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Archive for September, 2016

Six Degrees of Key Informants: Finding Interviewees for Community Assessment

Friday, September 30th, 2016

Linking grid of the social networks of a young adults of various nationalitiesSix degrees of separation is a concept that describes social interconnectedness. The idea, popularized in a 1990s movie, is that each human on the planet could reach any other human, by way of friend-to-friend introduction, in six steps or less. For example, you are six (or fewer) people away from meeting your favorite celebrity you happen to adore. Research has explored this social interconnectedness and, while the actual maximum number of intermediaries may be in dispute, we do live in a small world.

If you are faced with doing a needs or community assessment, social interconnectedness should be comforting. Most good community assessments conducted for project planning involve interviewing key informants selected for their special knowledge about their communities. Key informant interviews can provide a quick source of detailed information important for planning. This tip sheet from USAID talks about the basics of conducting key informant interviews.

However, when Karen and I provide training on community assessment, we find our workshop participants feel daunted by the prospect of actually identifying key informants. So take heart, readers. Our social interconnectedness means good key informants are just a friend or two away.

The interview sampling approach I use is described in this article by Tiffany.  It is a participatory evaluation method that engages stakeholders in framing evaluation questions and recruiting interviewees. These stakeholders are your first key informants. You most likely will find them among members of the project team initiating the community assessment. It is likely that their interest in a community was sparked because someone on the team knew someone in the user community.

Those stakeholder key informants can, in turn, direct you to more key informants who can talk about their own and their peers’ needs, desires, opinions and lifestyles.  After each interview, you ask a key informant “Who else do you recommend that I interview?” and “What important information can that person add to my understanding about the community?” As a result, your key informants share in refining your community assessment inquiries. Their recommendations allow them input into the direction of your project plans. Because your key informants are likely to be opinion leaders in their communities, you can generate enthusiasm and possibly forge important partnerships, assuming they respond positively to your project.  Key informant interviews are your first step in building trust in the user community you’re assessing.

To find key informants  who can truly help you gather good project-planning information, be clear about the information you’re seeking.  That way, your stakeholders can refer you to the best  interviewees for your needs.  For guidance on the type of information you should gather in a community assessment, check out these NEO blog posts on Diffusion of Innovation Part One and Part Two.

Ideally key informants get something in return for participating in interviews. At the very least, key informants who are opinion leaders have valuable information about your project or organization to share with their peers. More significantly, your interviewees will assist you in bringing valuable services or resources to their communities.

I want to share two examples of projects where I used this approach to key  informant sampling.  A few years ago, I led a community assessment project for Cumberland County (North Carolina) Public Library and Information Center, which wanted to improve its service to the military community affiliated with Fort Bragg. (Public Libraries published an article about this project here.)Public librarian Jennifer Taft received funding from the State Library of North Carolina for this project and also participated in the community assessment process. We started by interviewing a cadre of her colleagues from the Fayetteville Community Blueprint Network, composed of representatives of local organizations that served military families. Jennifer and her colleagues had worked together to put on a community forum on post-traumatic stress. After each interview with her forum colleagues, I collected recommendations for other key informants. I did the same with my second wave of interviews. Our sample grew until we had a good sample of interviewees and focus group participants with experience-based perspectives on the military community. All worked in organizations that provided services to military families. Most also were members of military families (that is, service members, veterans or spouses).  The key informant interviews had an advantage beyond providing useful information. Relationships established in the interviewing phase provided the library with the contacts it needed to participate, for the first time, in on-post activities.

In a different project, I worked with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine South Central Regional Medical Library to explore how it could support public libraries in hurricane-prone counties. Our sampling process began with contacting librarians at the state libraries of Louisiana and Texas, both of which actively supported public libraries during Hurricanes Katrina and Ike. They introduced us to key informants from “further-in” libraries that valiantly helped waves of evacuees from communities that suffered direct hits.  Our contacts pointed us to libraries that were struck by the storms and restored services quickly in order to help their community members. After we completed our interviews, these librarians became valuable partners in helping us develop NN/LM resources. (You can read about the Gulf Coast library community assessment here in Public Libraries.

