Recently, I came across a blog post by Daniel Green, who is the head of strategic media partnerships at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He coauthored this post with Mayur Patel, vice president of strategy and assessment at the Knight Foundation. I mention this because those two foundations have contributed $3.25 million in seed funding “…to advance a better understanding of audience engagement and media impact…”. They are undertaking an ambitious project to develop a rubric (of sorts) to determine “…how media influences the ways people think and act, and contributes to broader societal changes…”. Although it doesn’t specifically say, I include social media in the broad use of “media”. The blog post talks about broader agenda–that of informed and engaged communities. These foundations believe that an informed and engaged communities will strengthen “… democracy and civil society to helping address some of the world’s most challenging social problems.”
Or in other words, what difference is being made, which is something I wonder about all the time. (I’m an evaluator, after all, and I want to know what difference is made.)
Although there are strong media forces out there (NYTimes, NPR, BBC, the Guardian, among others), I wonder about the strength and effect of social media (FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, among others). Anecdotally, I can tell you that social media is everywhere and IS changing the way people think and act. I watch my now 17 y/o who uses the IM feature on her social media to communicate with her friends, set up study dates, find out homework assignments, not the phone like I did. I watch my now 20 y/o multitask–talk to me on Skype and read and respond to her FB entry. She uses IM as much as her sister. I know that social media was instrumental in the Arab spring. I know that major institutions have social media connections (FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.). Social media is everywhere. And we have no good way to determine if it is making a difference and what that difference is.
For something so ubiquitous (social media), why is there no way to evaluate social media other than through the use of analytics? I’ve been asking that question since I first posted my query “Is this blog making a difference?” back in March 2012. Since I’ve been posting since December 2009, that gave me over 2 years from which to gather data. That is a luxury when it comes to programming, especially when many programs often are a few hours in duration and an evaluation is expected.
I hope that this project provides useful information for those of us who have come kicking and screaming to social media and have seen the light. Even though they are talking about the world of media, I’m hoping that they can come up with measures that address the social aspect of media. The technology provided IS useful; the question is what difference is it making?
Harold Jarche says in his April 21 post, “What I’ve learned about blogging is that you have to do it for yourself. Most of my posts are just thoughts that I want to capture.” What an interesting way to look at blogging. Yes, there is content; yes, there is substance. What there is most are captured thoughts. Thoughts committed to “paper” before they fly away. How many times have you said to yourself–if only…because you don’t remember what you were thinking; where you were going. It may be a function of age; it may be a function of the times; it may be a function of other things as well (too little sleep, too much information, lack of f0cus).
When I blog on evaluation, I want to provide content that is meaningful. I want to provide substance (as I understand it) in the field of evaluation. Most of all, I want to capture what I’m thinking at the moment (like now). Last week was a good example of capturing thoughts. I wasn’t making up the rubric content; it is real. All evaluation needs to have criteria against which the “program” is judged for merit and worth. How else can you determine the value of something? So I ask you: What criteria do you use in the moment you decide? (and a true evaluator will say, “It depends…”)
A wise man (Elie Wiesel) said, “A man’s (sic) life, really, is not made up of years but of moments, all of which are fertile and unique.” Even though he has not laid out explicitly his rubric, it is clear what makes them have merit and worth– “moments which are fertile and unique”. An interesting way to look at life, eh?
Jarche gives us a 10 year update about his experience blogging. He is asking a question I’ve been asking: He asks what has changed and what has he learned in the past 10 years. He talks about metrics (spammers and published posts). I can do that. He doesn’t talk about analytics (although I’m sure he could) and I don’t want to talk about analytics, either. Some comments on my blog suggest that I look at length of time spent on a page…that seems like a reasonable metric. What I really want to hear is what has changed (Jarche talks about what has changes as being perpetual beta). Besides the constantly changing frontier of social media, I go back to the comment by Elie Wiesel–moments that are fertile and unique. How many can you say you’ve had today? One will make my day–one will get my gratitude. Today I am grateful for being able to blog.
