Making Evaluation Less Complex
Evaluation frameworks and approaches occupy much of our literature and professional activity. And they should.
If we do not know what results we obtained and the value of what we have done and delivered, then whatever we do is by guess and hope. Most existing models are fine grained and, frankly, a bit complex. This does not have to be if we go back to basics.
The two basic questions of evaluation. Still, there are conflicting models, and most focus primarily on workplace events and either ignore or assume the value that such learning might have for an entire value chain. Most are also complex. Perhaps, we can get back to evaluation basics and reduce the fog (and fear) of evaluation.
The basic evaluation questions are:
(1) Did we accomplish what we set out to accomplish?
(2) Did what we accomplished add value to all internal and external stakeholders?
This second question is often assumed. Or ignored. Or treated casually.
Let us look at what I suggest are the basics, fundamentals of evaluation in terms of the two questions above. I believe needs assessment (done correctly) is proactive and evaluation is reactive. Evaluation is for fixing and never for blaming (Kaufman, 2011).Need assessment and evaluation are, however, related.
Both evaluation and needs assessment focus on ends, results, and consequences. Any objective or statement of purpose should state an end, or accomplishment; not an end and a means combined, and not a means (as suggested byMager, 1997, and Kaufman, 1972, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2011, Kaufman & Guerra-Lopez, 2013).
A“need,” used consistently in the way I find most useful and precise, is a gap in results as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1 – Needs are gaps in results, not gaps in means, method, or resources (Kaufman, 2006, 2011)
Needs may be (and should be) identified at all three levels of results:
Mega: Organizational outcomes for external clients and our shared society.
Macro: Organizational outputs; what an organization could or does deliver to external clients.
Micro: Products completed by internal organizational individuals and small groups which are the building blocks for organizational outputs and outcomes.
These three levels of needs at each of the three levels of results are shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2 Three levels of results at which needs may and should be identified (Kaufman, 2006,2011)
Planning, needs assessment, and evaluation should be done (but are not usually) for each and every linked organizational level (Watkins, Leigh, & Kaufman, 1998). This is shown in a hierarchy of planning in Figure 3.
Figure 3 – A planning and needs assessment hierarchy from an outside-in orientation. For each level, a needs assessment and subsequent evaluation may be made (Kaufman, 2018, 2020)
What needs assessment information could do for making evaluation less complex. Why all this preamble?
Based on the above, needs assessment and evaluation become less complex and more inclusive.
Let us see (from Kaufman (2006):
Three “Bonuses” for Using Need as a Noun. There is a “3-for-1 sale” for using need as the gap in results between current results and consequences and desired results and consequences:
- The What Should Be criteria serve as your measurable objectives—your performance criteria—for specifying where you are headed and how to tell when you have arrived. Successful performance design and development require us to state our objectives in measurable performance terms, ideally on an interval or ratio scale. Defining need in this way yields such objectives and they are based on actual performance.
- The gaps between current results (What Is) and desired/required results (What Should Be) provide the basis for sensible, sensitive, and justifiable evaluation. That is a positive bonus, which comes from using need as a noun. Usually we get told, “We don’t have the time and/or resources for evaluation,” and this answers that invalid objection to doing evaluations. (Interesting how some people do not have the time or resources todo an evaluation but have to come up with them when an intervention or program fails). By using need as a gap in results, one only has to plot the extent to which performance results have migrated from the previous “What Is” to the “What Should Be”. The extent to which the gap in results has been reduced or eliminated is the evaluation—evaluation based on performance data.
- Using need as a noun allows you to justify where you are headed, why you want to get there, and what the payoffs are for doing so. It provides an almost “bullet-proof” rationale for any proposed work or activities. Most proposals get turned down because they cost too much, there is not enough time, or there are not enough resources. This negative decision may be made if the proposal was based on the cost to meet the needs—the cost to close the gaps in results. Now the third bonus for defining need as a noun: When you collect solid data on the gaps (best at the Mega, Macro, and Micro levels), you may price out (a) the costs to meet the needs, and (b) the costs to ignore the needs. This is a major difference with conventional approaches to proposing programs, projects, or activities. If you provide the decision maker with both the costs to meet the needs as well as the costs to ignore the needs (think about the costs for not having safe oil tankers, for not having non-rollover cars, for not having safe food or medicines) and they decide not to go ahead with meeting the needs you have specified based on valid data, they become accountable for not meeting the needs.
