PSA: New Year’s resolutions are passé.
It’s out with dreary self-betterment goals involving celery and punishing exercise. Instead, the trendiest way to mark the New Year is to pick an inspirational word and make it your annual North Star for self-improvement. In that spirit, I want to propose a word of the year for the NEO Shop Talk community.
That word is “Yes and.”
Now, some of you are wondering how I passed kindergarten with such poor counting skills. However, If you or anyone you know has taken training in Improv theatre, you know “Yes and” is a word, or, more specifically, a verb.
Improv is a type of theatre in which a team of actors make up scenes on the spot, usually from audience suggestions. Because performances are unscripted, improv actors train rather than rehearse. Training is built around commonly accepted “rules,” and, arguably, the best known rule of Improv is “Always say Yes and…” That means that you accept any scene idea your teammate presents and add something to make that idea better. Once novice improvisers experience the upbeat emotional effect of this rule, they soon find themselves “yes-anding” in other parts of their lives. Some even preach about it to others (ahem). Notice, by the way, I added a hyphen so we can all feel better about “yes-and” as the WORD of the year.
If you can “yes-and” evaluation requirements and responsibilities, it will put you on the road to mastering this rule. Let’s face it, the thought of evaluation does not generate an abundance of enthusiasm. Usually we do evaluation because someone else expects or requires us to do it: upper administration; accreditation boards; funding agencies. We only do evaluation when forced because it’s a lot of work. I compare evaluation to physical exercise. In theory, we know it’s good for us. In practice, we don’t have time for it. “Yes-anding” evaluation may not make you do more evaluation than you’re required to do. It might, however, make your evaluation responsibilities more enjoyable or, at least, more meaningful to you personally.
For example, if you have to write a proposal for external funding, you often have to pull together assessment information to build a case for your proposed program. Does that mean you have to locate and synthesize lots of data from lots of sources? Yes, and you get to demonstrate all of the great things your library or organization has to offer. You also get to point out areas where you could provide even more awesome services if the funding agency gave you funding to meet your resource needs. (Here’s a NEO Shop Talk blog post on how to use SWOT analysis to synthesize needs assessment data.)
If your proposal includes outreach into a new community, you probably have to collect information from that community. Do you have to find and conduct key informant interviews with representatives of the community? Yes, and you also get to initiate relationships with influential community opinion leaders. Listening is a powerful way to build trust and rapport. If you have the opportunity to implement your program, these key informants will be powerful allies when you want to reach out to the broader community. (If you want some tips for finding key informants, check out this blog post.)
You can “yes-and” internally mandated evaluation as well. Your library or organization may require you to track data on an ongoing basis or to submit regular reports. To do this well, do you have to document your daily work, such as keep track of details surrounding reference services, workshop attendance, or facility usage? Yes and, you also get to create a database of motivational information to inspire you and fellow co-workers working on the same objectives and goals. Compile that information monthly or quarterly, and pass it around at staff meetingd. Celebrate what you’re accomplishing. Figure out where effort is lagging and commit to bolstering activities in that area. Then celebrate your team’s astute use of data for making good program decisions. Yes, and, at reporting time, be sure you present your data so that your upper-level stakeholders notices your hard work.
Maybe your department or office has to set and assess annual objectives or outcomes. Do you have to collect and report data to show program results? Yes, and you also get to demonstrate your value to the organization. Just be sure you don’t hide your candle deep in some organizational online reporting system. Annual reports are seldom page-turners. Find more compelling ways to communicate your success and contributions to upper administrators and influential users. For some ideas, you might want to check out some of NEO Shop Talk posts on reporting and data visualization.
Another rule of Improv is “There are no mistakes, only opportunities.” Let’s paraphrase that to “there are no evaluation requirements, only opportunities.” Here’s to making 2017 the year of “yes-anding” evaluation.
As a post-script, I want to share a NEO Shop Talk success with our readers. Did we post weekly blog entries in 2016? Yes, and you showed up more than ever. NEO Shop Talk visits increased 71% in 2016. Each month, we averaged 259 more visits compared to the same month in the previous year. Our peak month was February, with 892 visits! Thank you, readers. Please come back and bring your friends!