Standard 18: Learning from and leveraging results during close-out.
Engage participants, partners, donors, host or local governments and other stakeholders in project close-out evaluation and reflection activities with the intent of learning from and leveraging the project.
Design a project final evaluation or after‑action review appropriate to project scope and stakeholder information needs.
A project final evaluation or after-action reviewPer agency MEAL procedures, CRS conducts a final evaluation for all projects over $1 million, and an after-action review for all projects less than $1 million (when CRS is the prime recipient). See procedure 3.6 for additional details on final evaluation and after-action review requirements. is an opportunity to thoroughly examine the process and results of a project, and to generate lessons learned. CRS staff engage with partners and external evaluators (as applicable) to design a final evaluation or after-action review that:
- Identifies the key questions that will help CRS and partners assess project relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact and sustainability in accordance with CRS’ MEAL policies and proceduresMEAL Policy 3 - Evaluation: CRS staff engage with our partners to conduct utilization-focused evaluations that assess relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact and sustainability in accordance with donor requirements, demonstrate a commitment to working with integrity and respect for people, and promote community participation. and any specific donor requirements.
- Considers the information needs of community members, donors and other stakeholders.
- Includes approaches that optimize participation and perspectives from community members and other stakeholders.
- Generates relevant information to influence key stakeholdersThese may include government, local and international NGOs, research organizations, funding organizations, etc. and guide strategic decisions in future programming.
- Primary responsible: Project manager or chief of party (PM/CoP) with MEAL leadThe MEAL lead for the evaluation may be the country program MEAL manager, project MEAL coordinator, or other CRS MEAL staff. For internal evaluations, this individual typically leads the CRS evaluation team. For external evaluations especially, this individual often takes on the role of “evaluation manager”, serving as the main point of contact between the project team and the external evaluator(s) and generally ensuring the evaluation runs smoothly and is completed in a timely manner. For more on the evaluation manager role, see M&E Short Cuts: Planning an Evaluation.
or individual designated as the “evaluation manager”
- The PM/CoP ensures that the final evaluation (whether internal or external) and/or after-action review is planned and implemented in a timely manner.
- The MEAL lead works with the PM/CoP to develop the evaluation terms of reference (required for all evaluations - see CRS MPP 3.2Procedure 3.2: Develop terms of reference (ToR) for baseline and evaluation events ), scope of work, and detailed evaluation plan; for external evaluations, the PM/CoP and evaluation manager work with the evaluator to develop a detailed evaluation plan.
- Others involved: CRS and partner MEAL staff; CRS and partner project staff, including any sector leads; head of programming (HoP); country representative (as applicable); regional MEAL advisor
- CRS and partner staff (MEAL and non-MEAL), including any sector leads, contribute to the development of evaluation and/or review objectives, questions and methods as well as the initial evaluation dissemination plans.
- The HoP and, as applicable (e.g. for strategic projects) the country representative, contribute to the development of evaluation or after-action review objectives and questions and review the draft terms of reference (TOR).
- The regional MEAL advisor reviews the draft TOR as required by CRS MEAL policies and proceduresProcedure 3.3: Regional MEAL advisors review baseline and evaluation ToRs to improve evaluation quality and ensure appropriateness to information needs. to determine quality and appropriateness to project scope and information needs.
Donor-commissioned final evaluations: In some complex projects, the donor may take responsibility for the final evaluation process, including contracting the external evaluator(s). In such cases, CRS’ role will be to liaise with the donor and the external evaluator throughout the evaluation planning process, to ensure timely and appropriate CRS contributions and effective coordination with the project team and other stakeholders.
- Initiate planning of the final evaluation or after-action review so that it can be conducted in the last six months of the project or per donor requirements (see below).
- For a final project evaluation, begin preparations early to allow sufficient time for development of the terms of referenceMPP 3.2: Develop terms of reference (ToR) for baseline and evaluation events. (TOR), scope(s) of work (SOW), selection of an evaluation team, and finalization of evaluation methodology, tools, and work plan.
- Schedule the evaluation or after-action review process keeping in mind the timing of final project activities and project staffing transitions.Avoid planning a final evaluation too early, when significant project activities are still taking place and consuming the time and attention of the project team. At the same time, it is important not to plan the final evaluation or after-action review too late in the close-out period, when key staff may have already left the project team.
- Factor into evaluation planning any seasonal considerations (e.g. academic or agricultural calendars; weather-related access considerations; etc.) that may affect data collection and stakeholders' ability to contribute to the evaluation process.
