Each week we contribute tips to the ether of innovation in the Human Services and Education Sectors

Nix the quilted approach to program assessment

4 Tips support your organization (or school) in moving towards greater effectiveness with a centralized approach to program assessment. A quilted approach to program assessment means that each program (or service) in your org has its own agenda around the types of data to collect and analyze. When program assessment is stipulated by the funder of the program (e.g. Federal government, a foundation, etc.), orgs tend to carry-out program assessment in a silo format. This is what we mean by a quilted program assessment approach — each program (or quilt square) is beautiful and important to a strong organization, but the beauty and strengths of each program prove to be quietly damaging the org when the assessment of each is chopped-up into entirely different agendas.

Why? 3 Major Limitations of a Quilted Approach

1.) The story about what your org does and the impact it makes happens in a fragmented fashion. Telling your story in a succinct and significant way is challenging when different programs produce divergent data. Telling the story of your org means telling the story of impact… of how your org has qualitatively changed the lives of people. 

Effectiveness and quality assurance is cumbersome for many orgs because the quilt squares of your organization don’t look similar enough to provide an easy to understand and coherent presentation of data on long-term impact to diverse stakeholders. 

2.) A dashboard for regular monitoring of short- and long-term outcomes becomes difficult or impossible. A dashboard, like in a car or flight cockpit, allows an org to quickly and frequently review basic data and analysis information such as the number of consumers currently in each program, last quarter’s assessment outcomes across the org, the progress of consumers in the aggregate, status of administrative processes, etc.

3.) The methods or tools used to collect data tend to be all over the map. Sometimes surveys, sometimes in-take forms, sometimes attendance rosters, other times case plan notes, etc. Divergent processes for collecting and managing data (i.e. program-by-program) means that there are more processes for staff to coordinate, and more human error becomes possible.

A centralized approach to program assessment can honor the distinctions and data needs for each of your programs while avoiding silos and disjointed data analysis. 

How? 4 Tips for Greater Effectiveness in
Program Assessment

1.) Make sure that all staff know explicitly how each program and its data directly tie into your org’s mission,  goals, and quality assurance practices. This type of clarity empowers staff to confidently support quality assurance and to celebrate their own contributions to program impact. 

2.) Be strategic and specific about how data is collected for each program, how often data is collected, and who is responsible for data input for each outcome and its indicators. Use these specifics to ensure that wherever your programs need the same data, there is a single way to collect and analyze it. 

3.) Support data quality by using a uniform document (electronic or paper) to collect fundamental information from consumers/clients. Diverse enrollment forms, intake assessments, contact information forms, etc. create opportunities for divergent data types, data entry errors, duplication of data, and under-use of staff talent. 

4.) Train staff for data input in a consistent way. As part of on-boarding and/or annual skills updates, staff should be receiving the same training on where, when, how, and what is involved with data entry.

Click here for further examples and discussion of these 4 Tips


We love to hear about examples and experiments that you’re undertaking to engage in a centralized approach to program assessment. Please share them with us at contact@achoringassessment.com

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Weekly Assessment Tips: a Vlog that supports assessment in the Human Services and Education Sectors