Disease surveillance programmes ought to be evaluated regularly to ensure they provide valuable information in an efficient manner. Evaluation of human and animal health surveillance programmes around the world is currently not standardized and therefore inconsistent. The aim of this systematic review was to review surveillance system attributes and the methods used for their assessment, together with the strengths and weaknesses of existing frameworks for evaluating surveillance in animal health, public health and allied disciplines. Information from 99 articles describing the evaluation of 101 surveillance systems was examined. A wide range of approaches for assessing 23 different system attributes was identified although most evaluations addressed only one or two attributes and comprehensive evaluations were uncommon. Surveillance objectives were often not stated in the articles reviewed and so the reasons for choosing certain attributes for assessment were not always apparent. This has the potential to introduce misleading results in surveillance evaluation. Due to the wide range of system attributes that may be assessed, methods should be explored which collapse these down into a small number of grouped characteristics by focusing on the relationships between attributes and their links to the objectives of the surveillance system and the evaluation. A generic and comprehensive evaluation framework could then be developed consisting of a limited number of common attributes together with several sets of secondary attributes which could be selected depending on the disease or range of diseases under surveillance and the purpose of the surveillance. Economic evaluation should be an integral part of the surveillance evaluation process. This would provide a significant benefit to decision-makers who often need to make choices based on limited or diminishing resources.