Evaluations may be simply understood and accomplished at all three levels of results. By doing them, in turn, from Mega to Macro, and Micro you may better determine the correct alignment and the answers to the two basic questions:
(1) Did we accomplish what we set out to accomplish? And
(2) Did what we accomplished add value to all stakeholders?
Seen in this way, performance-based evaluation is built upon needs assessed at the Mega, Macro, and Micro levels. Because the needs are gaps in results, evaluation becomes simply determining, at each organizational level, the extent to which the gaps have been reduced or eliminated.
Evaluation does not have to be a separate activity, but one in which is already linked to the existing needs assessments performance data.
There are a few evaluation approaches that do include Mega, Macro, and Micro. Thalheimer (2018) has overcome many of the shortcomings of popular models and frameworks, especially by including his level 8 relating to societal impact (my term, not his). Guerra-Lopez (2006) is an early contributor to holistic evaluation. Also, of major importance is Bernardez’s Two Factor Business Case Model (2009, 2018, Bernardez et al. 2012). Other existing evaluation frameworks do not (Kaufman 2019).
Thalheimer (2018) opens the door for rational finer grained evaluations for both internal and external contributions, especially when training is of initial central concern.
This article attempts to put the entirety of worthy—holistic—evaluation into a basic and understandable focus.
The article was originally published on Performance Improvement (September, 2020) and it has been republished with author’s permission.
Bernardez, M. (2009). Minding the business of business: Tools and Models to design and measure wealth creation. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 22(2), 17–72.
Bernardez, M. (2018). Mega and city doctors: Applications and consequences. Performance Improvement Journal, 57(6), 15–23.
Bernardez, M., Arias, C., Krivatsy, A., & Kaufman, R.. (2012). City doctors: A systemic approach to transform Colon City, Panama. Performance Improvement Quarterly. 24(4), pp. 41–69.
Guerra-Lopez, I. (2006). Evaluating impact: Evaluation and continual improvement for performance improvement practitioners. Amherst, MA. HRD Press.
Kaufman, R. A. (1972). Educational system planning. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Kaufman, R. (1986). Obtaining functional results: Relating needs assessment, needs analysis, and objectives. Educational Technology, 26(1), 24–27.
Kaufman, R. (1998). Strategic thinking: A guide to identifying and solving problems. Revised.Washington, DC/Arlington, VA: The International Society for Performance Improvement and the American Society for Training & Development.
Kaufman, R. (2006). Change, choices, and consequences: A guide to mega thinking and planning. Amherst, MA. HRD Press, Inc.
Kaufman, R. (2011) A manager’s pocket guide to strategic thinking and planning. Amherst, MA: HRD Press, Inc.
Kaufman, R. (2018). A hierarchy of planning: Where you start can make a difference. Performance Improvement Journal, 57(19), 37–40.
Kaufman, R. (2019). A suggested evolution of the Gilbert, Rummler, and Binder Frameworks for major performance improvement and worthy performance accomplishment. Performance improvement Journal, 5(6), 12–16.
Kaufman, R. (2020). Outside-in-leadership: Adding value to society. Business Science Magazine. Miami, FL: 305 Publishing, Inc., pp. 11–13.
Kaufman, R. & Guerra-Lopez (2013) Needs assessment for organizational success. Alexandria,VA: ATD/ASTD Press.
Mager, R. F. (1997). Preparing instructional objectives: A critical tool in the development of effective instruction (3rd ed.). Atlanta: Center for Effective Performance.
Thalheimer,W. (2018) The learning-transfer evaluation model: Sending messages to enable learning effectiveness. Available at: https://www.worklearning.com/ltem/
Watkins, R., Leigh, D. & Kaufman, R. (1998). Needs Assessment: A digest, review, and comparison of needs assessment literature. Performance Improvement, 37(7), 40–53.
 Supreme Court of Florida decision that ruled that “need” is a noun, and not a verb: Supreme Court of Florida, No. 53, 384, Florida Home Builders Association, et al., Appellants versus Division of Labor, Bureau of Apprenticeship, Appelles, January 25, 1979.
Kaufman, R. (2020), Making Evaluation Less Complex. Being Better Matters September 07, 2020. Available at https://www.beingbettermatters.net/making-evaluation-less-complex/ (accessed: date of your access)
Professor emeritus, Florida State University, and has served as Distinguished Research Professor at the Sonora Institute of Technology (Mexico). He received ATD’s Distinguished Contribution to Workplace Learning and Performance award. He is a past president, honorary member for life and Thomas Gilbert Award winner, all with the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), Kaufman has published 41 books and over 300 articles on strategic planning, performance improvement, quality management, needs assessment, management, and evaluation.