Visualising What Was Important

As I have written before, I tend not to believe that much in traditional evaluation forms any more. The information you receive is to a large extent not usable for you as trainer or facilitator. For instance if it concerns issues you have no influence on like who is invited or able to come and who is not.

But what’s worse, providing the feedback is mostly not very useful for the participants. That in itself renders evaluations less useful – if there is nothing to gain from spending some brain space on answering evaluation questions in earnest I think it is fair to assume that most participants will just jot something down quickly in order to be off sooner rather than later.

If you can connect the evaluation to the participants’ feelings and to the steps they plan to take in future using the things they learned and developed during the training, you may have a better chance of getting quality feedback that they have actually spent some time on formulating.

In a recent training assignment I asked participants at the end of the training to take a picture of something that for them symbolised the most significant moment or insight of the training and to send this to me with one sentence of explanation. Here is what I got:

From these pictures and texts I conclude that

  • the training was lively and participatory, which was much appreciated
  • participants felt engaged in the team, as they all got tasks for steps to be taken after the training
  • participants gained more insight into the topic of the training and jointly developed an image of what they want to achieve together
  • participants felt hopeful because of the shared vision for the future

and thus that me and my co-trainer Gusztáv Nemes succeeded in creating a shared knowledge base on the topic (including new knowledge provided also by us), in supporting the group to use this knowledge as a basis for a common vision for the future, in mobilising the group to work as a team towards the shared goals and in creating an open atmosphere in which everyone could and did take part actively.

And so these simple statements and picture made me very happy about our performance – much more than a traditional happy sheet could have done, where I would have to guess what could be the reasons for the scores given.

But the main source of happiness was due to the fact that participants actually spent time looking around themselves and considering this and that item as a suitable symbol all the while thinking about what the main moment had been in the last two and a half days of work. Looking at the pictures sent, most participants selected a moment that connected the training to their future actions and work as a team. For me, those two things show the true value of this exercise.

rural development vision for Bosnia and Herzegovina

A picture is worth a thousand words

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Evaluations are Boring and Useless

As trainer I am always curious to learn what participants think of the workshop: was it useful? Will they do something with what they learned and planned? Am I the new role model in their lives because I was so darn inspiring?????

It has become custom to hand out so-called happy sheets at the end of a training, to collect participants’ feedback. Well, they don’t always make you happy, I can say!

Not because participants are negative, but because you so seldom get something useful out of them.

In answer to the question 'what could be better?' - made with Quozio

In answer to the question ‘what could be better?’ – made with Quozio

By the end of the workshop, participants want to get away as soon as they can. The happy sheet is a hindrance for their haste – a few more precious minutes down the drain! In order to leave as quickly as possible, most participants will use as little time and energy as feasible to score items on the happy sheet. Rarely do they take time to write something down for the open questions.

Even the scoring can sometimes be misleading. A colleague of mine once inquired what the rates 6 and 7 on a scale of 10 (perfect) meant for the participants. One of them replied: “The training was useless, but the trainer was friendly.”

And this is only natural. After all, this happy sheet doesn’t have any purpose for the participants. They hand it in, and that’s that. It is no use for them afterwards, at their work place. What do they care to remember how good I was as trainer, or how good the accommodation was, or how much they exchanged. However good the workshop was, it is history by then.

So if you want to have useful feedback on your training you should make the evaluation meaningful or fun for the participants.

One of the things you can do is to connect the evaluation moment to the future: let participants think about how and when and with whom they will use what they learned and planned. If you then ask them to visualise this you ‘force’ them to spend just a little bit more of their time on this question. After all, they will have to develop an idea and will have to come up with a visual representation of this idea. They need to make or look for a photo, draw something, shoot a video, make a cartoon…. All this will make them think more deeply about to what extent the training was useful to them and how they will actually apply their new knowledge, skills or insights.

In addition, they will have their own visual idea with them, physically – it will be in their own camera, phone, tablet or computer. It is not that happy sheet that disappears in a big black box.

If you want to remind them of their ideas and plans you can collect all the visuals and present them in a booklet form (easily made online and downloaded as PDF) one month after the end of the training.

And that could be a great time to also ask them about their thoughts of the training: what was the best working method used? What was the most significant moment, and why? What was the most novel insight they got? Which remark do they remember still? Etc.

The most significant moment

The most significant moment, made with Quozio

Of course a lot more can be said about evaluations: what are the best type of questions, the best tools to use and the best moments in or after your training to ask for feedback.

I will certainly write more on this topic and am also going to organise workshops about evaluating trainings and learning processes together with my colleague Gerdi Keeler. If you are interested, please feel free to contact me!

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