What is the difference between need to know and nice to know?  How does this affect evaluation?  I got a post this week on a blog I follow (Kirkpatrick) that talks about how much data does a trainer really need?  (Remember that Don Kirkpatrick developed and established an evaluation model for professional training back in the 1954 that still holds today.)

Most Extension faculty don’t do training programs per se, although there are training elements in Extension programs.  Extension faculty are typically looking for program impacts in their program evaluations.  Program improvement evaluations, although necessary, are not sufficient.  Yes, they provide important information to the program planner; they don’t necessarily give you information about how effective your program has been (i.e., outcome information). (You will note that I will use the term “impacts” interchangeably with “outcomes” because most Extension faculty parrot the language of reporting impacts.)

OK.  So how much data do you really need?  How do you determine what is nice to have and what is necessary (need) to have?  How do you know?

  1. Look at your logic model.  Do you have questions that reflect what you expect to have happen as a result of your program?
  2. Review your goals.  Review your stated goals, not the goals you think will happen because you “know you have a good program”.
  3. Ask yourself, How will I USE these data?  If the data will not be used to defend your program, you don’t need it.
  4. Does the question describe your target audience?  Although not demonstrating impact, knowing what your target audience looks like is important.  Journal articles and professional presentations want to know this.
  5. Finally, ask yourself, Do I really need to know the answer to this question or will it burden the participant.  If it is a burden, your participants will tend to not answer, then you  have a low response rate; not something you want.

Kirkpatrick also advises to avoid redundant questions.  That means questions asked in a number of ways and giving you the same answer; questions written in positive and negative forms.  The other question that I always include because it will give me a way to determine how my program is making a difference is a question on intention including a time frame.  For example, “In the next six months do you intend to try any of the skills you learned to day?  If so, which one.”  Mazmaniam has identified the best predictor of behavior change (a measure of making a difference) is stated intention to change.  Telling someone else makes the participant accountable.  That seems to make the difference.



Mazmanian, P. E., Daffron, S. R., Johnson, R. E., Davis, D. A., & Kantrowits, M. P. (1998).   Information about barriers to planned change: A Randomized controlled trail involving continuing medical education lectures and commitment to change.  Academic Medicine, 73(8).


P.S.  No blog next week; away on business.




Quantitative data analysis is typically what happens to data that are numbers (although qualitative data can be reduced to numbers, I’m talking here about data that starts as numbers.)  Recently, a library colleague sent me an article that was relevant to what evaluators often do–analyze numbers.

So why, you ask, am I talking about an article that is directed to librarians?  Although that article is is directed at librarians, it has relevance to Extension.  Extension faculty (like librarians), more often than not, use surveys to determine the effectiveness of their programs.  Extension faculty are always looking to present the most powerful survey conclusions (yes, I lifted from the article title), and no you don’t need to have a doctorate in statistics to understand these analyses.  The other good thing about this article is that it provides you with a link to an online survey-specific software:  (Raosoft’s calculator at http://www.raosoft.com/samplesize.html).

This article refers specifically to three metrics that are often overlooked by Extension faculty:  margin of error (MoE), confidence level (CL), and cross-tabulation analysis.   These are three statistics which will help you in your work. The article also does a nice job of listing the eight recommended best practices which I’ve appended here with only some of the explanatory text.


Complete List of Best Practices for Analyzing Multiple Choice Surveys

1. Inferential statistical tests. To be more certain of the conclusions drawn from survey data, use inferential statistical tests.

2. Confidence Level (CL). Choose your desired confidence level (typically 90%, 95%, or 99%) based upon the purpose of your survey and how confident you need to be of the results. Once chosen, don’t change it unless the purpose of your survey changes. Because the chosen confidence level is part of the formula that determines the margin of error, it’s also important to document the CL in your report or article where you document the margin of error (MoE).

3. Estimate your ideal sample size before you survey. Before you conduct your survey use a sample size calculator specifically designed for surveys to determine how many responses you will need to meet your desired confidence level with your hypothetical (ideal) margin of error (usually 5%).

4. Determine your actual margin of error after you survey. Use a margin of error calculator specifically designed for surveys (you can use the same Raosoft online calculator recommended above).

5. Use your real margin of error to validate your survey conclusions for your larger population.

6. Apply the chi-square test to your crosstab tables to see if there are relationships among the variables that are not likely to have occurred by chance.

7. Reading and reporting chi-square tests of cross-tab tables.

  • Use the .05 threshold for your chi-square p-value results in cross-tab table analysis.
  • If the chi-square p-value is larger than the threshold value, no relationship between the variables is detected. If the p-value is smaller than the threshold value, there is a statistically valid relationship present, but you need to look more closely to determine what that relationship is. Chi-square tests do not indicate the strength or the cause of the relationship.
  • Always report the p-value somewhere close to the conclusion it supports (in parentheses after the conclusion statement, or in a footnote, or in the caption of the table or graph).

8. Document any known sources of bias or error in your sampling methodology and in your survey design in your report, including but not limited to how your survey sample was obtained.


Bottom line:  read the article.

Hightower, C. & Kelly, S. (2012, Spring).  Infer more, describe less: More powerful survey conclusions through easy inferential tests.  Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship. DOI:10.5062/F45H7D64. [Online]. Available at: http://www.istl.org/12-spring/article1.html

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.