Evaluate Often

If you run a Google search on “why evaluation matters”, 36 million responses come up in .40 seconds.  On the first page of that search you will find articles related to health, sociology, science, education, energy and government.  What is my point?

Evaluation occurs in almost every aspect of our daily lives.

Ironically, I am in the process of evaluating some areas at work.  It’s something that we do at the end of every year and the timing coincides with this blog today.  And it is not the only part of my personal life that I evaluate either.  As an athlete, I evaluate how my training is going every two months.  As a coaching staff, we evaluate every day but do a thorough overview of where things stand every 8 months or so.

So, what does an “good” evaluation look like?

A simple, yet detailed, overview of “evaluation” can be found in Michael Quinn Patton’s 1987 creation, “How to Use Qualitative Methods in Evaluation“.  The author notes that when you critically examine a program, you are doing a few things.  I summarized his approach the best I could below, but urge you to reference the work if you have the time.

When you critically examine a program, you are...

Collecting and analyzing information

Assessing program performance

Helping make adjustments and improve effectiveness

Helping to make informed decisions in the future

In essence, a “good” evaluation involves gathering data and finding out how you can be more effective in the future.  Motivational speaker, Chris Widener, explains it this way: “evaluation of the past is the first step toward vision for the future.”

If you are ready to evaluate your own position or program, there is an effective tool that you can do on your own.  It doesn’t take much preparation, time or money.  All you need is a notebook, some data on your organization and a quiet space to think things through.  You will be jotting things down on the notebook and this is called a “SWOT Analysis”.

I am not an expert on the SWOT Analysis, but I have worked on them for 20 years in many capacities.  But here is my take on how to complete them effectively.

You are going to be analyzing four different aspects of your program, so draw a line down the middle (from top to bottom) and another line across the page in the middle.  This gives you four quadrants.  If you plan on going into a lot of depth on this analysis, just give yourself a full page for each aspect.

Now, start thinking critically about four aspects of the program:  Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.  You can handle each aspect as you choose, but I have defined how I use them below.

Strengths – look internally within the organization and ask, “what do we do well?”

Weaknesses – look internally and ask, “where can we improve?”

Opportunities – think about external things and ask, “where is there an opening for something positive to happen?”

Threat – think externally and ask, “where can things impact us negatively?”

You can help yourself and your organization be successful in the future.  It’s all about learning from your mistakes, creating a framework to be better and following that path for success.  Evaluating things now will help you when it matters most.

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University.  You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

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