Evaluation planning considerations for complex and multi-year projects:
- For complex, multi-year projects, the project team may need to start preparing for the evaluation much sooner than six months before the project end date. It may take up to a year to develop the TOR and scopes of work, contract an evaluation consultant, finalize evaluation methodology and tools, conduct the evaluation, hold the reflection event, finalize the evaluation report, and disseminate results.
- In some multi-year projects, donor requirements may necessitate conducting the final evaluation at the end of the penultimate year/beginning of the final project year, to align with the timing of project baseline data collection. In such cases, start evaluation preparations as part of annual planning for the project's penultimate year. Plan for a final project after-action review as part of project close-out.
Follow these steps to plan and implement an effective final evaluation or after-action review.
What’s the difference between a final evaluation and an after-action reviewPer MPP 3.6, a final evaluation or after-action review is required only when CRS is the prime recipient, with the following parameters based on total project or response value below:
a. ≥$5 million: external evaluation
b. Between $1M and $5M: internal or external evaluation
c. ≤$1million: after action review or internal or external evaluation ?
A final evaluation is conducted at the end of a project and typically includes an endline survey, or other data collection methods as appropriate, to allow for comparison with baseline data (if available) for key project indicators. A final evaluation systematically assesses a project’s relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability on a defined population and draws upon monitoring and evaluation data to answer evaluation questions, meet stakeholder information needs, and generate learning. An after-action review is a reflection on the successes and failures of a project (or activities within a project). It brings together a team to discuss a soon-to-be or recently completed project, in an open and honest fashion, and does not require the collection of additional data from project participants. The focus of an after-action review is ensuring that learning takes place to support continuous improvement. (After-action review definition adapted from Better Evaluation)
- The MEAL lead and PM/CoP review the plans for the final evaluation (or after-action review) included in the approved project proposal and budgetDuring project design, CRS will have developed a general schedule and budget for the final evaluation or after-action review based on CRS’ MEAL Policies and Procedures (see Procedure 3.6) and, as applicable, available information about any donor requirements. . For externally-funded projects, they also revisit any donor requirements and additional considerationsFor example, a project mid-term evaluation or review may have generated points for follow-up or areas for focus in the final evaluation. CRS and donor learning needs and interests may also have evolved during project implementation. for the evaluation or review (based on internal discussions or discussions with a project donor).
- The MEAL lead and PM/CoP work with the project team to identify a preliminary set of key questions for the evaluation or review and to determine the best timing for the process.
- Where possible, incorporate this discussion into the final annual or quarterly project review and planning meeting as the project approaches its final year (for multi-year projects) or quarter (for projects < 12 months).
- For final evaluations of externally-funded projects, engage the HoP, country representative (as appropriate), and other staff with strong knowledge of the donor in brainstorming the evaluation objectives and key questions.
- Ensure that the timing and sequencing of the evaluation or review is well coordinated with other activitiesFor example, for a final evaluation, ensure that major evaluation activities are not likely to overlap with periods of intensive project implementation or other major project events. For an after-action review or the project reflection event that follows final evaluation data collection and preliminary analysis (per CRS MEAL policies and procedure), time the event early enough to allow for the participation of key CRS and partner project staff, keeping in mind that some positions may phase out before the project end date. and event s in the project close-out plan, including the timing of project staff transitions.
One or more review or evaluation reflection events? The decision to plan for one or multiple after-action review or final evaluation reflection events will depend on several factors, including the scale and geographic scope of the project and project partnerships, the number and profile of stakeholders who should be directly engaged in the process, the timing, and the budget available. For complex projects, it may be appropriate to organize a series of events, with outputs from one event informing the next. For multi-country projects, it may be appropriate to organize an event with key project stakeholders in each country, followed by a central-level discussion/final event to further analyze, interpret, and reflect at the overall project level.
- With inputs from the CRS and partner project team and others consulted in step 2, the MEAL lead and PM/CoP develop a TOR for the evaluation or after-action review.
- Refer to MEAL policies and procedures (MPP) resources for MPP 3.2Procedure 3.2: Develop terms of reference (ToR) for baseline and evaluation events to identify good examples relevant to the project context.
- Review the project stakeholder analysis and any project communications plan to identify stakeholder information needs to address in the evaluation or after-action review.
