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Evaluation Tip a Day

Do you want to know more about great assessment resources, tools, and lessons learned from others who share your interest in evaluation?

Do you not want to add another professional journal to the existing TBR (to be read) stack in your office?

Check out the American Evaluation Association (AEA) 365 blog at http://aea365.org where anyone (not only AEA members) can subscribe via email or really simple syndication (RSS) feed. The established blog guidelines place a cap on contributions with a maximum of 450 words per entry. You will know at a glance what the subject is (Hot Tips, Cool Tricks, Rad Resources, or Lessons Learned) from the headers used within the entries, and all assumptions of prior knowledge and experience with evaluation and organizations are avoided with clarification of all acronyms and no jargon allowed.

A handy tip – Scroll down the right sidebar of the website to locate subjects arranged by the AEA Topical Interest Groups (TIGs). Some of these that are likely to be of interest to National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) members are Data Visualization and Reporting, Disabilities and Other Vulnerable Populations, Health Evaluation, Integrating Technology into Evaluation, and Nonprofits and Foundations Evaluation to name only a few.

A brief review of a recent entry of interest to NN/LM members – Conducting a Health Needs Assessment of People With Disabilities -  shared lessons learned from the needs assessment work done in Massachusetts, and shared the rad resource of Disability and Health Data System (DHDS) with state-level disability health data available from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).

Interview tips: Talking with participants during a usability test

The Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) conducts research and publishes information about user experience with interfaces. NNG was an early critic of the troubled “healthcare.gov” web site: “Healthcare.gov’s Account Setup: 10 Broken Usability Guidelines.” recent post (“Talking with participants during a usability test”) provided tips for facilitating usability tests that could be very useful whenever you’re facilitating a discussion or conducting an observation. When in doubt about whether to speak to a participant, count to 10 and decide whether to say something. Consider using “Echo” or “Boomerang” or “Columbo” approaches:

  • Echo–repeat the last words or phrase, using an interrogatory tone.
  • Boomerang–formulate a nonthreatening question that “pushes” a user’s comment back and causes them to think of a response for you, such as “What would you do if you were on your own?”
  • Columbo–be smart but don’t act that way, as in the “Columbo” TV series from the 1960′s and 1970′s starring Peter Falk.

The full article “Talking with participants during a usability test” provides audio examples of these techniques that you can listen to. You can find a large amount of additional information about usability testing on the Nielsen Norman Group’s web site, such as “How to Conduct Usability Studies” and “Usability 101: Introduction to Usability.”

Cleaning Up Your Charts

So how are those New Year’s resolutions going?

Many of us like to start the year resolving to clean up some part of our lives. Our diet. Our spending habits. The five years of magazine subscriptions sitting by our recliner.

Here’s another suggestion: Resolve to clean up “chart junk” in the charts you add to PowerPoint presentations or written reports.

Now I can pack information into a bar chart with the best of them. But it is no longer in vogue to clutter charts with data labels, gridlines, and detailed legends. This is not just a fashion statement, either. Design experts point out that charts should make their point without the inclusion of a bunch of distracting details. If the main point of your chart is not visually obvious, you either have not designed it correctly or you are presenting a finding that is not particularly significant.

So the next time you create a chart, consider these suggestions:

  • Use your title to communicate the main point of the chart. Take a tip from newspaper headlines and make your title a complete sentence.
  • Don’t use three-dimensional displays. It interferes with people’s comprehension of charts.
  • Ditch the gridlines or make them faint so they don’t clutter the view.
  • Use contrast to make your point. Add a bright color to the bar or line that carries the main point and use gray or another faint color for the comparison bars or lines.
  • Be careful in picking colors. Use contrasting colors that are distinguishable to people with colorblindness. If your report is going to be printed, be sure the contrast still shows up when presented in black-and-white.
  • Consider not using data labels, or just label the bar or line associated with your main point.
  • Remove legends and apply legend labels inside the bars or at the end of lines.

For more comprehensive information on eliminating chart junk, check out this article:

Evergreen S, Mezner C. Design principles for data visualization in evaluation. In Azzam T, Evergreen S. (eds). Data visualization, part 2. New Directions in Evaluation. Winter 2013, 5-20.

Evaluation Terminology: An Overview and Free Resources

Last week I attended an excellent webinar session presented by Kylie Hutchinson of Community Solutions Planning & Evaluation about the vast and often jargony world of evaluation terminology. As part of Hutchison’s research she consulted three online evaluation glossaries* and counted thirty six different definitions of evaluation methods within them. What accounts for so much variation? Common reasons include the perspectives and language used by different sectors and funders such as education, government, and non-profit organizations.

