Monitoring and evaluation are important across all public engagement activities. Monitoring is the process of tracking progress in the achievement of a program’s objectives. Evaluation is the systematic assessment of that progress,or lack thereof, in relation to goals. Investing in monitoring and evaluation is a crucial component in determining whether the desired social change is taking place, and adjusting practices accordingly.

Monitoring and evaluation for public engagement is important for four complementary reasons:

  1. to make progress in achieving our desired outcomes;
  2. to improve our programming as public engagement practitioners;
  3. to ensure we are communicating our work effectively with our network and stakeholders; and
  4. to justify the need for ongoing public engagement funding to donors.

In the Inter-Council Network’s 2012 focus groups and interviews with public engagement practitioners across Canada, measuring the effectiveness of public engagement was identified as one of the top five peer learning priorities. However, monitoring and evaluation in public engagement can be very challenging. These challenges were a common theme in this Knowledge Hub and across public engagement practitioners and organizations.

As a result, the goal of this Knowledge Hub was to articulate and share good practices to address these challenges. As a group, we articulated a number of challenges and gaps related to monitoring and evaluation in public engagement, including:

  • the tendency to report only to donors, basing our monitoring and evaluation around donor requirements, instead of program or organizational objectives. This tension can also be articulated as evaluation for donors versus evaluation for learning and stakeholder engagement.
  • a lack of human and financial resources for monitoring and evaluation – another symptom of evaluation for donors versus evaluation for learning and stakeholder engagement. If monitoring and evaluation is primarily valued to fulfill donor needs, the commitment of time and resources will be lacking to measure the internal outcomes for long term organizational needs for public engagement learning. These internal outcomes will involve collection and analysis of qualitative data (i.e. participant reporting on how their behaviour has changed), often requiring a greater investment of time and resources than a donor’s quantitative data requests (i.e. number of participants).
  • diversity in types of public engagement has led to a large diversity of tools, and there is not one central place for these tools. Further, there is a lack of knowledge on what tools and methods are good (or not) and rigorous (or not).
  • public engagement is challenging to measure. It is often not quantifiable, and attributing causality to changes in knowledge and behaviour is not easy. Combined with unspecified engagement targets such as “the general public” and a focus on short-term public engagement campaigns, measuring the results of public engagement can be difficult.

The context in which monitoring and evaluation for public engagement takes place is one in which the very definition of public engagement seems to be fluid and different between places and times (Weber 2012). Importantly, this toolkit has articulated a new definition of public engagement that captures the current context of public engagement in Canada:

Public engagement is the practice of inspiring, supporting and challenging people and groups in dynamic cycles of learning, reflection and action on global issues. Public engagement is a transformative process that works towards more equitable social, economic, environmental and political structures.

Finally, the Istanbul Principles are an important guide for public engagement and for monitoring and evaluation. The principles relate to personal, relational, and societal change and therefore apply to all levels of public engagement. There is no one prescription that can ensure your organization’s monitoring and evaluation activities will be perfect, but keeping the spirit of the Istanbul Principles of “empowering people” front and centre in planning and implementing your monitoring and evaluation plan is an excellent start.