2. Planning and design

Planning and design

Once needs are defined, then it is crucial to elaborate a project plan. This plan needs to have clearly defined objectives. These will give direction to all activities and should be as clear, specific and time-bound as possible. Evaluation is difficult when there are no standards or objectives against which to assess progress. You need to define what the success of your project might look like. Basic criteria for a quality project are: ethics (done respecting the values that you stand for), efficiency (responsible use of scarce resources) and effectiveness (capacity to reach set goals).

In brief, careful planning is necessary to ensure quality evaluation. This section will take you through central actions when planning the evaluation of a project:

    • Setting the project’s goals and objectives
    • Defining your starting points or baseline
    • Developing indicators
    • Planning, monitoring and evaluation tasks
    • Assessing risks


If you first want to assess your practices go to Assess your projects.

Setting the project goals and objectives

Goals are general intentions that guide your work, for example, promote dialogue in a community. Objectives are more tangible and should help you guide your actions in the short-term. Objectives can be seen as a series of steps that will lead you to realise your broader goals. For example, you can have a general goal and a series of specific objectives.

Setting specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound objectives are key for effective project management. These are often called “SMART” indicators. A variation of it is that objectives should be agreed-upon, that is, result result from a participatory decision-making process.  If there is no agreement on the objectives, the motivation to implement them will be limited. At the same time, peacebuilding projects often have objectives that are too ambitious, broad and vague. Unclear or poorly defined objectives make project implementation and thus, evaluation more difficult. Here we offer a brief guide to setting objectives.

Specific – What will you do exactly? Who will do it and with whom?

Measurable – How will you know that results has been achieved? What will indicate you to what extent you have made progress?

Agreed-upon – Were objectives the result of a participatory decision-making process? Do all involved understand and agree on the objectives?

Realistic – How do you know that it will be feasible? How does it relate to the organisation’s “theory of change” or the general assumptions on how reality works in the specific context? How challenging is it to address a certain problem or conflict?

Time-bound – Are actions planned in relation to the available time and bound by benchmarks or deadlines?

An example of a SMART objective is:

“By year two of the project, the organisation’s team of trainers (6 persons) will have trained 50% of the Social Work university students (150 students, ages 18-21) in the University of Peaceland and the University of Changeland on intercultural communication and social mediation competences”

When defining objectives, you need to take into consideration the specific type of social change or peace work that you want to engage in. Educational projects emphasise learning criteria, that is, what and how much have the participants learned in terms of competences (knowledge, skills and attitudes). Peacebuilding interventions tend to focus on the improvement of relations and levels of trust, also changes in attitudes towards the “other”. Advocacy and campaigns emphasise the level of understanding of and support towards an issue that is new on the agenda or that is contested or debated. Social development work may emphasise criteria of accessibility to basic human rights, such as health or housing to name a few examples.

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Defining your starting points

Before your start implementing your project is it important to determine what the original situation is. For example, if you want to promote attitudes of respect towards different religions among young people in a certain neighbourhood, then you need to determine what the current situation is. You can holplanning and design 5d informal interviews, use existing national or local level statistics and discuss the data with your team. You can summarise your findings in a short description. However, the more accurate the picture, the better your ability will be to monitor progress in relation to attitudinal change. A survey of attitudes can be a good tool to understand and measure this change. This can also be called “baseline study”. A baseline study can consist of a qualitative research on a case study, for example, about violence in a school or city district. Alternatively, it can consist of a quantitative study on measuring the types and levels of violence in specific context.

A good baseline will help you to compare and assess what has changedover a period of your project. Also, you should be able to tell whether the change was as a result of your intervention and how useful it was. A baseline could also serve to adjust and/or redefine a project from the start. Baselines are not always necessary in comparative analysis. Also it’s difficult to conduct baselines and process the gathered information in when working in complex and dynamic social contexts. Some baseline information may already exist through the context/conflict analysis of the project, or secondary data like reports or statistical data of other organisations and institutions. If it is/was not possible to conduct a baseline study you can reconstruct a description of the original situation retrospectively, for example, through storytelling, interviews or documentation.

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Developing Indicators

An indicator is a simple and reliable sign or pointer of changes in an aspect of reality. Indicators are a means to measure change, so they are central in monitoring and evaluation. Indicators can be quantitative or qualitative. For example, the number of incidents of physical violence is an example of a quantitative indicator. The quality of relations and trust among persons or groups of people is a qualitative one.

Indicators are approximations of reality, they do not reflect a full picture of reality. Therefore, they are limited. A careful choice of indicators based on an in-depth knowledge of the cultural and social context is key. Since reality is complex, a mix of qualitative and quantitative indicators is recommended. While quantitative indicators may tell you how much is happening (or not), qualitative indicators may tell you how it is happening and why.

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Planning monitoring and evaluation tasks

Monitoring and evaluation tasks need to be integrated into your project plan or as an appendix of it. Based on your project’s objectives, you need to decide what you want your evaluation to focus on. These are some guiding questions to help you develop your evaluation plan:

  • What will the focus of the evaluation be? What will be the key criteria of evaluation? How important will efficiency, effectiveness and ethical dimensions be?  
  • Who will take the lead, contribute to and participate in evaluation activities?
  • What is the time frame of the evaluation? When will evaluation activities take place?
  • What material resources will be necessary to implement evaluation tasks?
  • How will the evaluation results be utilised and by whom?

One tool for developing an evaluation plan is the “Quality Assurance Plan”. Basically, it is an excel sheet which includes the objectives of the project, output and outcome indicators, assigned persons to complete tasks and deadlines. You can see an example here.

You can read more about:

  • Project Monitoring and Evaluation Plans (Templates) in Word and PDF formats

Assessing risks

Any intervention or action in the social reality can never be completely neutral. Well-intended projects may cause unintended negative effects and harm. Evaluation is a sensitive endeavour, especially in contexts where there are debates about the role of certain organisations or tensions about what are the best approaches in youth work and/or peace work. For example, some organisations may fear losing funding or support, or fear disclosing sensitive information that may be used in power games. As any project needs to be aware of possible risks and negative effects on the persons and groups involved, the evaluation activities need also to be risks and conflicts-sensitive. There are tools to ensure both your project’s activities and its related evaluation activities are conflict sensitive and follow the principles of “Do No Harm”.

You can read more about…

  • The ‘Do No Harm’ Framework: read the Guide online or read a tip sheet developed by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)

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