Needs Assessment is an evaluative activity; the first assessment that a program developer must do to understand the gap between what is and what needs to be (what is desired). Needs assessments are the evaluative activity in the Situation box of a linear logic model.
Sometimes, however, the target audience doesn’t know what they need to know and that presents challenges for the program planner. How do you capture a need when the target audience doesn’t know they need the (fill in the blank). That challenge is the stuff of other posts, however.
I had the good fortune to talk with Sam Angima, an Oregon Regional Administrator who has been tasked with the charge of developing expertise in needs assessment. Each Regional Administrator (there are 12) has been tasked with different charges to whom faculty can be referred. We captured Sam’s insights in a conversational Aha! moment. Let me know what you think.
The topic of survey development seems to be popping up everywhere–AEA365, Kirkpatrick Partners, eXtension Evaluation Community of Practice, among others. Because survey development is so important to Extension faculty, I’m providing links and summaries.
“… it is critical that you pre-test it with a small sample first.” Real time testing helps eliminate confusion, improve clarity, and assures that you are asking a question that will give you an answer to what you want to know. This is so important today when many surveys are electronic.
It is also important to “Train your data collection staff…Data collection staff are the front line in the research process.” Since they are the people who will be collecting the data, they need to understand the protocols, the rationales, and the purposes of the survey.
Kirkpatrick Partners say:
“Survey questions are frequently impossible to answer accurately because they actually ask more than one question. “ This is the biggest problem in constructing survey questions. They provide some examples of asking more than one question.
Michael W. Duttweiler, Assistant Director for Program Development and Accountability at Cornell Cooperative Extension stresses the four phases of survey construction:
He then indicates that the next three blog posts will cover point 2, 3, and 4.
Probably my favorite post on survey recently was one that Jane Davidson did back in August, 2012 in talking about survey response scales. Her “boxers or briefs” example captures so many issues related to survey development.
Writing survey questions which give you useable data that answers your questions about your program is a challenge; it is not impossible. Dillman writes the book about surveys; it should be on your desk.
Here is the Dillman citation:
Dillman, D. A., Smyth, J. D., & Christian, L. M. (2009). Internet, mail, and mixed-mode surveys: The tailored design method. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Creativity is not an escape from disciplined thinking. It is an escape with disciplined thinking.” – Jerry Hirschberg – via @BarbaraOrmsby
The above quote was in the September 7 post of Harold Jarche’s blog. I think it has relevance to the work we do as evaluators. Certainly, there is a creative part to evaluation; certainly there is a disciplined thinking part to evaluation. Remembering that is sometimes a challenge.
So where in the process do we see creativity and where do we see disciplined thinking?
When evaluators construct a logic model, you see creativity; you also see disciplined thinking
When evaluators develop an implementation plan, you see creativity; you also see disciplined thinking.
When evaluators develop a methodology and a method, you see creativity; you also see disciplined thinking.
When evaluators present the findings for use, you see creativity; you also see disciplined thinking.
So the next time you say “give me a survey for this program”, think–Is a survey the best approach to determining if this program is effective; will it really answer my questions?
Creativity and disciplined thinking are companions in evaluation.
Evaluation costs: A few weeks ago, I posted a summary about evaluation costs. A recent AEA LinkedIn discussion was on the same topic (see this link). If you have not linked to other evaluators, there are other groups besides AEA that have LinkedIn groups. You might want to join one that is relevant.
New topic: The video on surveys posted last week generated a flurry of comments (though not on this blog). I think it is probably appropriate to revisit the topic of surveys. As I decided to revisit this topic, an AEA 365 post from the Wilder Research group talked about data coding related to longitudinal data.
Now, many surveys, especially Extension surveys, focus on cross sectional data not on longitudinal data. They may, however, involve a large number of participants and the hot tips that are provided apply to coding surveys. Whether the surveys Extension professionals develop involve 30, 300, or 3000 participants, these tips are important especially if the participants are divided into groups on some variable. Although the hot tips in the Wilder post talk about coding, not surveys specifically, they are relevant to surveys and I’m repeating them here. (I’ve also adapted the original tip to Extension use).