- Reflect on the key discussion points from quarterly and annual project meetings to identify key successes and challenges or outstanding questions appropriate for further examination through the evaluation or review process.
- Customize “standard” questions to focus on the most relevant project-related issues.
- If the project included any programming or operations approaches that were new for the project team or stakeholders in the target area, new partnerships, or other notable new elements (e.g., use of ICT4D), include questions related to these new project elements.
- Consider programming and operations-related project management issues, e.g. factors that influenced the effective management of project time, scope, budget, and stakeholder relationships, etc.
- See CRS’ Guidance on Monitoring and Evaluation, chapter on Planning and Conducting an Evaluation, for additional tips.
- Note: Sensitive issues may surface during the review of project management issues. Include in the TOR an approach to review these issues during the evaluation or after-action review process, as well as the most appropriate way to document and disseminate related findings. Keep in mind that final evaluation and after-action review reports may be shared outside the project team.
Question customization is important for after-action reviews, too! While after-action reviews present a rich opportunity for learning, too often they are approached as a “check the box” exercise with only a cursory review of stock questions. The TOR for a good after-action review process includes customized, probing questions that help the project team deepen its reflection or approach a question from a new perspective. For example, under the standard question, “What could have gone better?”, develop a set of sub-questions or prompts to generate discussion around specific components of the project (e.g. the distribution process, participant selection, consortium coordination, exit/transition planning, etc.). Consider building appropriate data internalization approachesFor example, an activity like “data placemat/data headlines” or “quotables” – see the USAID LEARN Data Internalization Guidance under “Other Resources”. into the TOR include methodologies and activities to facilitate deeper reflection on the after-action review questions.
- Click here for Additional tips and points to keep in mind for final evaluation TORs.
- Use the Preparing for an Evaluation “Short Cut” resource and Annotated Evaluation Terms of Reference template as starting points.
- Ensure the TOR includes a manageable number of clear evaluation questions associated with the relevant evaluation criteria (i.e., relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact, sustainability) and focused on higher-level changes.
- Keep in mind that the final evaluation is not the time to try to fill all outstanding project information gaps.
- If there was a project mid-term review, ensure the TOR includes a formal review of the appropriateness of actions taken in response to the mid-term findings and recommendations.
- Include evaluation methods that optimize project participant engagement in the evaluation process.Use the project stakeholder analysis and MEAL communication plan developed during MEAL system development to identify the appropriate stakeholders to engage as 1) key informants for the evaluation, 2) participants in the final evaluation reflection eventPer MEAL Procedure 3.7. Limit reflection event participants to those stakeholders who have had a sufficiently high level of engagement with the project to be able to meaningfully contribute to the interpretation of findings, identify learning, and inform recommendations. to analyze and interpret evaluation findings and identify project learning, and 3). participants in post-evaluation events to share and discuss project learning (see Standard 18, key action 3).
- Building on the stakeholder communications analysis, per MEAL Procedure 7.2,Procedure 7.2: Communicate progress and evaluation findings to key stakeholders according to their information needs. include a preliminary plan for how the project team will share evaluation findings with different project stakeholders (see section VI, Reporting and Dissemination, in the Annotated Evaluation Terms of Reference) .
- Request the MEAL RTA’s support in reviewing the final draft TOR (per Procedure 3.3.Procedure 3.3: Regional MEAL advisors review baseline and evaluation ToRs to improve evaluation quality and ensure appropriateness to information needs. ).
- Request sectoral technical advisors’ review of the draft TOR, and specifically the evaluation questions and plans to share the evaluation findings and learning – technical advisors may have valuable inputs on other opportunities to share project findings and ways to optimize evaluation learning for the benefit of other projects.
- After finalizing the TOR, the PM/COP and MEAL lead develop the necessary scope(s) of work (SOW).
- For an after-action review, a SOW is needed if the facilitator will be from outside the project team. Ensure the SOW clarifies the preparation and follow-up responsibilities of both the facilitator and designated project team members (e.g. the PM and MEAL lead).
- For complex projects, a single evaluator may be insufficient. In such cases, CRS may need to develop an SOW for a consultant agency with diverse evaluation capacities, or separate SOWs for each profile needed on the evaluation team.
- For external evaluations, the CRS project team may have the option of contracting an evaluator external to CRS, or a CRS staff member with evaluation experience who is external to the project team.
- Click here for Points to keep in mind when deciding whether to select a CRS or external consultant evaluator.
