Oct
23
Filed Under (program evaluation) by Molly on 23-10-2015

My friend and colleague, Patricia Rogers, says of cognitive bias , “It would be good to think through these in terms of systematic evaluation approaches and the extent to which they address these.” This was in response to the article herecognitive bias The article says that the human brain is capable of 10 to the 16th power (a big number) processes per second. Despite being faster than a speeding bullet, etc., the human brain has ” annoying glitches (that) cause us to make questionable decisions and reach erroneous conclusions.”

Bias is something that evaluators deal with all the time. There is desired response bias, non-response bias, recency and immediacy bias, measurement bias, and…need I say more? Isn’t evaluation and aren’t evaluators supposed to be “objective”? That we as evaluators behave in an ethical manner? That we have dealt with potential bias and conflicts of interest. That is where cognitive bias appear. And you might not know it at all. Read the rest of this entry »

Jul
23
Filed Under (Data Analysis, Methodology, program evaluation) by Molly on 23-07-2014

Summer reading 2 Many of you have numerous lists for summer reading (NY Times, NPR, Goodreads, Amazon, others…). My question is what are you reading to further your knowledge about evaluation? Perhaps you are; perhaps you’re not. So I’m going to give you one more list 🙂 …yes, it is evaluative.

If you want something light:  Regression to the Mean by Ernest R. House.house--regression to the mean It is a novel. It is about evaluation. It explains what evaluators do from a political perspective.

If you want something qualitative:  Qualitative Data Analysis by Matthew B. Miles, A. Michael Huberman, and Johnny Saldana.Qualitative data analysis ed. 3 It is the new 3rd edition which Sage (the publisher) commissioned. A good thing, too, as both Miles and Huberman are no longer able to do a revision. My new go-to book.

If you want something on needs assessment: Bridging the Gap Between Asset/Capacity Building and Needs Assessment by James W. Altschuld. Bridging the Gap-altschuld Most needs assessments start with what is lacking (i.e., needed); this proposes that an assessment start with what is present (assets) and build  from there, and in the process, meeting needs.

If you want something on higher education:  College (Un)bound by Jeff Selingo.college unbound by jeffry selingo  The state of higher education and some viable alternatives by a contributing editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Yes, it is evaluative.

Most of these I’ve mentioned before. I’ve read the above. I recommend them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jun
03
Filed Under (program evaluation) by Molly on 03-06-2014

Recently, I received the following comment: “In today’s world it’s virtually impossible to keep up with facebook, twitter, news, tv, movies email, texts, etc.”

It was in response to a blog post about making a difference. How do you know? Given that most of what was suggested happens in the virtual world, the play on words is interesting. How is it impossible–because there is too much information? because you are too distracted by the virtual part of all the information and get lost? because virtuality it is not clearly understood? because of something else?  I personally find I can get lost when I spend all day on line (virtual). It isn’t real, actually. I have no sense of what is happening and what isn’t happening. Even with the feeds from news lines, I find I have to double check my facts. Yet even as I say this, the virtual is expanding (go here). I have heard about Web 2.0; hadn’t heard about IoE (Internet of Everything)…the CEO of Cisco (John Chambers) stated that the IoE depends on the architecture, the systems integration. Is virtual the way of the world? It certainly isn’t the future any more; it is now. I have to ask, though, what about people…Given that much evaluation is now being done with the use of virtual tools, are we really understanding what difference is being made? Or are there just connections?

The individual continued with the comment by saying, “Keep up your small voice. Some are listening.” Those “listening” are certainly reflected in the number of comments I received on the posts about making a difference in the last two days (over 45).  This may certainly be a way of engaging; I know it is outreaching. It is only my small voice; it is rewarding to know that some are listening/reading. Even if they only stay a short while.

My two cents. (my small voice).StillSmallVoice

molly.

May
08
Filed Under (criteria, program evaluation) by Molly on 08-05-2014

To quote Annie Leonard, the word sustainability “gets thrown around all the time now and it’s not always clear what is intended.” She goes on to talk about the UN World Commission on Environment and Development definition of sustainable development as “…meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” That is a good definition, I think. Yet it is missing something which (according to Leonard) are equity and justice. Robert Gilman defines sustainability as “…equity over time”. She says (and I agree), quoting the Center for Sustainable Communities, that sustainability “consider(s) the whole instead of the specific. Sustainability emphasizes relationships rather than pieces in isolation.”

Now, given that evaluation to be effective must look at the whole (here is a good example of when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts); and

given that evaluation works to find out information that will benefit both the current and future generations; and

given that evaluation works to determine what difference was made in people’s lives, it seems to me that there is a relationship here that needs to be acknowledged.

A colleague of mine works in youth development and loves the job. My colleague has to determine the value of the program; the program needs to be evaluated. Yet, if the work is only for the program (i.e., the pieces in isolation) not the whole, what good is it that my colleague loves the job? The relationship between the youth involved and the bigger picture is truly more than can probably be captured in any evaluation. Still, the evaluation needs to be planned to consider that, even if the resources are limited (that is the “probably” above).

