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


Had a comment a while back on analyzing survey data…hmm…that is a quandary as most surveys are done on line (see Survey monkey, among others).

If you want to reach a large audience (because your population from which you sampled is large), you will probably use an on-line survey. The on-line survey companies will tabulate the data for you. Can’t guarantee that the tabulations you get will be what you want, or will tell you want you want to know. Typically (in my experience), you can get an Excel file which can be imported into a soft ware program and you can run your own analyses, separate from the on line analyses. Continue reading

Having just read Harold Jarche’s April 27, 2014 blog, making sense of the network era, about personal knowledge mastery (PKM), I am once again reminded about the challenge of evaluation. I am often asked, “Do you have a form I could use about…?” My nutrition and exercise questions notwithstanding (I do have notebooks of those), this makes evaluation sound like it is routine, standardized, or prepackaged rather than individualized, customized, or specific. For me, evaluation is about the exceptions to the rule; how the evaluation this week may have similarities to something I’ve done before (after all this time, I would hope so…), yet is so different; unique, specific.

You can’t expect to find a pre-made formsurvey 2 for your individual program (unless, of course you are replicating a previously established program). Evaluations are unique and the evaluation approach needs to match that unique program specialness. Whether the evaluation uses a survey, a focus group, or an observation (or any other data gathering approach), that approach to gathering data needs to focus on the evaluation question you want answered. You can start with “What difference did the program make?” Only you, the evaluator, can determine if you have enough resources to conduct the evaluation to answer the specific questions that result from what difference did the program make.  You probably do not have enough resources to determine if the program led your target audience to world peace; you might have enough resources to determine if the intention to do something different is there. You probably have enough resources to decide how to use your findings. It is so important that the findings be used; use may be how world peace may be accomplished.

demographics 4There are a few commonalities in data collection; those are the demographics, the data that tell you what your target audience looks like. Things like gender, age, marital status, education level, SES, probably a few other things depending on the program. Make sure when you ask demographic information that a “choose not to answer” option is provided in the survey. Sometimes you have to ask; observations don’t always provide the answer. You need to make sure you include demographics in your survey as most journals want to know what the target audience looked like.

Readers, what makes your evaluations different, unique, special? I’d like to hear about that. Oh and while you are at it…like and share this post, if you do.


My friend, Susan, who promised instructions on how to use Excel to select a sample, wrote a post on that very topic. excel and random sampling

She tells me that using screen shots made providing instructions easier so she posted it in a tutorial. Thank you, Susan, for adding this information. Now there is no reason for not selecting a random sample from your large population. Whether the sample will respond or not is out of your control.

Response rates are another thing, to be covered later.

A reader commented that I need to be attending to my analytics not just reading my comments. Hmmm…

My question is: what do analytics tell me about making a difference–by providing an educational forum that changes people am I making a difference? Keep in mind that I am an evaluator and that the root for the word evaluation is “value”. So I wonder, do the analytics tell me about the merit, worth, value of this educational intervention?

What will the analytics really tell me about the readers? What will the comments tell me that the analytics don’t? Will the analytics tell me what difference this blog has made in the readers. Will analytics tell me about intention to change? How will analytics help me write posts to which more people will respond; make me more of an authority in my posting?


If someone, any one out in cyber space knows the answers (readers?), I’d love to hear from you. I blog weekly; sometimes more than weekly (like this week because, although I had the post written, I didn’t get it posted before I left the office so I posted it when I came back). I check my blog regularly for comments. I approve those which provide thoughtful meaningful responses for other readers as well as for me.

Another reader suggests that I look at the number of readers who have established an RSS feed or established a subscription. Hmmm…Not sure what that will tell me. I’ll talk to the IT folks for an answer to that question.

I would certainly appreciate any thoughts from readers.

The question of surveys came up the other day. Again.

I got a query from a fellow faculty member and a query from the readership. (No not a comment; just a query–although I now may be able to figure out why the comments don’t work.)

So surveys; a major part of evaluation work. (My go-to book on surveys is Dillman’s 3rd edition 698685_cover.indd; I understand there is a 4th edition coming later this year.9781118456149.pdf )

After getting a copy of Dillman for your desk, This is what I suggest: Start with what you want to know.

This may be in the form of statements or questions. If the result is complicated, see if you can simplify it by breaking it into more than one statement or question. Recently, I  got a “what we want to know” in the form of complicated research questions. I’m not sure that the resulting survey questions answered the research questions because of the complexity. (I’ll have to look at the research questions and the survey questions side by side to see.) Multiple simple statements/questions are easier to match to your survey questions, easier to see if you have survey questions that answer what you want to know. Remember: if you will not use the answer (data), don’t ask the question. Less can actually be more, in this case, and just because it would be interesting to know doesn’t mean the data will answer your “what you want to know” question.