If there is no donor requirement to select an external consultant evaluator, the project team will need to weigh the pros and cons of engaging a consultant, or an experienced CRS staff. When making this decision, keep in mind the following (see also Table 4, Tradeoffs between Internal and External Evaluators in Managing and Implementing an Evaluation):
- An external evaluator will bring greater objectivity and help to reduce bias in the evaluation results.
- On the other hand, a CRS evaluator will be more familiar with project systems, structures, and approaches, and likely be better placed to facilitate project team participation in the evaluation design. This will increase the likelihood of more relevant and useful evaluation outcomes.
- Working with a CRS evaluator may require more project team follow up with the evaluator. While both CRS and external evaluators may face competing demands on their time after completing field evaluation activities and facilitating the evaluation reflection event, external evaluators have the incentive of a final contract payment tied to completion of the final deliverables.
- Using a CRS evaluator can often help reduce total evaluation costs while helping strengthen internal capacity.
A CRS evaluator is only an appropriate option if a staff member with evaluation design experience, data analysis qualifications, and strong facilitations skills is available. Ideally, any CRS evaluator should have experience with the relevant focus sector and themes addressed in the project, though the project team can seek input from a sectoral advisor to complement the CRS evaluator’s experience.
- Click here for Tips for final evaluation SOWs.
- Detail expectations of the evaluator and explain the role of the evaluation manager.The evaluation manager is typically a CRS staff member (often the country program MEAL staff identified as the MEAL lead for the evaluation) who coordinates CRS communication with the evaluator, assists the evaluator to access project data sources, and generally helps ensure the evaluation runs smoothly and is completed in a timely manner. For more on the evaluation manager role, see the M&E Shortcuts documents in the “Tools and Templates” section.
- Clearly define points of interaction between the evaluator and CRS (through the evaluation manager). Critical actions requiring CRS involvement and approval typically include:
- Methodology design including selection of data sources and sampling
- Development of data collection tools
- Design of materials for reflection events
- Any intermediary deliverables such as: preliminary analysis, preliminary findings, draft report, etc.
- Keep in mind that a common challenge in externally-led evaluations is the perception that the external evaluator does not fully understand the project or implementation context. This leads to the risk that the findings and recommendations may be --or may be perceived to be-- unrealistic or based on the evaluator’s incomplete understanding of the project. Mitigate this potential risk by building into the SOW substantive interaction between the evaluator and the project team.
- Be sure the SOW includes facilitation of the final evaluation reflection event prior to finalization of the evaluation report.
- Incorporate a deliverable related to communications materialsIdeally, the project team will have developed a plan for the kind of project final learning the team would like to share, with whom, and in what format. If this is the case, include a deliverable in the final evaluation SOW focused on compiling or synthesizing the type of information that CRS would need to develop targeted communications materials (e.g., inputs for a learning brief; first-person quotes illustrating key evaluation findings; participant profiles; inputs for videos). See Standard 18, key action 3 for guidance on disseminating project learning. beyond the evaluation report, based on the initial plans for reporting and dissemination outlined in the TOR (see final evaluation TOR tips under step 3).
- Be realistic when setting deadlines for evaluation deliverables, keeping in mind time needed for CRS review and incorporation of feedback.
- For final evaluations, the MEAL lead/evaluation manager and PM/CoP ensure the evaluator/evaluation team designs an appropriate evaluation methodology, data collection tools, and detailed evaluation work plan in line with the TOR and SOW.
- In the case of internal evaluations, the CRS MEAL lead often serves as the evaluation team lead and takes responsibility for developing the evaluation methodology, data collection tools, and work plan.
- Seek assistance from MEAL technical staff as needed.
- See the M&E Short Cuts series: Preparing for an Evaluation and Managing and Implementing an Evaluation for guidance on final preparations.
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- Partners are key stakeholders in the process, including the development of the TOR for the final evaluation or after-action review. Engage partners early in the planning process, to discuss the final evaluation or after-action review, the deliverables, the process, and each partner’s role. This includes discussing each partner’s role in evaluation data collection and the reflection process to interpret and discuss use of evaluation findingsSee MEAL Procedure 3.7: Reflect on evaluation findings with partners and other stakeholders to generate appropriate recommendations and inform agency learning. (see Standard 18, key action 2) and in developing and implementing a plan to share results with other key stakeholders (see Standard 18, key action 3).
- As partners will often play a lead role in sharing information from the final project evaluation with project participants, it’s also important to work closely with them to define plans for wider stakeholder learning and sharing as part of TOR development.