Still worried about locating good key informants?  I assure you, you can have faith in the interconnectedness phenomenon.  It has always worked for me, starting with my very first qualitative interviewing project. That project occurred in the 1970s when I was an undergraduate at Penn State. I was enrolled in an undergraduate class taught by an American folklorist.  Our extra credit assignment was to find three legends from our own families or social circles. In those pre-Internet days, most modern-day legends were ghost stories. I was immediately overwhelmed.  What friend of mine could possibly have a ghost story to share? Turns out, the first person I saw after class had a haunting tale. And so did the next person. Within days, I was 10 points closer to getting an A in the course. Everyone, it seemed, knew someone who had seen a ghost.

So remember, you are probably less than six people removed from a great key informant. Just get a handle on what you want to know in your community assessment, talk to anyone affiliated with the community, and you’re on your way.

And, if you know somebody who knows somebody who knows Kevin Bacon, kindly send their contact information to Cindy or Karen?


Reference: One of the most well-known studies of interconnectedness was

published by Travers, Jeffrey, and Milgram, “An Experimental Study of the Small World Problem”, Sociometry 32(4, Dec. 1969):425–443


Update Your Evaluation Toolbox: Two Great Conferences

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

It’s the fall, also known as the beginning of conference season. It’s a very exciting time if you like evaluation/assessment.  If you want to improve your evaluation skills, two great conferences are coming up, back to back.  Take a look at some of these highlights and pick one to go to!

Oct. 24-29, 2016 Evaluation 2016, Atlanta GA

Eavlaution 2016 October 24-29, Atlanta, GA

This is the annual conference of the American Evaluation Association, an international organization with over 7000 members, and interest groups that cover topics like Assessment in Higher Education; Collaborative, Participatory & Empowerment Evaluation; and Data Visualization and Reporting.  The theme of this year’s conference is Evaluation + Design.

The conference has 40 workshops and 850 sessions.  Here are some example programs:

  • From crap to oh snap: Using DIY templates to (easily) improve information design across an organization
  • Developing Evaluation Tools to Measure MOOC Learner Outcomes in Higher Education
  • Evaluation Design for Innovation/Pilot Projects

There’s still time for Early Bird Registration (ends October 3)!

Oct. 31-November 2, 2016 Library Assessment Conference, Arlington VA

Library Assessment Conference 2016

This conference only happens every other year and is co-sponsored by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the University of Washington (UW) Libraries (disclosure – the NEO is part of the UW Libraries–something we’re quite proud of).   The theme for this conference is Building Effective, Sustainable, Practical Assessment.

This conference is bookended by workshops like Getting the Message Out: Creating a Multi-Directional Approach to Communicating Assessment and Learning Analytics, Academic Libraries, and Institutional Context: Getting Started, Gaining Traction, Going Forward.

Scholarly papers and posters with titles like “How Well Do We Collaborate? Using Social Network Analysis (SNA) to Evaluate Engagement in Assessment Program” and “Consulting Detectives: How One Library Deduced the Effectiveness of Its Consultation Area & Services” are organized around a variety of topics, such as Organizational Issues; Ithaka S+R; and Analytics/Value.


This is an exciting time to be in the assessment and evaluation business.  Take this amazing opportunity to go to one of these conferences.















A Diagram is Worth a Thousand Words: Visual Evaluation Plans

Friday, September 16th, 2016

What would you rather look at?  Some paragraphs of text and bullet points that explain in a step-by-step fashion your process and outcomes evaluation plans, or a diagram of those plans?  For me the answer is easy: a diagram.  Diagrams have the advantage of being quickly understandable, interesting to look at, invite participation of the viewer, and possibly most important for me, they’re colorful.  A textual explanation can walk me through the same process, but I would play a much more passive role, and I might not understand the big picture without having, well, a big picture.


