Evaluators are often the key people identified to conduct a needs assessment. A needs assessment is identified in the situation that exists before the intervention is designed or implemented. Hopefully. Currently, there is discussion in the field that rather than focusing on needs (i.e., what is missing, needed), there should be discussions of assets (i.e., what is available, strengths). My favorite go-to person on needs assessments is Jim Altschuld who has published a volume that talks about bridging the gap between the two. . In it, he talks about the difference between the two. He says, “Need is a noun, a problem that should be attended to or resolved. It is a gap or discrepancy between the ‘what should be’ and the ‘what is’ conditions”. However, assets/capacity building (emphasis added) refer “…to building a culture in an organization or community so that it can grow and change in accord with its strengths…” Continue reading
Earlier this week I attended a meeting of the College of Education (my academic home) Social and Environmental Justice (SJE) Work Group. This is a loosely organized group of interested faculty and staff, led by an individual who is the ESOL Program Coordinator & Instructor. We had representatives from each of the four program areas (Adult and Higher Education [AHE], Teacher and Counseling Education [TCE], Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math [STEM], and Cultural and Linguistic Diversity [CLD]) in person (AHE, TCE,. CLD) or on paper [STEM]. The intent was to document for the work group, what each program area is doing in the area of social justice. Social Justice is a mandate for the College and OSU. The AHE and the TCE representatives provided us with information. We never did get to the STEM response. Then we got on to a discussion of what exactly is meant by social justice (since AHE has not defined the term specifically). My response was the evaluation response: it depends.
Most of the folks in the group focused on the interface of race and gender. OK. Others focused on the multiple and different voices. OK. Others focused on the advantages and disadvantages experienced. How is that not based in economics? Others focused on power and privileged. (As an accident of birth?) What is social justice exactly? Can you have social justice without environmental justice? How does that fit with the issue of diversity? How does any of this relate to evaluation?
The American Evaluation Association has had in place for a long time (since 1994) a set of five guiding principles (see Background section at the link for a bit of history). The fourth and fifth principles are, respectively, Respect for People and Responsibilities for General and Public Welfare. Respect for people says this: Evaluators respect the security, dignity and self-worth of respondents, program participants, clients, and other evaluation stakeholders. Responsibilities for the General and Public Welfare says this: Evaluators articulate and take into account the diversity of general and public interests and values that may be related to the evaluation. Although both talk about parts of social justice that we talked about earlier this week, is this a complete view? Certainly, security, dignity, and self worth and diversity of interests and values approach the discussion we had. Is there still something missing? I think so. Where is fairness addressed?
To me, fairness is the crux of the issue. For example, it certainly isn’t fair that in the US, 2% of the population has the cumulative wealth of the remaining 98%. (Then we are into economics.) Although Gandhi said “be the change” is that enough? What if that change isn’t fair? And the question must be addressed, fair to whom? What if that change is only one person? Is that fair? I always talk about the long term outcome as world peace (not in my lifetime, though). If you work for justice (for me that is fairness) will peace result? I don’t know. Maybe.
Tomorrow is the Lunar New Year. It is the year of the goat/sheep/ram. I wish you the best. Eat jiaozi and tangerines (for encouraging wealth), and noodles without breaking/biting them (you do want a long life, right?). Happy New Year.
I don’t know what to write today for this week’s post. I turn to my book shelf and randomly choose a book. Alas, I get distracted and don’t remember what I’m about. Mama said there would be days like this…I’ve got writer’s block (fortunately, it is not contagious). (Thank you, Calvin). There is also an interesting (to me at least because I learned a new word–thrisis: a crisis of the thirties) blog on this very topic (here).
So this is what I decided rather than trying to refocus. In the past 48 hours I’ve had the following discussions that relate to evaluation and evaluative thinking.
- In a faculty meeting yesterday, there was the discussion of student needs which occur during the students’ matriculation in a program of study. Perhaps it should include assets in addition to needs as students often don’t know what they don’t know and cannot identify needs.
- A faculty member wanted to validate and establish the reliability for a survey being constructed. Do I review the survey, provide the reference for survey development, OR give a reference for validity and reliability (a measurement text)? Or all of the above.
- There appears to be two virtual focus group transcripts for a qualitative evaluation that have gone missing. How much affect will those missing focus groups have on the evaluation? Will notes taken during the sessions be sufficient?
- A candidate came to campus for an assistant professor position who presented a research presentation on the right hand (as opposed to the left hand) [Euphemisms for the talk content to protect confidentiality.] Why even study the right hand when the left hand is what is the assessment?
- Reading over a professional development proposal dealing with what is, what could be, and what should be. Are the questions being asked really addressing the question of gaps?
There has been a somewhat lengthy discussion regarding logic models on EvalTalk, an evaluation listserv sponsored by the American Evaluation Association. (Check out the listserv archives.) This discussion has been called in the subject line, “Logic model for the world?” The discussion started on January 26, 2015. The most telling (at least to me) was a statement that appeared January 30, 2015:
“The problem is not the instrument. All instruments can be mastered as a matter of technique. The problem is that logic models mistake the nature of evaluative knowledge – which is neither linear nor rational.” (Saville Kushner, EvalTalk, January 30, 2015).
The follow-up of this discussion talks about tools, specifically hammers (Bill Fear, EvalTalk, January 30, 2015). Fear says, “Logic is only a tool. It does not exist outside of the construction of the mind.” Continue reading