Over the rest of the year, I’ll be revisiting survey on a regular basis. Survey is often used by Extension. Developing a survey that provides you with information you want, can use, and makes sense is a useful goal.
New topic: I’m thinking of varying the format of the blog or offering alternative formats with evaluation information. I’m curious as to what would help you do your work better. Below are a few options. Let me know what you’d like.
A few weeks ago I mentioned that a colleague of mine shared with me some insights she had about survey development. She had an Aha! moment. We had a conversation about that Aha! Moment and video taped the conversation. To see the video, click here.
In thinking about what Linda learned, I realized that Aha! Moments could be a continuing series…so watch for more.
Let me know what you think. Feedback is always welcome.
Oh–I want to remind you about an excellent resource for surveys. Dillman’s current book, Internet, mail, and mixed-mode surveys: The tailored design method. It is a Wiley publication by Don A. Dillman, Jolene D. Smyth, and Leah Melani Christian. Needs to be on your desk if you do any kind of survey work.
I want to focus on the “wisdom is a prerequisite of good judgement” and talk about how that relates to evaluation. I also liked the list of “everybody who’s anybody.” (Although I don’t know who Matt means by Hobbs–is that Hobbes or the English philosopher for whom the well known previous figure was named, Thomas Hobbes , or someone else that I couldn’t find and don’t know?) But I digress…
“Wisdom is a prerequisite for good judgement.” Judgement is used daily by evaluators. It results in the determination of value, merit, and/or worth of something. Evaluators make a judgement of value, merit, and/or worth. We come to these judgements through experience. Experience with people, activities, programs, contributions, LIFE. Everything we do provides us with experience; it is what we do with that experience that results in wisdom and, therefore, leads to good judgements.
Experience is a hard teacher; demanding, exacting, and often obtuse. My 19 y/o daughter is going to summer school at OSU. She got approval to take two courses and for those courses to transfer to her academic record at her college. She was excited about the subject; got the book; read ahead; and looked forward to class, which started yesterday. After class, I had never seen a more disappointed individual. She found the material uninteresting (it was mostly review because she had read ahead), she found the instructor uninspiring (possibly due to class size of 35). To me, it was obvious that she needed to re-frame this experience into something positive; she needed to find something she could learn from this experience that would lead to wisdom. I suggested that she think of this experience as a cross cultural exchange; challenging because of cultural differences. In truth, a large state college is very different from a small liberal arts college; truly a different culture. She has four weeks to pull some wisdom from this experience; four weeks to learn how to make a judgement that is beneficial. I am curious to see what happens.
Not all evaluations result in beneficial judgements; often, the answer, the judgement, is NOT what the stakeholders want to hear. When that is the case, one needs to re-frame the experience so that learning occurs (both for the individual evaluator as well as the stakeholders) so that the next time the learning, the hard won wisdom, will lead to “good” judgement, even if the answer is not what the stakeholders want to hear. Matt started his discussion with the saying that “wisdom, rooted in knowledge of self, is a prerequisite for good judgement”. Knowing your self is no easy task; you can only control what you say, what you do, and how your react (a form of doing/action). The study of those things is a life long adventure, especially when you consider how hard it is to change yourself. Just having knowledge isn’t enough for a good judgement; the evaluator needs to integrate that knowledge into the self and own it; then the result will be “good judgements”; the result will be wisdom.
I started this post back in April. I had an idea that needed to be remembered…it had to do with the unit of analysis; a question which often occurs in evaluation. To increase sample size and, therefore, power, evaluators often choose run analyses on the larger number when the aggregate, i.e., smaller number is probably the “true” unit of analysis. Let me give you an example.