Obviously you would also need the text.  Somewhere you need to explain the details of what you’re going to do in your evaluation. But a diagram can make the plan immediately comprehensible, and the reader can then read the textual explanation while understanding the overall context.

Bethany Laursen, an evaluation consultant, posted some examples of what she calls visual evaluation plans in her blog, Laursen Evaluation and Design.  These are created by students in a class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I like them because by looking at them I have a basic understanding of their projects and how they will be evaluated.

Her blog post presents visual evaluation plans as a way of getting non-evaluators to understand your evaluation plans.  But I think they can also be a way that people (whether evaluators or non-evaluators who find themselves writing evaluation plans) could begin to think about how to plan their evaluation strategy to fit their project.

Microsoft products like Word and Power Point have drawing tools that can work to make diagrams.  But I think best with pen and paper, so if I were designing an evaluation plan for my daughter’s birthday party (see February 4, 2016 post), I would do something like the drawing here. Then I could create a plan for evaluating each of the process evaluation questions (in blue arrows) and each of the outcome evaluation questions (in red arrows).

This video, Faster Program Evaluation Planning: a New Visual Approach, shows how you could use a product like DoView to create a snazzy looking evaluation plan that also can link images to the textual description of the evaluation, and even further, link to your actual evaluation.

That famous phrase in the title, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” works really well to show how you can use your diagram to communicate your evaluation plan to others.  But if you’re using a diagram to design your plan in the first place, the quote that might work better is Gloria Steinem’s: “Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.”

And as Winnie-the-Pooh says “Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.”









My Report Writing Toolkit

Friday, September 9th, 2016


I once heard evaluator extraordinaire Michael Patton say that an evaluator could staple an executive summary to a bunch of pages ripped from a phone book and no one would notice. Possibly our readers have developed a fear of drowning in numbers and technical information?

(For our younger blog followers, a phone book is that thick paperback that materializes on your doorstep about once a year and you trip over it a few times before throwing it in your recycling bin.)

Many of us are trying to write better reports, thanks to proactive efforts in our professional associations.  Many such organizations provide excellent training on report writing, often to sold-out audiences. The first step toward better reporting is better synthesis of our evaluation findings.  You yourself must understand your data well before you can effectively share findings with others.  However, there are many other design elements in a report that you can use to help your readers understand key points and retain important information. Nonverbal elements such as color, font choice, page layout, and graphic design, all contribute to effective evaluation reporting.

I have picked up a few tricks of the trade over the past few years.  So in today’s blog, I’m giving you my personal report-writing toolkit.

PowerPoint:  You may think of PowerPoint as a presentation tool, but I have discovered it is also a great tool for producing written reports.  Slide layouts provide flexibility in organizing graphics and text on a page.  The text boxes also force me to be succinct with written content. My favorite resource for PowerPoint reports is Nancy Duarte’s Slidedocs.  You can download free PowerPoint templates at her website, but truthfully, I seldom use them.  They never seem quite right for what I want to present and I don’t think all of them are accessible (508 compliant).  However, I use them to guide my design.  The templates provide examples of good layout and color palettes.  Also, Duarte’s templates exemplify effective practices for readability, such as ideal column width and line spacing.

“Presenting Data Effectively” by Stephanie Evergreen. I routinely consult this primer on presenting data when I write evaluation reports. Her book gets into the nitty-gritty of reporting evaluation results.  How do you choose font type? Where do you place data labels in a chart? How do you layout a page to incorporate text and charts. She leaves no stone unturned in this book.

Free photos: Photos have their place in both written reports and presentation slides, particularly when they serve as visual metaphors for key findings. Google’s advance search has a “usage rights” option that allows you to quickly find images online that are free to use or share. However, the quality of images from Google searches is variable.  I prefer to start with Pixabay, which provides consistently high quality pictures that are free to use.

