What follows is a primer, one of the first things evaluators learn when developing a program. This is something that cannot be said enough. Program evaluation is about the program. NOT about the person who leads the program; NOT about the policy about the program; NOT about the people who are involved in the program. IT IS ABOUT THE PROGRAM!
Phew. Now that I’ve said that. I’ll take a deep breath and elaborate.
“Anonymity, or at least a lack of face-to-face dialogue, leads people to post personal attacks…” (This was said by Nina Bahadur, Associate Editor, HuffPost Women.) Although she was speaking about blogs, not specifically program evaluation, this applies to program evaluations. Evaluations are handed out at the end of a program. Program evaluations do not ask for identifying information and often lead to personal attacks. Personal attacks are not helpful to the program lead, the program, or the participants learning.
The program lead really wants to know ABOUT THE PROGRAM, not slams about what s/he did or didn’t do; say or didn’t say. There are some things about a program over which the program lead doesn’t have any control–the air handling at the venue; the type of chairs used; the temperature of the room; sometimes, even the venue. The program lead does have control over the choice of venue (usually), the caterer (if food is offered), the materials (the program) offered to the participants, how s/he looks (grumpy or happy; serious or grateful)–I’ve just learned that how the “teacher” looks at the class makes a big difference in participants learning.
What a participant must remember is that they agreed to participate. It may have been a requirement of their job; it may have been encouraged by their boss; it may have been required by their boss. What ever the reason, they agreed to participate. They must be accountable for their participation. Commenting on those things over which the program lead has no control may make then feel better in the short run; it doesn’t do any good to improve the program or to determine if the program made a difference–that is had merit, worth, value. (Remember the root word of evaluation is VALUE.)
Personal grousing doesn’t add to the program’s value. The question that must be remembered when filling out an evaluation is, “Would this comment be said in real life (not on paper)? Would you tell the person this comment?” If not, it doesn’t belong in your evaluation. Program leads want to build a good and valuable program. The only way they can do is to receive critical feedback about the program. So if the food stinks and the program lead placed the order with the caterer, tell the program lead not to use the caterer again, don’t tell the program lead that her/his taste in food is deplorable–how does that improve the program? If the chairs are uncomfortable, tell the program lead to tell the venue that the chairs were found by participants to be uncomfortable as the program lead didn’t deliberately make the chairs uncomfortable. If there wasn’t enough time for sharing, tell the program lead to increase the sharing time because sometimes sharing of personal experiences is just what is needed to make the program meaningful to participants.