You’ve developed your program.  You think you’ve met a need.  You conduct an evaluation.  Low and behold!  Some of your respondents give you such negative feedback you wonder what program they attended.  Could it really have been your program?

This is the phenomena I call “all of the people all of the time”, which occurs regularly  in evaluating training  programs.  And it has to do with use–what you do with the results of this evaluation.  And you can’t do it–please all of the people all of the time, that is.  There will always be some sour grapes.  In fact, you will probably have more negative comments than positive comments.  People who are upset want you to know; people are happy are just happy.

Now, I’m sure you are really confused.  Good.  At least I’ve got your attention and maybe you’ll read to the end of today’s post.

You have seen this scenario:  You ask the participants for formative data so that you can begin planning the next event or program.  You ask about the venue, the time of year, the length of the conference, the concurrent offerings, the plenary speakers.  Although some of these data are satisfaction data (the first level, called Reaction,  in Don Kirkpatrick’s training model and the Reaction category in Claude Bennett’s TOPs Hierarchy [see diagram]

they are important part of formative evaluation; an important part of program planning.  You are using the evaluation report.  That is important.  You are not asking if the participants learned something.  You are not asking if they intend to change their behavior.  You are not asking about what conditions have changed.  You only want to know about their experience in the program.

What do you do with the sour grapes?  You could make vinegar, only that won’t be very useful and use is what you are after.  Instead, sort the data into those topics over which you have some control and those topics over which you have no control.  For example–you have control over who is invited to be a plenary speaker, if there will be a plenary speaker, how many concurrent sessions, who will teach those concurrent sessions;  you have no control over the air handling at the venue, the chairs at the venue, and probably, the temperature of the venue.

You can CHANGE those topics over which you have control.  Comments say the plenary speaker was terrible.  Do not invite that person to speak again.  Feedback says that the concurrent sessions didn’t provide options for classified staff, only faculty.  Decide the focus of your program and be explicit in the program promotional materials–advertise it explicitly to your target audience.  You get complaints about the venue–perhaps there is another venue; perhaps not.

You can also let your audience know what you decided based on your feedback.  One organization for which I volunteered sent out a white paper with all the concerns and how the organization was addressing them–or not.  It helped the grumblers see that the organization takes their feedback seriously.

And if none of this works…ask yourself: Is it a case of all of the people all of the time?

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