By: Bethany Miller
Throughout the assessment world, we hear the phrase “closing the loop” over and over again. As we think about our campuses, we must consider the fact that assessment is taking place more than ever before (for various reasons), but how much of the information is getting out to stakeholders and how often? Most folks agree that closing the loop is an important step in the assessment process, but what does closing the loop really look like?
Closing the loop begins with planning to close the loop. As you plan assessments plan the ways in which you will close the loop in concrete ways. I find the use of who, what, when, why, and how to be helpful when planning to close the loop. Who? In this process there will be some very obvious and oftentimes not so obvious groups who may hold interest or could benefit from the data. What are you going to share with groups? All groups will not be interested in all of the data that is being collected, so a blanket strategy will likely not be effective when planning to close the loop. Sharing information that is pertinent to each person or group is important because the plan is to aid in data driven decision making. If people can’t easily access the information that is relevant to them then it is less likely to be used. When? Establish a timeline for when you plan to distribute information to groups. Having a timeline for closing the loop can help to keep the pieces of the process after data collection on track because there is a specified period for the dissemination of the results.
The last two pieces of the closing the loop planning are critical (in my opinion) because this is the place where you have to be able to “sell” your information and rationale to others, but also require a bit more time and consideration than the others. Why do others need this information and how will you make it most accessible to them? The why is an opportunity to think about how to draw various audiences, and how the information can be used by as many stakeholders as possible across the campus community. Finally, how will you communicate the results? It is easy to write a report and make it available, but how many people are really going to read it? This is the place to be innovative in engaging people with assessment results. Not only in how are the results reported, numbers or words or both, but also how you engage others with the data. For example, on my campus we host a “wine, cheese, & data” event to talk about campus wide data. We have wine and cheese and after a brief presentation of data we talk to folks about what they see, what they think, and how we can take next steps to utilize the data. More people are exposed to the data than would have been if it were presented exclusively as a report available online.
Providing useful and used data is an important goal of assessment. If we are to be successful in “closing the loop,” we must plan assessments with closing the loop as a real, concrete goal.
Bethany is the interim Director of Institutional Research & Assessment at Cornell College and is responsible for managing the assessment cycle of the college and helping departments collect, share, and utilize data. She is completing a PhD in Research, Evaluation, Statistics and Assessment from the University of Southern Mississippi. Tweeting from @bmiller_2013