A helpful tip when working with organizations on evaluation projects is to ask to see copies of documents such as annual reports, mission and vision statements, strategic planning, and promotional materials to learn more about what language they use to communicate about themselves. This will assist you in knowing if modifications in assessment terminology language are needed, and can help guide you with discussions on clarifying the organization’s purpose of the evaluation.

Hutchinson identified several common themes within the plethora of evaluation methods and created color-coded clusters of them within her Evaluation Terminology Map, which uses the bubbl.us online mind mapping program. She also created a freely available Evaluation Glossary app for use on both iPhone and Android mobile devices and has a web-based version under development. For additional resources to better understand health information outreach evaluation, be sure to visit our tools website at http://guides.nnlm.gov/oerc/tools.

* Two of the three online evaluation glossaries referenced are still available online

“Evidence” — what does that mean?

In our health information outreach work we are expected to provide evidence of the value of our work, but there are varying definitions of the word “evidence.” The classical evidence-based medicine approach (featuring results from randomized controlled clinical trials) is a model that is not always relevant in our work. At the 2013 EBLIP7 meeting in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, Denise Kaufogiannakis presented a keynote address that is now available as an open-access article on the web:

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Evidence” Evidence-Based Library and Information Practice 2013 8.4

This article looks at various interpretations of what it means to provide “evidence” such as

theoretical (ideas, concepts and models to explain how and why something works),
empirical (measuring outcomes and effectiveness via empirical research), and
experiential (people’s experiences with an intervention).

Kaufogiannakis points out that academic librarians’ decisions are usually made in groups of people working together and she proposes a new model for evidence-based library and information practice:

1) Articulate – come to an understanding of the problem and articulate it. Set boundaries and clearly articulate a problem that requires a decision.

2) Assemble – assemble evidence from multiple sources that are most appropriate to the problem at hand. Gather evidence from appropriate sources.

3) Assess – place the evidence against all components of the wider overarching problem. Assess the evidence for its quantity and quality. Evaluate and weigh evidence sources. Determine what the evidence says as a whole.

4) Agree – determine the best way forward and if working with a group, try to achieve consensus based on the evidence and organizational goals. Determine a course of action and begin implementation of the decision.

5) Adapt – revisit goals and needs. Reflect on the success of the implementation. Evaluate the decision and how it has worked in practice. Reflect on your role and actions. Discuss the situation
with others and determine any changes required.

Kaufogiannakis concludes by reminding us that “Ultimately, evidence, in its many forms, helps us find answers. However, we can’t just accept evidence at face value. We need to better understand evidence – otherwise we don’t really know what ‘proof’ the various pieces of evidence provide.”

Institute for Research Design in Librarianship: 9 days in southern CA; full scholarships available

Do you want to learn about how your user groups and communities find and use information? Do you want to gather evidence to demonstrate that your work is making a difference?

Exciting news! You can work on these questions, and questions like them, June 16-26, 2014!

The Institute for Research Design in Librarianship is a great opportunity for an academic librarian who is interested in conducting research. Research and evaluation are not necessarily identical, although they do employ many of the same methods and are closely related. This Institute is open to academic librarians from all over the country. If your proposal is accepted, your attendance at the Institute will be paid for, as will your travel, lodging, and food expenses.

The William H. Hannon Library has received a three-year grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to offer a nine-day continuing education opportunity for academic and research librarians. Each year 21 librarians will receive instruction in research design and a full year of support to complete a research project at their home institutions. The summer Institute for Research Design in Librarianship (IRDL) is supplemented with pre-institute learning activities and a personal learning network that provides ongoing mentoring. The institutes will be held on the campus of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California.

The Institute is particularly interested in applicants who have identified a real-world research question and/or opportunity. It is intended to

“bring together a diverse group of academic and research librarians who are motivated and enthusiastic about conducting research but need additional training and/or other support to perform the steps successfully. The institute is designed around the components of the research process, with special focus given to areas that our 2010 national survey of academic librarians identified as the most troublesome; the co-investigators on this project conducted the survey to provide a snapshot of the current state of academic librarian confidence in conducting research. During the nine-day institute held annually in June, participants will receive expert instruction on research design and small-group and one-on-one assistance in writing and/or revising their own draft research proposal. In the following academic year, participants will receive ongoing support in conducting their research and preparing the results for dissemination.”

Your proposal is due by February 1, 2014. Details are available at the Institute’s Prepare Your Proposal web site.

Factoid: Loyola Marymount is on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean, west of central LA.

New, Improved, and Available Now!

The 2nd Edition of the Planning and Evaluating Health Information Outreach Projects series of 3 booklets is now available online:

Getting Started with Community-Based Outreach (Booklet 1)
What’s new? More emphasis and background on the value of health information outreach, including its relationship to the Healthy People 2020 Health Communication and Health Information Technology topic areas

Planning Outcomes-Based Outreach Projects (Booklet 2)
What’s new? Focus on uses of the logic model planning tool beyond project planning, such as providing approaches to writing proposals and reports.

