Baseline surveys are an important part of any M&E process.  This discussion, takes a look at the definition of a baseline study, its importance, when to conduct one and alternatives when there is no baseline. It also includes other considerations to make when conducting a baseline study.

What is a baseline study?

A baseline study simply put is a study that is done at the beginning of a project to establish the current status of a population before a project is rolled out. The Food and Agricultural Organization defines a baseline study as:

a descriptive cross-sectional survey that mostly provides quantitative information on the current status of a particular situation – on whatever study topic – in a given population. It aims at quantifying the distribution of certain variables in a study population at one point in time. (FAO, 2013)

While most people confuse a baseline study and a pilot study, these two are not synonymous. A pilot study, unlike a baseline study attempts to establish whether it is feasible or worthwhile to undertake a project. In which case, pilot studies are undertaken so as to establish or verify a project idea. A baseline study on the other hand is done after a decision to implement a project has been made. In other words, pilot studies are conducted to identify project ideas, while baseline studies are done to act as a benchmark for measuring project success or failure.

Importance of Baseline studies

Baselines surveys are important for any project for the following reasons:

  1. It is a starting point for a project: One important, and recommended, way of starting a project is to carry out a baseline study. Through its results, a baseline serves as a benchmark for all future activities, where project managers can refer to for the purposes of making project management decisions.
  2. Establishing priority areas/planning: Baseline studies are important in establishing priority areas for a project. This is especially true when a project has several objectives. The results of a baseline study can show some aspects of a project need more focus than other while others may only need to be given little focus. Take for example a project on HIV and AIDS in Dhaka. A baseline study may show that while there is generally high public information on awareness of risk and prevention strategies, these strategies are either non-existent or inaccessible. In this case, project output would focus more on improving access to prevention strategies and little on doing media campaigns and community mobilization.
  3. Attribution: Without a baseline, it is not possible to know the impact of a project. A baseline study serves the purpose of informing decision makers what impact the project has had on the target community. Accordingly, along with other strategies such as use of control groups, it also helps in attributing change in the target population to the project.
  4. Baseline tools are used for evaluation: the tools used during a baseline study are normally the same tools used during evaluation. This is important for ensuring that management compares “apples to apples”. As such, conducting a baseline means that time and other resources for designing evaluation tools are minimized or even eliminated altogether.
  5. Donor requirement: In most cases, it is a donor requirement that a baseline study is carried out as part of the program process. Since M&E is integral for any donor to establish future project success, they might, and always do compel implementing organizations to carry out baseline studies.

When should baseline surveys be carried out?

Just like the name suggests, baseline surveys should be carried out at the very beginning of a project and for obvious reasons. Any manager wants to ensure that any possible impact of a project is captured at the evaluation. Where a baseline study is conducted after project activities have already been initiated, the accurate picture of the initial status cannot be reflected since the project is already having some impact, however little. It is therefore always best practice to conduct a baseline before project implementation.

Alternatives for baseline studies

If there is still a long way to go for the project and a baseline wasn’t conducted, managers can always consider conducting a study to act as a baseline. However, if at the end of a project there was no baseline study conducted, there are a few alternatives to consider  for the purpose of measuring project success.

  1. Using previous studies as a baseline: Several studies are conducted by different agencies including national surveys and sectorial surveys. Managers can always consider surveys that were conducted by other organizations at the project inception as baseline studies. For example, national HIV and AIDS surveys can act as baseline data and compared to end of evaluation results.
  2. Selecting a homogeneous group to act as a control group: Another alternative is to identify a group with homogeneous characteristics to the project target population and conduct a study on the two groups. The selected group then acts as a comparison group to measure success. The disadvantage of this strategy is that true homogeneity is usually very difficult to establish. As a matter of fact, it usually almost never exists.

Other things to consider when conducting baseline studies

1. Indicators: Before conducting a baseline study, it is important to identify the indicators for the project. The indicators help in the designing of the questionnaire and also in determining evaluation indicators. The type of indicators could also dictate the type of data to collect and how the analysis of the data will be done.

2. Study population and sampling: The study population is most often the project target population. Establishing the boundary so as to ensure the sample is only limited to the target population is important. Also related is the sampling procedure. The most common one is the simple random sampling. However, sometimes this is not possible because of various reasons, which might mean that a different sampling procedure is considered.

3. Partners: In some cases, it could necessary to involve other organizations in the baseline survey. This is especially viable if “similar” projects share a starting timeline and share a target group, most often by projects sharing a donor. This normally saves costs an increases confidence in the baseline results.

4. Funds: Availability of funds will dictate the intensity and scope of the baseline study. More funds might also mean that both quantitative and qualitative methods are adopted, while limited funds might imply that an organization only goes for quantitative methods.