So yes, evaluation has something to learn from sustainability. Certainly sustainability can learn from evaluation (and economics, and equity, and ecology…).

NEW TOPIC

I’ve been, once again, getting comments about making a difference. I thought I’d post some of those comments (I’ve copied and pasted comments so the spelling is as it appears in the original text):

  • …every blog post makes a difference in a way or in another. You can answer at your questions just seeing how many comments are here, how many people are interested in answering you. I think you are a good person, and everything said by a good person is always a life’s lesson to keep in mind. Thank you for every helpful information, good job!

  • It may be a temporary difference – i.e. limited on the time, but of course that at least for some seconds your writing are touching the life’s of all your readers.

  • Every blog or article makes a difference to those who read it! They might strongly agree or disagree with what the blogger has wrote, making a difference by reafirming there opinion or being outraged that somebody else looks at ideas different to them! Keep writing Molly, you are making people think, which is always good
  • I think the best measure of the effectiveness of a blog are the number of shares it gets, as people that found something useful in it tend to want to share with others.

  • …I have written quite a bit about this topic and challenge that bloggers face and the bottom line is that you really can’t measure the value.  Sure I think asking for responses like you did might help you see a bit of it, but the reality is 99.9% of people will never comment.  As such, we as bloggers have to remember that each pageview is a real person who was on our site and who was impacted by what we wrote!

  •  Blogs are probably the best tool for engaging a customer in todays times.

My question: are blogs engaging readers or are they only outreach, even if the blog is read?

P.S. I also got a lot of comments about my analytics post…for next time.

 

References:

Leonard, A. (2011). Story of Stuff. NY: Free Press.story of stuff (good book–worth the read)

Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). NY: UN World Commission on Environment and Development. http://www.un-documents.net/our-common-future.pdf

Gilman, R., Director, Context Institute.

  • He says:  Sustainability is equity over time.  As a value, it refers to giving equal weight in your decisions to the future as well as the present.  You might think of it as extending the Golden Rule through time, so that you do unto future generations (as well as to your present fellow beings) as you would have them do unto you.

Center for Sustainable Communities is quoted in a variety of places: http://sustainablesonoma.org/keyconcepts/sustainability.html; http://isocs-sustainability.wikispaces.com, among others.

  • The entire definition is: Sustainability is part of a trend to…consider the whole instead of the specific. Sustainability emphasizes relationships rather than pieces in isolation…Sustainability is not about regressing to primitive living conditions. It is about understanding our situation, and developing as communities in ways that are equitable, and make sense ecologically and economically.

 

Feb
10
Filed Under (program evaluation) by Molly on 10-02-2014

Warning:  This post may contain information that is controversial .

Schools (local public schools) were closed (still are).

The University (which never closes) was closed for four days (now open).

The snow kept falling and falling and falling.  Snow in corvallis February 2014.jpg (Thank you Sandra Thiesen for the photo.)

Eighteen inches.  Then freezing rain.  It is a mess (although as I write this, the sun is shining, and it is 39F and supposed to get to 45F by this afternoon).

This is a complex messy system (thank you Dave Bella).  It isn’t getting better.  This is the second snow Corvallis has experienced in the same number of months, with increasing amounts.

It rains in the valley in Oregon; IT DOES NOT SNOW.

Another example of a complex messy system is what is happening in the UK

These are examples extreme events; examples of climate chaos.

Evaluating complex messy systems is not easy.  There are many parts.  If you hold constant one part, what happens to the others?  If you don’t hold constant one part, what happens to the rest of the system?.  Systems thinking and systems evaluation has come of age with the 21st century; there were always people who viewed the world as a system; one part linked to another, indivisible.  Soft systems theory dates back to at least von Bertalanffy who developed general systems theory and published the book by the same name in 1968general systems theory (ISBN 0-8076-0453-4).

One way to view systems is in this photo (compliments of Wikipedia) Systems_thinking_about_the_society.svg.

Evaluating systems is complicated and complex.

Bob Williams, along with Iraj Imam, edited the volume Systems Concepts in EvaluationSystems_Concepts in evaluation_pb (2007), and along with Richard Hummelbrunner,   wrote the volume Systems Concepts in Action: A Practitioner’s Toolkit  systems concepts--tool kit (2010).  He is a leader in systems and evaluation.

These two books relate to my political statement at the beginning and complex messy systems.  According to Amazon, the second book “explores the application of systems ideas to investigate, evaluate, and intervene in complex and messy situations”.

If you think your program works in isolation, think again.  If you think your program doesn’t influence other programs, individuals, stakeholders, think again.  You work in a complex messy system. Because you work in a complex messy system, you might want to simplify the situation (I know I do); only you can’t.  You have to work within the system.

Might be worth while to get von Bertalanffy’s book; might be worth while to get Williams books; might be worth while to get  a copy of Gunderson and Holling book  Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Systems of Humans and Nature.panarchy

After all, nature is a complex messy system.

