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Measuring Impact and Improving Outcomes Through Story Telling
The assessment work that I do on a regular basis is objective and unemotional by its very definition. Emotion is the enemy of accuracy, and subjective processing produces data that is often unreliable and invalid. Therefore, the process is rarely exciting and, although the results are often used to motivate change, it is not generally stimulating. All of that being true, my assessment experience gathering information from recent Community College program and degree completers for the recent “State of St. Louis Workforce” event was nothing less than moving and inspirational.
I had the pleasure of visiting three separate Community College institutions to conduct focus group sessions composed of program completers with the purpose of identifying the factors that helped students complete. The information we would gain here was meant to be a colorful supplement to the hard data we were gathering through a paper and pencil style online survey. Our facilitated sessions got us what we needed for the survey report, but we ended up getting much more than we originally sought. I allowing people to share their experiences, we heard a number of beautiful, compelling and emotional stories about how individuals were able to change their lives through education. We felt the emotional impact of people, policies and personal relationships on the lives of our students.
We heard stories about overcoming common obstacles, like the juggling of family obligations and financial hardship. Some shared how they were able to overcome family health problems and economic hardship. Still others shared personal stories of achievement in spite of emotional and physical abuse. For many, the moment of completion was a symbol of victory over what seemed an overwhelming and substantial force working against them. Many shed tears while listening to others share their personal story and I found myself moved several times. These stories underscored the importance of what the colleges are doing for its students and provided moving evidence regarding a number of things that the institutions are doing right.
The point: We had the hard numbers and could tell the story with percentages and statistics, but in the end, the most compelling, important data came out of the mouths of the students. You can overwhelm an audience with hard facts and objective data, but if influencing your audience is your primary goal, remember the importance of telling a good story.