?
  • How were the objectives identified and have they changed over time?
  • How far have we met those objectives?
  • What methods and approaches have we used?
  • What has helped and what has hindered our achievement of these objectives?

Organizational Structure

  • How is the organization structured and managed, e.g. board, sub-committees, staff?
  • Are roles and responsibilities clearly defined?
  • How are decisions made?
  • How effective is the decision-making process?
  • How are resources used?


  • How does the management committee work together?
  • How does the staff work together?
  • How do management committee and staff relate to each other?
  • What are the systems for communication within the organization and how effective are they?
  • What are the systems for communication outside the organization and how effective are they?
  1. How do we want to evaluate?

The organization needs to consider how to undertake the evaluation. You may decide that one person or a group of people within the project will be responsible for facilitating the process of the evaluation. However for a large scale evaluation it is usually necessary to get the help of an outside evaluator.

Contracting an Outsider

If you are contracting an outside evaluator it is important to consider what you want their role to be, for example:

  • to help you plan the process of evaluation;
  • to advise you on the implementation of the evaluation;
  • to be responsible for planning, conducting, recording and presenting results in consultation with an evaluation sub-group;
  • to involve a small number of participants in carrying out the evaluation.

When the evaluator’s role is clearly defined and agreed you can draw up in consultation with him/her an evaluation brief. The evaluation brief outlines the process and the expectations of both parties. It usually covers:

  • the purpose of the evaluation;
  • what is to be evaluated;
  • how it will be evaluated;
  • the time scale;
  • the reporting relationship of the evaluator to the organization;
  • the requirements for interim reports and feedback and the final report and feedback;
  • the fee for the work.


Approach is important to ensure that the process of evaluation is in keeping with and reflects the ethos of your organization, e.g., that the people who are actively involved in the work are actively involved in the evaluation.

2. Conducting the evaluation

  • Clarify the objectives for each area of work to be evaluated. The objectives are the specific outcomes you want to achieve in that area of work.
  • Clarify how you will know when you have achieved an objective, i.e., the criteria you will use to judge success. This is what is called setting performance indicators for each objective.
  • Decide on what information you need and how it will be collected. This gives you’re the raw material you will need for the information. There are many different methods of collecting information, for example:
  1. Observation;
  2. visitis;
  3. interviews, group or individual;
  4. questionnaires;
  5. review of all documents and records;
  6. review meetings.
  • Record the findings.
  • Analyze the findings and clarify what they are telling you.

3. Presenting the results


How you present the results of the self-evaluation will depend on its purpose. It is important to consider how the results will be presented at the beginning of the process.


A report usually forms part of how the results are presented. It is important to clarify what kind of report you want and who it is written for. For example you could decide to have a detailed report for internal consideration, i.e. the management committee, staff and volunteers and a short summary report for external circulation, i.e., participation in all areas of the project, other similar organizations, funders.

Here is an outline of a typical structure for an evaluation report.

  1. The purpose and objectives of the evaluation.
  2. The background-history of the organization and overall description.
  3. The information collected.
  4. The methods used.
  5. The results.
  6. The conclusions.
  7. The recommendations.

Other methods

The presentation of the results may be tied in with another activity of the organization, for example an AGM or an official launch of some aspect of the work. It may also be linked to a significant day, e.g. May Day, International Women’s Day, Human Rights Day. This gives the organization the opportunity to publicise and place the work in a wider context. It is also worth considering other creative methods for presenting the results, for example:

  1. drama
  2. video
  3. photographic exhibition.


It is essential that the people who have participated in the evaluation, e.g. by attending meetings, answering questionnaires, have the opportunity to hear and discuss the results and to see what changes are going to be made as a result. Organizing a seminar or workshop on the themes or issues that have emerged from the self-evaluation may be appropriate.

4. Using the results

Learning from the results

This is a crucial stage in the evaluation process. The organization needs to take time to reflect on the results of the evaluation. They should consider the results carefully, try not to be defensive but be open to hearing what is being said. The important question is, “what can we learn from this?”.

Community development cannot take place without mistakes, difficulties, conflicts, failures. This is inevitable. Whilst organizations can learn a lot from the experience of others they also have to learn from their own experience as they go along. The ultimate success of an evaluation is the organization’s use of the results to develop it’s work.

On-going feedback

It is important that in designing the method of evaluation the organization should ensure that findings and issues are fed back during the process in an on-going way and not just given at the end. This is of particular importance in the self-evaluation process as it allows the evaluation to shape policy and practice as the work progresses.

Affirmation of achievement

Often when considering the results of an evaluation the organization focuses totally on the problem areas. It is also valuable to look at your achievements and the positive feedback. It is an opportunity for celebration, a vital aspect of evaluation. The more highly an organization can value achievements, the more open it can be to making changes.

Plan of action

From the consideration and discussion of the results a plan of action should be drawn up of:

  1. what will be changed
  2. how
  3. when
  4. who will be involved and
  5. who will be responsible.

This should be reviewed within an agreed time period.

5. Evaluating the Self-Evaluation

In order to learn how to improve that way the organization undertakes self-evaluation it is necessary to evaluate it. This usually involves the people who initially decided to have a self-evaluation coming together to review the whole process at the end.

This can be done quite simply by asking the following questions:

  1. what was our purpose in having a self-evaluation?
  2. how has this been achieved?
  3. what has this been achieved?
  4. what has helped us achieve this?
  5. what has hindered us?
  6. did we use the results of the evaluation effectively?
  7. what will we change about the way we do self-evaluation in the future?
  8. when will the process start again?

Self-Evaluation of Specific Pieces of Work

As well as the overall evaluation, organizations should regularly evaluate the specific pieces of work that go together to achieve the overall plan. Hence management should evaluate its work at least once a year.

Long-term sub-committees should evaluate their work at least once a year and short-term working groups should evaluate their work when it is completed. Every training course should be evaluated on its completion and also mid-way if it is a long training course.

In this way self-evaluation is a natural, integrated part of the work of a community group. No piece of work is considered completed until it has been evaluated.

All of these evaluations should be recorded and used to:

  1. plan the changes necessary in that particular piece of work;
  2. be added to the documentation of the work of the organization;
  3. form part of the information collected for an overall evaluation of the organization.

Here are two examples of the questions which could form part of self-evaluation:
(a) with a management committee and
(b) at the end of a training course.

Management Committee Self-Evaluation

  1. What is the role of the management committee?
  2. How effective have we been in achieving our role over the past six months? What have we achieved?
  3. What do we need to change or develop in the following areas:
  • meetings
  • the sub-committees
  • roles
  • membership
  • decision-making
  • follow-up on decision-making
  • teamwork
  • training
  • other areas
  1. What has been difficult and what have we learned from this?

Training Course Self-Evaluation

  1. What have you gained as a result of being on this course?
  2. To what extent did the course meet the original aims and objectives?
  3. What helped or hindered this?
  4. What changes would you recommend in
  • the programme
  • the process
  • the length
  • the venue
  • other?
  1. Jane Clarke, Managing Better 03: A Guide to Self-Evaluation, Combat Poverty Agency, Dublin.
  2. Feuerstein, M.T., Partners in Evaluation: Evaluating Development and Community Programmes with Participants, Macmillian, London, 1986.
  3. Murray, B., et al., Undertaking an Evaluation, Dublin: Sociological Association of Ireland, 1994.