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chapter 1 - Defining Evaluation > Top Ten Reasons Evaluation Is Neglected

Top Ten Reasons Evaluation Is Neglected

Over the years, we’ve probably heard every reason why evaluation can’t be done. We list them here to acknowledge that conducting evaluations is sometimes an uphill battle but definitely one worth fighting for (Figure 1.3):
10. Organization members misunderstand evaluation’s purpose and role. Many people within organizations have not had formal training or experience with evaluation and thus lack an understanding of what evaluation is and can do for the organization. Often their assumptions about evaluation are faulty and lead to negative expectations for evaluation work.
9. Organization members fear the impact of evaluation findings. Some organization members worry that an evaluation’s findings will lead to their being fired or laid off or some other form of punishment. This fear may be grounded in organizations where there is a culture of distrust and/or unwillingness to support individual, team, or organizational learning. In addition, some members do not wish to be held accountable for their actions.
8. There is a real or perceived lack of evaluation skills. In some situations organization members would like to conduct evaluations, but they lack the necessary evaluation knowledge and skills. They may not be aware of what specific skills are needed; they just know that they and their colleagues can’t do it in a way that would be considered competent or credible by the intended users of the evaluation results.
7. No one has asked for it. When we wrote the first edition of this book, we cited this as the number one reason for neglecting evaluation. However, in the past few years, this situation has been changing. While many organizations are now requiring their employees to conduct evaluations, much of this demand has been brought about by funders requiring evaluations. However, we still meet many learning, performance, and change practitioners who say they don’t do any evaluation or, at best, administer postcourse evaluation surveys. We still wish to challenge these practitioners by asking, “Can you and your organization afford not to evaluate?” How much does it cost to not know how well certain programs, services, or products are doing, or what effect they are having? How much does it cost to make the same mistakes repeatedly? How much does it cost to limit a program’s positive effects to only a few in the organization when many more could benefit? Though these questions may sound flippant, they are critically important if we are serious about having an impact in our organization.
FIGURE 1.3 Top 10 Reasons Evaluation is Neglected
6. Organization members don’t believe the results will be used; data are collected and not analyzed or used. Most people in organizations have been asked at one time or another to complete an organizational culture or climate survey or respond to an organization development consultant’s interview questions, or have been observed performing various work tasks. Usually they are told that managers are very interested in employees’ opinions and that the results will be used in some way. However, they rarely hear or learn about the findings or see any tangible changes resulting from their feedback. Repeated experiences such as these may affect organization members’ trust in evaluation efforts. Employees may wonder why they should participate if they don’t believe their feedback will be considered and used.
5. Organization members view evaluation as a time-consuming, laborious task. In organizations where planned and systematic evaluations have not been conducted, and there is a lack of evaluation knowledge and skills, employees tend to view evaluation as one more thing to do that is not central to their daily work. When viewed this way, evaluation is often relegated to the “back burner” and rarely done. Good evaluation takes time and energy but does not have to consume months and years. Some evaluations that are limited in scope can be conducted in a few weeks; other evaluations that seek to answer more complex and critical issues may take several weeks to six months or more. Given that evaluation is used to inform decision making and learning, it must be conducted in timely, cost-effective ways.
4. The perceived costs of evaluation outweigh the perceived benefits of evaluation. Because evaluation is often thought to be a lengthy process involving outside consultants, there is a related belief that the benefits of evaluation cannot possibly outweigh such costs. However, engaging clients in early discussions about how the results will be used can resolve this issue. Costs for a systematic evaluation can be compared with the benefits that are likely to be realized if changes are made based on the evaluation findings. This view is often linked to organization members’ previous history with evaluation efforts that did not lead to use of the findings. Another related issue that inhibits organizations from evaluating is the short-term nature of organizational decision making. In many cases, the short-term costs of eval....
3. Organizational leaders think they already know what does and does not work. We often hear managers say that they don’t need to conduct evaluations because they already know what employees think, or that they have a good handle on how to solve the issues at hand. They’re satisfied with the information they collect informally and thus view formal, systematic evaluation activity as a waste of time. How accurate their perceptions are may vary considerably.
2. Previous experiences with evaluation have been either disastrous or disappointing. In these cases there may have been (1) broken promises that the findings would lead to certain changes, (2) blatant misuse of the findings or the evaluation process, (3) reports that were written but unread and unused, (4) critical issues that were totally ignored, or (5) inplementation of “easy” recommendations only. Organization members will not want to engage in further evaluation efforts if they feel that it is a waste of time. These previous experiences have promoted a culture of “why bother?” when it comes to evaluation.
1. Organization members don’t value evaluation. This number one reason is an aggregate of all the others reasons we believe evaluation is often neglected. When organization members don’t understand what evaluation is, when they don’t have evaluation knowledge and skills, when they don’t make time for evaluation, when they perceive it as too time-consuming, or when leaders think they know the answers before asking the questions, it is because they have yet to truly understand the value of evaluation. As evaluators and learning, performance, and change practitioners, we must be more mindful of the need to change attitudes towards evaluation while we are also building the knowledge and skill capacity for engaging in evaluation work.


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