How Much Assessment is Enough?

Posted on: September 25th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

This is the second post on the topic of assessment. In my first post, my main points were:

  1. Healthy individuals take regular stock of their lives: where they’ve been, where they are presently, and where they hope to be in the future. The same is true of organizations.
  2. Assessment is another word for organizational learning. Its essential purpose is to help organizations measure whether they’re fulfilling their mission of changing lives and changing their communities.
  3. Assessment doesn’t just drive excellence; it drives the purpose of Jewish existence as expressed in the synagogue.

Many synagogues are hyper-active so it’s simply impossible to assess all activities. Conducting a comprehensive assessment of some aspect of the synagogue is a resource-intensive undertaking. It takes staff and volunteer time, funding and a commitment to go where the recommendations lead—even if that means sun-setting a program. Realistically, you should be able to thoroughly focus on one vital synagogue activity within about 18 months and generate a detailed action report with recommendations and modifications. At the same time, there are ways in which you can easily collect data on some discrete programs or processes in order to acquire quick, helpful feedback on other aspects of synagogue life.

For example, you might decide it’s time to assess the supplementary (now called, “complementary”) education program for children in kindergarten through sixth grades. But, just because your synagogue is engaged in this large effort, you can still be learning about the impact of other programs or processes in a more general way.

To drill down further, let’s say that a core group of 15 adults attend a four-part lecture series on Kabbalah and Jewish spirituality. As a part of each session, you ask participants to answer the same five questions at the end of class. You also leave room for them to add anything else that they would like to about the program and, on the last session, you also ask for their feedback about the entire series. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much you will learn about what aspects of the series work well and what aspects need modification. And—you’ll be able to get all of that information with little effort on your part and the part of the participants.

Another illustration: a group of parents are leaving with their pre-school age children from a family education program. Five members of the pre-school committee are stationed at the synagogue exit. They are charged with asking two questions to as many parents as they can: “what did you like about the program,” and “what do you wish was different?” You haven’t systematically evaluated the program, but you are able to get useful feedback without much effort.

Creating a culture of assessment requires balance. You don’t want to drop assessment of every other activity during an assessment of a major area of synagogue life, while you also don’t want to drive people insane because you’re always asking them assessment-type questions. So here’s how I’d like us to help each other enrich one another with creative ideas about assessment:

  1. What areas of synagogue life lend themselves to a simple, quick assessment?
  2. How would go about getting it?

Share your ideas and I’ll be happy to compile a list.

Thank you,

Rabbi Herring

Image from Flickr, canonsnapper

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