Nov
07
Filed Under (Data Analysis, program evaluation) by Molly on 07-11-2013

I had a topic all ready to write about then I got sick.  I’m sitting here typing this trying to remember what that topic was, to no avail. That topic went the way of much of my recent memory; another day, perhaps.

I do remember the conversation with my daughter about correlation.  She had a correlation of .3 something with a probability of 0.011 and didn’t understand what that meant.  We had a long discussion of causation and attribution and correlation.

We had another long conversation about practical v. statistical significance, something her statistics professor isn’t teaching.  She isn’t learning about data management in her statistics class either.  Having dealt with both qualitative and quantitative data for a long time, I have come to realize that data management needs to be understood long before you memorize the formulas for the various statistical tests you wish to perform.  What if the flood happens????lost data

So today I’m telling you about data management as I understand it, because the flood  did actually happen and, fortunately, I didn’t loose my data.  I had a data dictionary.

Data dictionary.  The first step in data management is a data dictionary.   There are other names for this, which escape me right now…know that a hard copy of how and what you have coded is critical.  Yes, make a back up copy on your hard drive…have a hard copy because the flood might happen. (It is raining right now and it is Oregon in November.)

Take a hard copy of your survey, evaluation form, qualitative data coding sheet and mark on it what every code notation you used means.  I’d show you an example of what I do, only they are at the office and I am home sick without my files.  So, I’ll show you a clip art instead…data management    smiley.  No, I don’t use cards any more for my data (I did once…most of you won’t remember that time…), I do make a hard copy with clear notations.  I find my self doing that with other things to make sure I code the response the same way.  That is what a data dictionary allows you to do–check yourself.

Then I run a frequencies and percentages analysis.  I use SPSS (because that is what I learned first).  I look for outliers, variables that are miscoded, and system generated missing data that isn’t missing.  I look for any anomaly in the data, any humon error (i. e. my error).  Then I fix it.  Then I run my analyses.

There are probably more steps than I’ve covered today.  These are the first steps that absolutely must be done BEFORE you do any analyses.  Then you have a good chance of keeping your data safe.

Jun
19
Filed Under (Methodology, program evaluation) by Molly on 19-06-2013

Miscellaneous thought 1.

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a long time friend of mine.  When we stopped and calculated (which we don’t do very often), we realized that we have know each other since 1981.  We met at the first AEA (only it wasn’t AEA then) conference in Austin, TX.  I was a graduate student; my friend was a practicing professional/academic.  Although we were initially talking about other things evaluation; I asked my friend to look at an evaluation form I was developing.  I truly believe that having other eyes (a pilot if you will) view the document helps.  It certainly did in this case.  I feel really good about the form.  In the course of the conversation, my friend advocated strongly for a odd numbered scales.  My friend had good reasons, specifically

1) It tends to force more comparisons on the respondents; and

2)  if you haven’t given me a neutral  point I tend to mess up the scale on purpose because you are limiting my ability to tell you what I am thinking.

I, of course, had an opposing view (rule number 8–question authority).  I said, ” My personal preference is an even number scale to avoid a mid-point.  This is important because I want to know if the framework (of the program in question) I provided worked well with the group and a mid-point would provide the respondent with a neutral point of view, not a working or not working opinion.   An even number (in my case four points) can be divided into working and not working halves.  When I’m offered a middle point, I tend to circle that because folks really don’t want to know what I’m thinking.  By giving me an opt out/neutral/neither for or against option they are not asking my opinion or view point.”

Recently, I came across an aea365 post on just this topic.  Although this specific post was talking about Likert scales, it applies to all scaling that uses a range of numbers (as my friend pointed out).  The authors sum up their views with this comment, “There isn’t a simple rule regarding when to use odd or even, ultimately that decision should be informed by (a) your survey topic, (b) what you know about your respondents, (c) how you plan to administer the survey, and (d) your purpose. Take time to consider these four elements coupled with the advantages and disadvantages of odd/even, and you will likely reach a decision that works best for you.”  (Certainly knowing my friend like I do, I would be suspicious of responses that my friend submitted.)  Although they list advantages and disadvantages for odd and even responses, I think there are other advantages and disadvantages that they did not mentioned yet are summed up in their concluding sentence.

Miscellaneous thought 2.

I’m reading the new edition of Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA).  Qualitative data analysis ed. 3  This has always been my go to book for QDA and I was very sad when I learned that both of the original authors had died.  The new author, Johnny Saldana (who is also the author of The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researcherscoding manual--johnny saldana), talks (in the third person plural, active voice) about being a pragmatic realist.  That is an interesting concept.  They (because the new author includes the previous authors in his statement) say “that social phenomena exist not only in the mind but also in the world–and that some reasonably stable relationships can be found among the idiosyncratic messiness of life.”  Although I had never used those exact words before, I agree.  It is nice to know the label that applies to my world view.  Life is full of idiosyncratic messiness; probably why I think systems thinking is so important.  I’m reading this volume because I’ve been asked to write the review of one of my favorite books.  We will see if I can get through it between now and July 1 when the draft of the review is due.  Probably aught to pair it with Saldana’s other book; won’t happen between now and July 1.