Jacob Patrick, Coordinator of Orientation & Community Engagement, Northeastern State University
March 24, 2017
I am not a fan of numbers. Now, before someone comes banging on my door demanding me to take it back, understand that I know they serve a purpose and can be useful in our practice. Participant counts, items donated, financial contribution totals, and hours of service given are all great numbers that can tell a story and assist in completing summative assessments of programs and partnerships. However, I think some of the greater lessons are often found, and sometimes lost, in the informal assessments.
Often when we are in the moment of facilitating our programs we ask and answer a gamut of questions. What can be done to improve the program or event right now? What are outside forces affecting the program that was not anticipated? Are our efforts making a difference? Why or why not? How can we make a bigger difference for our community in the future? The answers to these questions, however, often are only found useful in the execution of future programs and that is only if recalled from memory often enough.
Being new to the institution and my position, I have found that there are plenty of institutional partners and collaborators that have the memory of how programs came into existence and how their performance has fared over time. The issue is that when these partners and collaborators have changed or no longer work for the university, some or all of this formative knowledge is lost. This can become aggravating to my students and myself as we seek to make improvements and not repeat mistakes of the past. After the first large day of service event, I started to craft a brief one or two-page report over the event and notes to assist in future programming and began encouraging my students in documenting their observations. In our process of creating these records on our performance, we found the following lessons along the way may be of use to others regardless if they are starting anything new or serving as a guardian of a tradition.
Reflect: Simply set aside 30-40min at the conclusion of your program to meet with stakeholders, community partners, or staff involved with the program or event. If a physical meeting is not feasible for your team or for the schedule, then solicit their feedback but give a deadline of a day or two after the completion of your project. When seeking feedback and reflection we seek the answers to 3 questions: 1) What went well? 2) What did not go well? 3) What can we improve for the next time? The closer in time you have this reflection to the actual event or program the less likelihood for things to be forgotten.
Record: After you have the feedback and reflection block out a 45-60 min to record the findings. Try your best to not get bogged down in details. It may be of better assistance to structure your writing time further breaking it down into a stream of conscious, edit for clarity, and final edits. When editing our record we ask what is vital for the person or group that would be in charge to know if they have never experienced the program or event before. As you complete your record, be mindful of where you store and how it can be accessed. You may want to consider creating a Dropbox or cloud-based storage that access can be shared with others to ease the flow and lessen the loss of information from the transition of ownership or employee turnover.
Review: Just like any other assessment your formative reflection record is only of use if you complete the cycle of assessment by reviewing it and implementing changes. Consider sending the reflection record out to collaborators and designate a time at the beginning of your planning process to discuss the findings, possible memory sparks, and the best approach moving forward in making changes.
Though I have yet to make it to the review stage of the practice in my current position with my programs and events this process has already proved a success for myself, my students, and our community partners and I hope it will be for you in your work as well.
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