- Note that CRS MEAL procedures 3-2 - 3.6 are recommended though not required when CRS is a sub-recipient.
- In situations where CRS is a sub, the prime will take the lead in designing the project final evaluation and/or review. CRS should engage the prime early in the planning process to identify how CRS can contribute to the design.
- Note that other organizations’ MEAL practices and approaches may differ from CRS’ MEAL policies and procedures. However, it’s likely that nearly all projects in which CRS is included as a sub will have planned a final, external project evaluation.
- Follow the same procedure for final evaluations or after-action reviews for emergency projects, telescoping as needed. For example, for final evaluations, adapt the evaluation criteria and terms of reference as appropriate (for example, leaving out or adapting the criteria related to sustainability; incorporating criteria related to connectedness,Connectedness refers to the need to ensure that activities of a short-term emergency nature are carried out in a context that takes longer-term and interconnected problems into account (Beck, 2006, p. 20). coverage,Coverage is the need to reach major population groups facing life threatening suffering, wherever they are (Beck, 2006, p. 21). and/or coordination.Coordination is the systematic use of policy instruments to deliver humanitarian assistance in a cohesive and effective manner. Such instruments include strategic planning, gathering data and managing information, mobilising resources and ensuring accountability, orchestrating a functional division of labour, negotiating and maintaining a serviceable framework with host political authorities and providing leadership (Minear et al., 1992, pp. 6–7).
- If you are preparing the TOR for an evaluation of a large-scale emergency where several Caritas Internationalis (CI) Members are responding and/or supporting a response of the national Caritas, please refer to the Protocol for CI Coordination in Emergency Response, Emergency Framework and Toolkit for Emergency Response documents on the CI Baobab website. If you are not registered on the CI Baobab site, please register here.When registering for the CI Baobab site, CRS staff should select "Caritas United States - CRS" as their organization and list the Humanitarian Response Department and email@example.com as the reference contact. If you have any questions, please contact CRS’ Humanitarian Response Department (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- While emergency projects do not typically have mid-term reviews, many emergency project teams conduct and use the findings from real-time evaluationsMEAL procedure 3.5: Conduct a real-time evaluation during emergency responses to contribute to agency learning and inform the next phase of the response. to adjust the response strategy. As applicable based on the total budget of the emergency response, include in the evaluation TOR a review of the appropriateness of project/response adjustments based on the findings and recommendations of the real-time evaluation.
- For emergency projects, the final evaluation or after-action review may be conducted at the level of the wider emergency response.
Tools and templates
Additional tools and templates for developing and reviewing TORs (see CRS' MEAL Procedures 3.2 and 3.3)
Additional tools and templates for evaluations, after-action reviews, and participatory reflection events (see CRS' MEAL Procedures 3.6 and 3.7)
Checklist for Review of Evaluation Terms of Reference (from CRS' MEAL Policies and Procedures site)
Guidance on Planning and Conducting an Evaluation (from CRS' Guidance on Monitoring and Evaluation)
M&E Short Cuts series: Preparing for an Evaluation
Policies and procedures
POL-OOD-PRG-008: MEAL Policies and Procedures, specifically procedures 3.2, 3.3, 3.6 and 3.7 Procedure 3.2: Develop terms of reference (ToR) for baseline and evaluation events.
Procedure 3.3: Regional MEAL advisors review baseline and evaluation ToRs to improve evaluation quality and ensure appropriateness to information needs.
Procedure 3.6: Conduct final evaluation to measure and document project progress and contribute to larger agency learning.
Procedure 3.7: Reflect on evaluation findings with partners and other stakeholders to generate appropriate recommendations and inform agency learning.
- Initiate planning of the final evaluation or after-action review so that it can be conducted in the last six months of the project or per donor requirements (see below).
- Primary responsible: Project manager or chief of party (PM/CoP) with MEAL leadThe MEAL lead for the evaluation may be the country program MEAL manager, project MEAL coordinator, or other CRS MEAL staff. For internal evaluations, this individual typically leads the CRS evaluation team. For external evaluations especially, this individual often takes on the role of “evaluation manager”, serving as the main point of contact between the project team and the external evaluator(s) and generally ensuring the evaluation runs smoothly and is completed in a timely manner. For more on the evaluation manager role, see M&E Short Cuts: Planning an Evaluation. or individual designated as the “evaluation manager”