Color Picker Tools:  Accent colors add visual interest to reports and direct readers’ attention to key findings. There are two color picker tools that I use routinely to find accent colors for my headers and graphics. PowerPoint now has an “eye dropper” feature that allows you to add custom colors that match images in your reports..  This is the fastest way to add a custom color to your theme palette.

However, when I have time to perfect my color choices, I rely on Adobe Color. You upload your image and Adobe Color shows you a palette of complementary colors to choose from. (I like to use my report cover photo or a screen snip of a logo or web page as my image.)  Adobe Color will allow you to adjust your palette to find, for example, brighter or more muted versions of your colors. Once you have the colors you want, you can get the RGV codes to create a custom color scheme for your report.

Two views of a line graph with four lines (four groups). The left is the graph as seen by the graph creator. It has a three black lines and a red line to emphasize results from a subgroup. The right version of the graph shows how a color-blind person sees it. The red line is black and the other lines are lighter gray

Color blindness checker: This exciting new multi-colored reporting world has its downside.  A small percentage of people are colorblind, so improper color choices may make your reports less understandable to them.  (The American Academy of Ophthalmologists estimates that colorblindness affects 8% of men and .5% of women.) So it’s a good idea to check your images through an app like Vischeck.

The two charts on the left show the results of a Vischeck on a line graph  I designed, where I made one line red to draw attention to results for one group. If you are not color blind, you will see that the left-hand chart has a red line to highlight a specific finding. The right chart shows what colorblind readers see: the line is darker, but it is not red. The darkness of the line does provide some contrast, so it is probably acceptable. But a different color or possibly a wider line would make that finding noticeable for all readers.

Printer: If your report is going to be printed and reproduced, chances are the copies will not be in color. I have learned the hard way to print my reports in black-in-white before distributing them to be sure the contrasts are still visible without color. If not, you can try varying intensity (gray versus black) or patterns (solid versus dotted lines).

There you have it: my go-to tools for creating evaluation reports. If you have others, I hope you’ll visit the NEO’s Facebook page and share them!

Here’s the full test for Stephanie Evergreen’s book: Evergreen, SDH. Presenting data effectively. Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2014.


From Logic Model to Proposal Evaluation – Part 2: The Evaluation Plan

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

Photo of black and white cat with fangsLast week we wrote some basic goals and objectives for a proposal about teaching health literacy skills to vampires in Sunnydale.  Here’s what the goals and objectives look like, taken from the Executive Summary statement in last week’s post:

Goal: The goal of our From Dusk to Dawn project is to improve the health and well-being of vampires in the Sunnydale community.

Objective 1: We will teach 4 hands-on evening classes on the use of MedlinePlus and PubMed to improve Sunnydale vampires’ ability to find consumer health information and up to date research about health conditions.

Objective 2: We will open a 12-hour “Dusk-to-Dawn” health reference hotline to help the vampires with their reference questions.

There are also three outcomes that we have identified:

  1. Short-term: Increased ability of the Internet-using Sunnydale vampires to research needed health information.
  2. Intermediate: These vampires will use their increased skills to research health information for their brood.
  3. Long-term: Overall, the Sunnydale vampires will have improved health and as a result form better relationships with the human community of Sunnydale.

To get to an evaluation plan from here you have to know that there are basically two kinds of things you’ll want to measure: process and outcomes.

Process assessment measures that you did what you said you would do and the way you said you would do it. For example, you can count the number of classes you taught, how many people attended, and whether their survey responses showed that they thought you did a good job teaching.

Also you might want to show that you were willing to make changes in the plan if review of your process assessment showed that you weren’t getting the results you wanted.  For example, if you planned all your classes in early evening, but few vampires attended, you might interview some vampires and find out that early evening is mealtime for most vampires, and move your classes to a different time to increase attendance.  Your evaluation plan could show that you are collecting that information and that you will be responsive to what you see happening.

