Getting Comfortable with Evaluation
Recently, I was having a conversation about organizations and how they determine success. One of the comments I made was that the Local History Services department staff constantly evaluates what we do. We ask attendees to complete evaluations after workshops and meetings. We develop and distribute surveys during the year to determine how we're doing and what we may need to change. We use the responses to improve our services and better fill the needs of local history organizations. Formal evaluations and surveys are a part of our planning development and implementation processes.
Our informal process is different, but equally important. LHS staff is on the road together in a van often. In 2015, we traveled almost 20,000 miles in the state of Indiana. That means that we spend a lot of time in a very confined space talking. We talk about our personal lives. We talk about pop culture. We talk about history – usually the quirky kind. Almost always, we talk about our programs, workshops and meetings – the ones we've just done and the ones we are planning to do. We share ideas, problem-solve and talk through tight spots that we are having.
The common thread in these conversations is evaluation. In an informal and organic way, we start to discuss our most recent programs. What did we do? Did it make sense? What will we change for next time? Was I the right person for the right job? How can we make this better? The discussions we have are open and honest. We are comfortable talking to each other about what worked and what didn't.
When I think about and analyze our post-mortem discussions (yes, I evaluate our evaluation process), I realize that while we critique ourselves and our programs, we are never critical. Comments frequently begin with "What if we had" or "Maybe we could think about" or "Next time, we could try." If something went wrong, we think about ways to fix it, not about whose fault it may have been.
To feel comfortable with constant evaluation, we had to make it a habit. We had to build trust in our work relationships. And, we had to learn to look hard at ourselves – our strengths and our weaknesses. Self-assessment is a habit. It's part of our culture as a department.
I think that we are a stronger department because we aren't afraid of formal and informal evaluation, and we are willing to change if we need to.