History of Evaluation

In the United Kingdom, the development of professional evaluation really began with the 1970’s. Evaluation for accountability arose as a result of the 1970’s international economic recession. In difficult financial times there is a greater demand for evidence of, ‘What works for whom, and at what cost?’ The timeline below shows the development of evaluation in the context of the macro-economic and political climate.

Picture courtesy of Dorset County Council.


  • High fuel costs due to the Arab oil embargo
  • Stock market crash
  • Banking and property crisis
  • Loss of public trust in Government decisions

These conditions led to evaluation being used more and more for economic accountability – for making financial decisions.


  • Financial Management Initiative
  • Emphasis on Value for Money (VFM)
  • The three ‘E’s’ of Evaluation: Economy, Efficiency, and Effectiveness
  • The measurement of inputs and outputs

In the 1980’s the focus was on financial accountability and efficiency.


  • Key Performance Indicators
  • The audit culture
  • 1995: “Evidence based policy” first spoken on record in Parliament
  • Cochrane and Campbell Collaborations – systematic research reviews in health and social sciences
  • 1999: National Institute for Clinical Excellence established
  • 1999: Modernising Government White Paper
  • ‘What Works’ agenda

Research and evaluation evidence was formally committed to by Government as having an influence on policy making. Learning about best practice and effectiveness was more of a priority now than simply how much those practices cost.


  • Government Social Research Unit established
  • Magenta Book
  • On-line Policy Hub

Training and advice in data analysis was made formally available for policy-makers. Using evaluation evidence was part of professional policy-making.

Late 2000’s - 2010’s

  • Comprehensive Spending Review
  • Stock market crash
  • Banking and property crisis
  • Economic recession
  • Record deficit
  • Eurozone crisis

Evaluation re-focuses on efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Source: Furubo, J. E., Rist, R. C., and Sandahl, R. (eds.) (2002) International Atlas of Evaluation New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.