Outcome assessment measures the extent to which your project had the impact that you hoped it would on the recipients of the project, or even greater on their overall organizations or communities. We showed the first step of outcome assessment in last week’s assignment, but I’m going to break it down a little more here.  Put in basic terms, to do an outcome assessment, you state your outcome, you add in an indicator, a target, and a time frame to come up with a measurable objective, and then you write out the source of your data, your data collection method, and your data collection timing to complete the picture.  Let’s talk about each item here:

Indicator: This is the evidence you can gather that shows whether or not you met your outcomes.  If one of your outcomes is that the vampires have increased ability to research health information, how would you know if that had happened? The indicator could be their increased confidence level in finding health information, or it could be improvement in skills test scores given before and after a training session.

Target: The target is the goal that makes this project look like a success to you.  For example, if the vampires improve their test scores by 50% over a baseline test, is that enough to say you have successfully reached that outcome?  And how many of the vampires need to reach that 50% goal?  All of them? One of them?  Targets can be hard to identify, because you don’t want them to be too hard to reach but if they’re too easy your funder may not be impressed with your ambition.  Sometimes you can work with the funder or other stakeholders on setting targets that are credible.

Time frame: This is the point in time that when the threshold for success will be achieved.  So if you want to make sure the vampires increased their ability by the end of your training, then the time frame would be by the end of your training.

Data Source: This is the location where your information is found. Often, data sources are people (such as participants or observers) but they also may be records, pictures, or meeting notes. Here are some examples of data sources.

Data Collection Methods: Evaluation methods are the tools you use to collect data, such as a survey, observation, or quiz.  Here is more examples of data collection methods.

Data Collection Timing: The data collection timing is describing exactly when you will be collecting the data.

What does your final evaluation plan look like? 

Here is a sample piece of an evaluation plan for the Dusk to Dawn proposal.

Objective 1: teach 4 hands-on evening classes on the use of MedlinePlus and PubMed to improve Sunnydale vampires’ ability to research consumer health information and up to date research about health conditions.

Process Assessment: The PI will collect the following information to ensure that classes are being taught; expected attendance figures are being reached; teachers are doing a good job teaching classes (including surviving the classes).  Data will be reviewed after each class and changes will be made to the program as needed to reach target goals:

◊ Participant roster to measure attendance figures
◊ Class evaluations to measure teacher performance
◊ Count of number of teachers at the beginning and ending of each class to measure survival of instructors
◊ Project team will meet after the second class to review success and lessons learned and to consider course corrections to ensure objectives are met

Outcome Assessment:
Measureable Objective: In a post-test given immediately after each class, a minimum of 75% of Sunnydale vampire attendees demonstrate that they learned how to find needed resources in PubMed and MedlinePlus by showing at least a 50% improvement over the pre-test.

Based on Level 2 (Learning) in the Kirkpatrick Model, a test will be created with some basic health questions to be researched. Class participants will be given these questions as a pre-test before the class, and then will be given the same questions after the class as a post-test.  This learning outcome will be considered successful if a minimum of 75% of Sunnydale vampire participants demonstrate that their scores improved by at least 50%.

Last wishes, I mean, thoughts

This is not a complete evaluation plan, but the purpose of these two posts has been to show how you can go from a logic model to the evaluation plan of a proposal.  Don’t worry if all your outcomes cannot be measured in the scope of your project.  For example, in this Dusk to Dawn project, it might have been dangerous to find out if the vampires had passed on needed health information to their brood, even harder to find out whether the vampires had become more healthy as a result of the information.  This doesn’t mean to leave these outcomes out, but you may want to acknowledge that measuring some outcomes is out of the scope of the project’s resources.

As Grandpa Munster once said “Don’t let time or space detain ya, here you go, to Transylvania.”

Photo credit: Photo of 365::79 – Vampire Cat by Sarah Reid on Flickr under Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0.  No changes were made.












Last updated on Monday, June 27, 2016

Funded by the National Library of Medicine under Contract No. UG4LM012343 with the University of Washington.