The Sustainability in Higher Education Developers Group (SHED) is a network of several hundred educators across the UK whose teaching involves sustainability issues. It is convened by the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges and the Higher Education Academy. Information about how to contribute a post or write comments on posts will be emailed to SHED members.
4 Jan 2012
SOME FURTHER THOUGHTS ON THE EVALUATION OF PROGRESS Steve Martin 4/1/2012
Bill Scott’s previous blog about change contains some important and topical messages given the launch of the new LIFE index and the ongoing debate about methods of measuring progress towards a” sustainable university”. He quotes Stephen Sterling:
“How we evaluate and measure anything ... depends on what we think it is [and this informs] the kind of indicators we choose. So while it may not be possible to achieve consensus on the nature and implications of ESD, we can at least attempt some clarification of its dimensions, so that debate on evaluation is in turn clearer” Stephen Sterling 2009
I agree that this distinction is important and highly relevant to any of the sustainability change programmes currently under scrutiny in our universities. But it is important to think a little more about the purpose(s) of evaluation.
We evaluate all the time. Essentially, when we do this we are taking a piece of the world and comparing and contrasting it by holding it up against something that we already think and know and have decided the value of – whether good or bad, useful or not, high, medium or worthwhile, right or wrong. This ‘existing description of the world’ against which we compare the piece of the world we are evaluating is our benchmark, criterion or standard. (This is a bit like those little plastic map templates some of us traced around at primary school and made a shape we knew was our country). We carry these around in our heads and pull them out when we want to check new things. But the problem with sustainability and our sense of what a sustainable university looks like is much more difficult and more contentious. Indeed, I would go further and argue we do not yet have a clear and coherent vision of such a university. And yet we seem to be pretty clear about the un-sustainability of our universities.
To ‘do an evaluation’ means that we actually do a piece of research or inquiry – but with the emphasis on finding out what value people place on things – in this instance how a university is approaching one of the most challenging contemporary issue of our time . There is value in knowing what people think of a university’s progress on sustainability, but even more value in knowing why and thus what they would prefer. People’s preference or possible future options can then also be evaluated by them and the agreed ‘best way to go’ subsequently enacted. Consequently, while any evaluation will follow a series of steps, it is also clearly setting in place processes which enable others, who are making value judgements, to follow the same steps for their own evaluations. Hence, there is likely to be a more consistent approach from a range of people involved – designers, deliverers and recipients of a change programmes. For institutional change to be initiated and commitment to occur, there has to be some fairly clear conception of what the future state of affairs could be if and when the change were to be successful.
Gleicher’s formula might be helpful in determining readiness here:
C = ( D V F) > X
Where C = change, D = the level of dissatisfaction with the status quo, V = the quality and clarity of the vision about the desired future state, F = the feasibility of the proposal and X = the cost of changing (this includes the psychological costs as well as more conventional elements such as time, money and materials).
The Formula for Change was created by Richard Beckhardand David Gleicher, refined by Kathie Dannemiller and is sometimes called Gleicher's Formula. It provides a model to assess the relative strengths affecting the likely success or otherwise of organizational change programmes. The revised formula is:
D x V x F > R
Three factors must be present for meaningful organizational change to take place. These factors are:
D = Dissatisfaction with how things are now; V = Vision of what is possible; F = First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision;
If the product of these three factors is greater than
R = Resistance, then change is possible. Because D, V, and F are multiplied, if any one is absent or low, then the product will be low and therefore not capable of overcoming the resistance.