May 28, 2010

Activating Evaluations

Evaluation is often important, whether it refers to our individual behavior or large scale projects. Our efforts our seldom successful in each and every time and in every aspect. Evaluation helps us to get an idea of how successful something has been, what went right, what went wrong which is essential to determine further steps. But evaluation in practice is often problematic in the sense that it lacks precision and usefulness. Years ago, my colleague Gwenda Schlundt Bodien and I were dissatisfied with traditional evaluation approaches. We found evaluations often lacked precision in focus, over accentuated numbers, focused too much on problems, and lacked usefulness for both the person who provided the information and the one who gathered it. Based on solution-focused principles we developed an approach to evaluation we called 'Activating Evaluations' and which aims to overcome the shortcomings mentioned above. Briefly the approach consists of four steps along the following lines:
  1. Was this useful? (if not, how can/could it be more useful?)
  2. If yes, which of the following elements did you find most useful? a) ..., b) ..., c) ..., etc.
  3. How were these useful for you?
  4. What do you see as a good step forward?
We use this approach a lot in our projects and training programs and we have found it to be very informative and useful. Both the recipients of the information and the person providing the information benefit. By answering these questions, the participants benefit because they are invited to make things very explicit. 


  1. Coert,

    Do you find that people often answer the first question with a "yes"? Or do people every say "no"? The reason I ask is that it seems like the success of this approach relies on people saying "yes" to the first question.

    If someone said "no" I wonder how to approach that. Maybe that never happens. But in case it did, I might point out some things I thought were useful and see if the person agreed and ask for other useful elements. Or I might explain "I know X didn't turn out like you wanted. However, I think there were some things done that were useful. Here's one of them. What others did you notice?"

    Then I might proceed on to the other questions.

  2. Interesting perspective. I think most people say no at first, then think about it.

  3. Hi Rodney and Debbi,
    As solution-focused practitioners we do our best to make session useful for all participants. We pay attention to this throughout the process. At the beginning we ask them to say how this session can be useful for them. Often after we have finished one part of the sessions (for instance an exercise in a training program) we invite them to reflect on the exercise and how it was useful for them.
    In our programs, the great majority of the people answer the question with a 'yes'. Still, we want to give them a clear opportunity to say 'no'. If someone answers the usefulness question with a 'no' and there is a chance to have a follow up contact, you often find that even this answer is useful. Sometimes you can learn from the explanation and chance your approach accordingly. On other occasions, the person says, this program was not useful for me because I discovered that the topic is not important to me. The paradox is that this often helps them to make explicit what else is more important for them. So in a twisted way it was useful after all.
    When people answer such usefulness question with a 'no' while you are still talking to them, there is usually no problem at all. You can simply ask them something like: "what are your ideas about how we can makes this more useful".


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