Thursday, June 19, 2008

Proving versus improving

I'm involved in the accreditation process of the Business School where I'm teaching one subject of the Masters course: Interactive Project Design. Educational accreditation according to wikipedia is: a type of quality assurance process under which a facility's or institution's services and operations are examined by a third-party accrediting agency to determine if applicable standards are met.

During the test interview for the accreditation process I participated in, I had an interesting experience. I realized how quickly as a group of teachers, we were becoming into a 'convincing the accreditors' mode, ready to twist information, or withold some information smartly if that yields a better result. I did not express any of my criticisms or constructive feedback I might have had. It's clearly not a learning process, it's an accreditation process. Nevertheless, I learned something about the other courses and the views of other teachers, you cannot turn off your personal learning process.

It made me think about all the evaluations that are taking place to evaluate development projects and/or programs, I have been part of them in different roles, as project staff and as evaluating consultant. I have been struggling with the popular concept of using evaluation for learning purposes, as there is a friction between the two. The friction is referred to as the dilemma between 'proving' versus 'improving' or 'accountability' versus 'learning'. In the accreditation case, it is a clear case of assessment for accountability, proving the quality of your masters education is of an adequate level. There are no separate learning objectives. When development projects/programs are evaluated often a learning objective is added. Though people involved in a evaluation always learn something, the process is enormously flawed by the need to prove that you are right. I've know it, but I've not felt it as strongly as when I was part of this team trying to convince the accreditors.

Today I found an interesting online resource from the Society for Organisational Learning called Assessing to Learn or Learning to Assess. A quote from Senge: "... re-establish a healthy balance between assessing for learning and assessing for evaluating. If the balance has tipped to emphasis on evaluating to the extent that it actually impedes learning, learning processes will benefit from increasing emphasis on assessing for learning. It is low leverage to complain that there is too much emphasis on evaluating, outsiders wanting to know if learners are adding value. It is probably much higher leverage to build our 'assessment muscle,' to help learners to get better at assessing for learning."

I believe the emphasis in the development sector has been on assessing to evaluate projects and programs to prove value to donors, rather than structuring assessments for learning. In doing so, it leaves important opinions, criticism and constructive feedback unheard.


Wouter Rijneveld said...

Hi, very recognizable. I first had the experience at 'the other side', in Nigeria, where all learning was blocked by the focus on accountability.
Now I am working on evaluations with many partner organisations. We have distinguished 2 types: 1) evaluations (=learning exercises, whereby we monitor learning and improvement after the evaluation)and 2) results audits, which focus on accountability and are done in sensitive situations.

still I have to spend a lot of time on making the learning focus of the first type clear.

hoong said...

When there is human input involved, there is seldom good/correct/just/balance etc evaluation.

On the other hand, I am most interested to know what administrators (perhaps there is a better term) do with the evaluation input??? A good evaluator should not stop at just the input from the learners, but to take in other issues that affect and involved the results of the evaluations. Almost always we have learners evaluate the trainers, how often do we ask the trainers to evaluate the learners? How often do we have assessment that include, for example, environmental factors that might affect the learning process such as bad lighting, room temperatures etc. etc. Or human interaction such as personality crushes, races or sexes conflicts etc. etc.?