Evaluation for policy makers - A straightforward guide

Evaluation for policy makers. A straightforward, user-friendly and practical guide to evaluation in the policy making cycle.

Chapter 2: How does evaluation help to deliver policy?

The role of evaluation in policy making

Evaluation helps to make sure policies are delivering the greatest benefit. Evaluations help us know if we are contributing to agreed outcomes, what's working, where to make improvements when they are needed, and how to allocate resources where they can make the most difference.

Evaluations help us understand which of our policies work best and why, and how to learn and improve. It also protects people by ensuring that policies benefit the people who they are designed to help, and don't have unintended consequences that cause harm.

Evaluation also holds us accountable and helps policy-makers and stakeholders to develop and implement the most effective policies to achieve the Government's objectives. If evaluation shows something isn't being implemented properly, or just isn't effective, it can help us make changes to improve the programme, or justify reallocating its resources to something more effective. Ultimately, evaluation is about using the results to improve policies, and by doing so, we improve people's lives for the better.

Develop policy and the evaluation
Roll out the policy
Evaluate policy
Consider findings
Improve policy
High quality policy delivered

Evaluation as a standard part of policy work

Knowing how a policy is performing on the ground is a key component of the policy process. There are generally five main policy reasons for conducting an evaluation:

  • There is an organisational or there is a Ministerial or legislative requirement to do it.
  • To learn lessons in order to improve the policy or identify best practice.
  • To demonstrate accountability for spend.
  • To assess whether there is enough evidence to roll out the policy more widely or provide further funding.
  • To increase policy resilience (strong evidence will help conversations with critics).

The National Performance Framework

In Scottish Government, it is important to know how using evaluation can contribute to The National Performance Framework (NPF). The NPF, which was jointly launched by the First Minister and CoSLA in 2018, represents our collective vision of the kind of nation we want to be. 11 national outcomes describe this vision with a succinct purpose and set of values at its centre. The NPF is not merely a government framework but it belongs to the whole of Scotland where everyone has a part to play in delivering the national outcomes. The NPF also embeds 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals reinforcing our commitment to tackling the most challenging issues facing our planet.

There are 81 national indicators underpinning the outcomes that will help us track progress in achieving the outcomes over time.

11 national outcomes

The NPF functions on a 5 year cycle with the next review due to take place in 2023. To read more about the National Performance Framework, please go to (

The importance of being objective

Evaluation results are likely to suggest that a policy has strengths as well as limitations, so an evaluation should not be a simple declaration of policy success or failure. Evidence that a policy is not achieving all of its objectives can be difficult to accept, but it can also help you learn where to put limited resources.


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