Collecting and Analyzing Evaluation Data (Booklet 3)
What’s new? Step-by-step guide to collecting, analyzing, and assessing the validity (or trustworthiness) of quantitative and qualitative data, using questionnaires and interviews as examples.

These are all available free to NN/LM regional offices and network members. To request printed copies, send an email to nnlm@uw.edu.

Non-508 compliant pdf versions of all three booklets are available here: http://nnlm.gov/evaluation/guides.html#A2 .

The Planning and Evaluating Health Information Outreach series, by Cynthia Olney and Susan Barnes, supplements and summarizes material in Cathy Burroughs’ groundbreaking work from 2000, Measuring the Difference: Guide to Planning and Evaluating Health Information Outreach. Printed copies of Burroughs’ book are also available free—just send an email request to nnlm@uw.edu.

Brush up on your Excel skills

“There’s probably a better way of doing this.” How many times have you muttered this statement while using Excel to analyze a database download or a spreadsheet of class evaluation data?

Or maybe you would like to try your hand at some of the hot new trends in data visualization, such as data dashboards or infographics, but find that your lack of familiarity with Excel holds you back.

Whether you are a novice or experienced Excel user, you should check out Emery Evaluation’s “Excel for Evaluation” web page (http://emeryevaluation.com/excel/) with its series of videos demonstrating efficient ways to use Excel for data analysis and reporting. These videos, created by Ann Emery, are 1-4 minutes long and demonstrate a single Excel function, such as the formula to recode data or a technique for merging data from two separate files. The videos do use the 2010 version of Excel, so if you are working with an earlier version, some of the videos may not directly apply. Her videos are organized around the  steps of good data analysis: importing your data, organizing and cleaning the data, recoding, looking for patterns, calculating statistics, and creating charts.

I’ve been using Excel since 1988, and I STILL always feel as though I’m taking the long way around to completing an analysis. These videos confirmed that I was, indeed, right.  There are better ways to use Excel, and Emery’s videos show how.

How clinicians use information resources at the point of care–a grounded theory study

An interesting study by clinicians of how clinicians use information resources has appeared in a recent issue of JAMA Internal Medicine:

Cook DA; Sorensen KJ; Wilkinson JM; and Berger RA. “Barriers and decisions when answering clinical questions at the point of care: A grounded theory study.” JAMA Intern Med, published online August 26, 2013. [epub ahead of print PMID: 23979118] This article provides details about steps that the researchers took in their qualitative study of how 50 primary care and subspecialist internal medicine and family medicine physicians use online information resources (such as UpToDate, MD Consult, Micromedex, and publicly available Internet resources) to answer clinical questions at the point of care. You can find details here about how the focus groups were conducted, how the participants were selected, and how data was collected and analyzed. This article provides a great template for an approach to collecting qualitative information via focus groups, and ends with an unsurprising conclusion:

“Physicians perceive that insufficient time is the greatest barrier to point-of-care learning, and efficiency is the most important determinant in selecting an information source.”

Photovoice – Evaluation through Photography

A picture’s worth a thousand words, and a method called photovoice takes advantage of pictures’ compelling qualities by incorporating photography into research and evaluation. Photovoice is a participatory evaluation method in which program participants are given cameras to capture images that convey their feelings, beliefs and experiences about an issue. The method is used frequently in advocacy projects, allowing the less powerful stakeholders to communicate about issues that impact their lives.

Photovoice seems to be a particularly popular way to engage youth in projects or in evaluation. For examples of photovoice projects with teenagers, check out the two articles listed at the end of this blog entry. The project described in Necheles et al. used photovoice to engage teenagers in identifying influences over their own health behavior. These teens then developed materials such as posters to advocate for healthier lifestyles among their peers. The article by Strack, Magill and McDonagh presents a project in which teens identified problems in their neighborhoods through photovoice. Both articles provide abundant advice for conducting photovoice projects, including how to engage youth in analyzing photos and ideas for presenting results.

Some photovoice projects carry potential risk for participants. Participants also must be taught how to get and document consent from others who appear in their photos. Consequently, photovoice projects require above-average planning and management. For an excellent resource on managing photovoice projects, check out photovoice.org.

Resources:

Necheles JW et al. The Teen Photovoice Project: A pilot study to promote Health through Advocacy. Prog Community Health Partnersh 2007 Fall; 1(3): 221–229.  (available at PubMedCentral, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2837515/)

Strack RW, Magill C, McDonagh K. Engaging youth through photovoice. Health Promot Pract 2004;5:49–58. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14965435

Photovoice.org, particularly the organization’s methodology section at http://www.photovoice.org/shop/info/methodology-series