The two types of evaluation most frequently used in practice are:
- real-time evaluation
- ex post (or post hoc) evaluation
Real-time evaluation can provide feedback to those responsible for an activity so that they are able to identify shortcomings more rapidly and address problems as they arise. This should be distinguished from the routine monitoring of an activity, however. The latter is simply a management function to make sure that tasks are being performed on time, reports received when expected (and by the relevant people), money is being spent as it was allocated, etc. Evaluation, on the other hand, is oriented towards examining whether the tasks are really meeting the objectives set for them. But it should be borne in mind that the ultimate goal of Foresight tends to be longer-term, so real-time evaluation will be best suited to identifying unfolding processes (a lot of the processes of interaction between people are hard to pick up after the event), and perhaps early impacts. These impacts are most likely to revolve around process issues, e.g. networking, increased future-orientation of players, etc.
Ex post evaluation is evaluation after the exercise has been completed, and thus draws on hindsight. This kind of evaluation is often conducted to provide "closure" to the activity, with the drawing up of a final balance sheet. However, even this is problematic when the ultimate objectives involve effecting very long-term change. Conducting an evaluation of this sort, say 2-3 years after the exercise has been initiated, can examine follow-up activities, e.g. the enactment of new policies and programmes, the creation of joint ventures, and even the emergence of social and technological innovations. There may be some scope for evaluating such process-type impacts and capability development issues, as an indicator of the extent to which Foresight has become 'embedded' in the region. The problem with attempting such evaluations is one of 'weak signals', since developments and outcomes after some time will have been dependent upon a great number of factors, with Foresight being just one of them. Moreover, it may be that the part played by a Foresight exercise will remain unacknowledged, even if it has actually been catalytic. While this is problematic for accountability, Foresight is at its most effective when meshed with other activities, so a combination of influences is only to be expected.