A program is randomly assigned to fifth grade classrooms in three different schools. School A has three classrooms; school B has two classrooms; and school C has one classroom. All together, there are approximately 180 students, six classrooms, three schools. What is the appropriate unit of analysis? Many people use students, because of the sample size issue. Some people will use classroom because each got a different treatment. Occasionally, some evaluators will use schools because that is the unit of randomization. This issue elicits much discussion. Some folks say that because students are in the school, they are really the unit of analysis because they are imbedded in the randomization unit. Some folks say that students is the best unit of analysis because there are more of them. That certainly is the convention. What you need to decide is what is the unit and be able to defend that choice. Even though I would loose power, I think I would go with the the unit of randomization. Which leads me to my next point–truth.
At the end of the first paragraph, I use the words “true” in quotation marks. The Kirkpatricks in their most recent blog opened with a quote from the US CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia, “”And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”. (We wont’ talk about the fiction in the official discourse, today…) (Don Kirkpatrick developed the four levels of evaluation specifically in the training and development field.) Jim Kirkpatrick, Don’s son, posits that, “Applied to training evaluation, this statement means that the focus should be on discovering and uncovering the truth along the four levels path.” I will argue that the truth is how you (the principle investigator, program director, etc.) see the answer to the question. Is that truth with an upper case “T” or is that truth with a lower case “t”? What do you want it to mean?
Like history (history is what is written, usually by the winners, not what happened), truth becomes what do you want the answer to mean. Jim Kirkpatrick offers an addendum (also from the CIA), that of “actionable intelligence”. He goes on to say that, “Asking the right questions will provide data that gives (sic) us information we need (intelligent) upon which we can make good decisions (actionable).” I agree that asking the right question is important–probably the foundation on which an evaluation is based. Making “good decisions” is in the eyes of the beholder–what do you want it to mean.
“Resilience = Not having all of your eggs in one basket.
Abundance = having enough eggs.”
Borrowed from and appearing in the blog by Harold Jarche, Models, flows, and exposure, posted April 28, 2012.
In January, John Hagel blogged in Edge Perspectives: “If we are not enhancing flow, we will be marginalized, both in our personal and professional life. If we want to remain successful and reap the enormous rewards that can be generated from flows, we must continually seek to refine the designs of the systems that we spend time in to ensure that they are ever more effective in sustaining and amplifying flows.”
That is a powerful message. Just how do we keep from being marginalized, especially when there is a shifting paradigm? How does that relate to evaluation? What exactly do we need to do to keep evaluation skills from being lost in the shift and be marginalized? Good questions.
The priest at the church I attend is retiring, after 30 years of service. This is a significant and unprecedented change (at least in my tenure there). Before he left for summer school in Minnesota, he gave the governing board a pep talk that has relevance to evaluation. He posited that what we needed to do was not focus on what we needed, rather focus on what strengths and assets we currently have and build on them. No easy task, to be sure. And not the usual approach for an interim. The usual approach is what do we want; what do we need for this interim. See the shifting paradigm? I hope so.
Needs assessment is often the same approach–what do you want; what do you need. (Notice the use of the word “you” in this sentence; more on that later in another post.) A well intentioned evaluator recognizes that something is missing or lacking and conducts a needs assessment documenting that need/lack/deficit. What would happen, do you think, if the evaluator documented what assets existed and developed a program to build that capacity? Youth leadership development has been building programs to build assets for many years (See citations below). The approach taken by the youth development professionals is that there are certain skills, or assets, which, if strengthened, build resilience. Buy building resilience, needs are mitigated; problems solved or avoided; goals met.
So what would happen if, when conducting a “needs” assessment, an evaluator actually conducted an asset assessment and developed programs to benefit the community by building capacity which strengthened assets and built resiliency? Have you ever tried that approach?
By focusing on strengths and assets instead of weaknesses and liabilities, programs could be built that would benefit more than a vocal minority. The greater whole could benefit. Wouldn’t that be novel? Wouldn’t that be great!
1. Benson, P. L. (1997). All Kids are Our Kids. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers
2. Silbereisen, R. K. & Lerner, R. M. (2007). Approaches to Positive Youth Development. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.