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Evaluating the unintended or unexpected

Published by in Evaluation ·
Last week I was asked for some advice about questions to ask when carrying out a Level 3 evaluation (in Kirkpatrick-speak). Conventional wisdom is that this is about behaviour change, whether or not people change their behaviour in line with the objectives of the training. And of course, when we are trying to do a Level 3 evaluation we are also interested in what impact any changes of behaviour have at a team or organisational level (the fabled Level 4).

All well and good, but one of the possible weaknesses in traditional approaches to training evaluations which becomes apparent when using a systemic perspective is that because they start with the reference point of the learning objectives, evaluation against the learning objectives can end up being the only thing that is done, when, of course, training can have other consequences.

There are basically two sorts of other consequences. The first is a Level 3 change, what other behaviours have changed as a result of the training? For example, has there been any change in the way people interact with each other, perhaps talking about the training course, questioning how useful it has been, what implications it has for everyday practice? Has this improved what people do, in the subject of the training or in other areas? This is all about different aspects of knowledge management, about the impact of the formal training on informal learning practices.

The second is at Level 4, what are the outcomes at the team or organisational level and what impact does this have? If we don't think about what changes the training makes on a team, then it becomes harder to look at impact that it might then enable. For example, people who attend a training course may get to know each other better, may develop trust and therefore become better team players in the future: this is an example of improving 'social capital', a somewhat nebulous but nevertheless very important factor in improving organisational effectiveness, but which may only become apparent when there is a lack of it! Of course, the implications of this may be much longer term than a straightforward observable output, such as level of sales or of widgets manufactured, and it may also be harder to measure, but this does not mean that it is any less important. If we do not recognise it as important it is unlikely that we will even try to measure it.

For example, if training does lead to an increase in levels of widgets produced over a six-month period but leads to increased workforce dissatisfaction with potential longer-term implications, what is its true value?

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