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What is evaluation?

The evaluation consists of three key ingredients:

Social science method 
First of all, evaluation makes use of instruments borrowed from the social sciences. It requires a systematic collection of information, it has in fact an empirical and analytical foundation: evaluation must be based on observation of reality, conducted through methods that can be repeated and shared by a scientific community of reference and, in this sense, is clearly distinguished from a purely personal and subjective activity of judgement.

Judgment on the basis of a comparison 
Secondly, the evaluation involves the expression of a judgement based on the performance of some kind of comparison: without a comparison there is no evaluation. The problem with evaluation is therefore to clarify what is the term of comparison used to make such a judgment, why it was adopted precisely that term and how it came to its construction. It is rare for the term of comparison to be explicitly stated by the decision-makers themselves. In the case of public decision-makers, this is often implicit and ambiguous. It is up to the evaluator to identify, propose and find the right arguments to make a particular comparison period accepted as credible.

Improvement of public policies and improvement of business companies' decsions  and non-profit organizations
Thirdly, evaluation incorporates a fundamental objective of improving public or private activity. The real raison d'être of evaluation lies in its action-oriented nature: every evaluation is designed to produce analytical results that can be used by decision-makers. The mission of an evaluator is to help decision-makers make more informed decisions based on empirical evidence. The evaluator must therefore construct her analytical strategy, starting from the evaluation questions that some well-identified people ask themselves and must always have a clear idea of the use they can make of the answers to those questions.

For a brief overview of the evaluation of public policies, we point out the article by A. Martini and M. Sisti (here). The authors summarize five different ways of understanding the evaluation and placement, in combination with the different approaches, of the main techniques used in evaluation:
- cost-benefit analysis,
- management control,
- quality certification and accreditation,
- benchmarking,
- costumer satisfaction,
- the social balance sheet,
- analysis of implementation processes,
- the analysis of effects based on the counterfactual approach,
- the empowerment evaluation.

The evaluation concerns not only public policies, but also the actions of companies (public and private) and non-profit organisations.

Where evaluation is done in the world