Evaluators strive for evaluation use . (See: Patton, M. Q. (2008). Utilization Focused Evaluation, 4ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.Utilization-Focused Evaluation; AND/OR Patton, M. Q. (2011). Essentials of Utilization-Focused Evaluation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.Essentials of UFE).  See also the The  Program Evaluation Standards , which lists utility (use) as the first attribute and standard for evaluators. (Yarbrough, D. B., Shulha, L. M., Hopson, R. K., & Caruthers, F. A. (2011). The Program Evaluation Standards: A guide for evaluators and evaluation users (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.The_Program_Evaluation_Standards_3ed)

Evaluation use is related to stated intention to change about which I’ve previously written. If your statements/questions of what you want to know will lead you to using the evaluation findings, then stating the question in such a way as to promote use will foster use, i.e., intention to change. Don’t do the evaluation for the sake of doing an evaluation. If you want to improve the program, evaluate. If you want to know about the program’s value, merit, and worth, evaluate. Then use. One way to make sure that you will follow-through is to frame your initial statements/questions in a way that will facilitate use. Ask simply.

I’ve just read Ernie House’s book, Regression to the Mean.  house--regression to the meanIt is a NOVEL about evaluation politics.  A publishers review says, “Evaluation politics is one of the most critical, yet least understood aspects of evaluation. To succeed, evaluators must grasp the politics of their situation, lest their work be derailed. This engrossing novel illuminates the politics and ethics of evaluation, even as it entertains. Paul Reeder, an experienced (and all too human) evaluator, must unravel political, ethical, and technical puzzles in a mysterious world he does not fully comprehend. The book captures the complexities of evaluation politics in ways other works do not. Written expressly for learning and teaching, the evaluation novel is an unconventional foray into vital topics rarely explored.”

Many luminaries (Patton, Lincoln, Scriven, Weiss) made pre-publication comments. Although I found the book fascinating, I found the quote that is included attributed to Freud compelling.  That quote is, “The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing.  Ultimately, after endless rebuffs, it succeeds.  This is one of the few points in which we can be optimistic about the future of mankind (sic).”  Although Freud wasn’t speaking about evaluation, House contends that this statement applies, and goes on to say, “Sometimes you have to persist against your emotions as well as the emotions of others.  None of us are rational.”

So how does rationality fit into evaluation. I would contend that it doesn’t. Although the intent of evaluation is to be objective, none of us can be because of what I called personal and situational bias; what is known in the literature as cognitive bias. I contend that if one has cognitive bias (and everyone does) then that prevents us from being rational, try as we might. Our emotions get in the way. House’s comment (above) seems fitting to evaluation–evaluators must persist against personal emotions as well as emotions of others. I would add persists against personal and situational bias. I believe it is important to make explicit the personal and situational bias prior to commencing an evaluation. By clarifying assumptions that occur with the stakeholders and the evaluator, surprises are minimized, and the evaluation may be more useful to program people.

Intention to change

I’ve talked about intention to change and how stating that intention out loud and to others makes a difference. This piece of advice is showing up in some unexpected places and here. If you state your goal, there is a higher likelihood that you will be successful. That makes sense. If you confess publicly (or even to a priest), you are more likely to do the penance/make a change. What I find interesting is that this is so evaluation. What difference did the intervention make? How does that difference relate to the merit, worth, value of the program?

Lent started March 5. That is 40 days of discipline–giving up or taking on. That is a program. What difference will it make? Can you go 40 days without chocolate?

New Topic:

I got my last comment in November, 2013. I miss comments. Sure most of them were check out this other web site. Still there were some substantive comments and I’ve read those and archived them. My IT person doesn’t know what was the impetus for this sudden stop. Perhaps Google changed its search engine optimization code and my key words are no longer in the top. So I don’t know if what I write is meaningful; is worthwhile; or is resonating with you the reader in any way. I have been blogging now for over four years…this is no easy task. Comments and/or questions would be helpful, give me some direction.

New Topic:

Chris Lysy cartoons in his blog. This week he blogged about logic models. He only included logic models that are drawn with boxes. What if the logic model is circular? How would it be different? Can it still lead to outcomes? Non-linear thinkers/cultures would say so. How would you draw it? Given that mind mapping may also be a model, how do they relate?

Have a nice weekend. The sun is shining again! sunshine in oregon


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.

On February 1 at 12:00 pm PT, I will be holding my annual virtual tea party.  This is something I’ve been doing since February of 1993.  I was in Minnesota and the winter was very cold, and although not as bleak as winter in Oregon, I was missing my friends who did not live near me.  I had a tea party for the folks who were local and wanted to think that those who were not local were enjoying the tea party as well.  So I created a virtual tea party.  At that time, the internet was not available; all this was done in hard copy (to this day, I have one or two friends who do not have internet…sigh…).  Today, the internet makes the tea party truly virtual–well the invitation is; you have to have a real cup of tea where ever you are.
Virtual Tea Time 2014


How is this evaluative?  Gandhi says that only you can be the change you want to see…this is one way you can make a difference.  How will you know?

I know because my list of invitees has grown exponentially.  And some of them share the invitation.  They pass it on.  I started with a dozen or so friends.  Now my address list is over three pages long.  Including my daughters and daughters of my friends (maybe sons, too for that matter…)

Other ways:  Design an evaluation plan; develop a logic model; create a metric/rubric.  Report the difference.  This might be a good place for using an approach other than a survey or Likert scale.  Think about it.