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  1. Pingback: TYPES OF EVALUATION | Monitoring and Evaluation Blog

  2. Thanks
    Please share the report outline for surveys

  3. Thomas Kilunda

    That’s a wonderful explanation of baseline studies. Thanks


  5. Abubakar Audi

    The explation is simple but all-encompassing. Warm regards.



  7. Mbabazi Pamela

    Simple and comprehensive. Thanks

  8. Mugabe Hiled

    Wow..thanks a lot.
    Iam preparing for a Monitoring and Evaluation Principles and Perspectives exam paper today and this has come in handy.
    Now ready in case it appears!

  9. Akol Jonah

    Simple and so informative. Thank you

    • najyya adieli

      hello … how can i make a baseline study for this ( as an example) am a newly employed and no body is helping !!

      Development Objective
      Participating civil society organizations are strengthened to address the needs and rights of their members and communities


       No. of male and female members access to entrepreneurship opportunities
       Influence on policy and sectorial issues at country and/or regional level
       Organizations’ image in the society/communities
       Members’ satisfaction with orgs

  10. uyota

    it was very helpful to the my public finance managerial work

  11. Israels

    Thank you so much rilly helpful

  12. Marx

    This is just good enough

  13. Eva

    Thanks for the simple and clear explanation,

  14. Pemberai

    wonderful and concise definitions of pilot & baseline.

  15. Ahmed

    Thanks… very useful

  16. Nsanzimana Bernard

    Many thanks!

    I was looking for a comprehensive meaning and process of “baseline studies” and I am really satisfied with your guidelines.

    Be blessed

  17. Moin

    Many Thanks !
    I need to know that how can we fix the sample size for a baseline study ?

  18. demes Mered

    this is wonderful explanation about baseline. Thank you

  19. Sauda Sentamu

    Thank you the detailed explanation. It serves the purpose God Bless u

  20. Patrick N.Nuetah

    Wonderful explanation of baseline survey…I have gained enough from this article…Thanks a lot.

  21. olayide

    Hi, please can u explain baseline ecological study

  22. Yohannes B. Desta

    Good explanation. I appreciate this team presenting important topics. Hope the application part will continue through discussion. Steps to follow and how we shall design questions will be helpful. Thanks all and keep it up.

  23. Arok Isaiah

    Keep it up the spirit of sharing otherwise may God bless you in every special way

  24. matt

    Thank u the content is helpful

  25. PC

    This has been very useful. Thank you!

  26. Badamasi

    A very good and well defined.

  27. Goya

    Thank you. This is very helpful blog.

  28. Thank you Very much, this was Very Helpful

  29. Emmanuel A During

    good to learn, and I want you to give me mor notes on m and e

  30. Godfrey Gakwandi

    Thank you all for sharing this helpful info

  31. Bito Anton

    Very helpful information.

  32. Gabriel Malimba

    Thanks for simplifying baseline and pilot study. good for me a student to fully understand some components of M&E. need more M&E notes. God bless.

  33. Quite a simplification of such a technical subject, making it so understandable and easily digested! Thank you so much.

  34. Musabalala,R.R

    How to conduct base line survey in an organization

  35. I think yyou have a lot of knowledge in this subject andd you really know yoiur stuff.

  36. NanaA

    This is probably the most user-friendly explanation of key research and M&E terminology I have encountered in several decades of service and academic work. Thanks. NanaA

  37. Giftson.T

    Dear Friends, I am Social Researcher more than15 years. If anyone need to do survey or research you can contact me.

  38. tendai

    quite an insight.thankyou it indeed answered my questions

  39. Joel Lwambo

    Thank for such information.

  40. Joel Lwambo

    Please continue educating me and many others, you are doing a great job.

  41. Joynette

    Thanks for this information i have gained alot and i hope all us who have read this have.

  42. Hedayatullah

    Pretty well explaination on M&E part, almost the same as pretest.

  43. Femi Ayoola

    Good presentation on Baseline Studies. Please distinguish between the baseline study and the baseline survey if at all there is any. Thanks.


    Very insightful, both for students and seasoned researchers. Keep it up. Also would like to know: Can a baseline contain radical recommendations?

  45. monitoring@

    how usual did you calculate sample size

  46. Habibullah hashemi

    Thank you for preparing this knowledge, keep it up

  47. Paulo

    Cool. I want t carry out a Baseline, so thank you for the information.

  48. nyabongo wilson nkumba university

    great piece thanks

  49. Thanks for the wikpidia. now i have sustaine with inportant thing at in my doing project

  50. Kaneez Fatima

    Who wrote this Blog Article ?

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