Make Water Provocative: Measuring Effectiveness

When we present interpretive programs, what do we ultimately hope to accomplish?  The answer is often that we hope to change people’s minds and behaviors.  Perhaps we want them to feel concern about water shortages and use less water.  Perhaps we want them to appreciate Colorado water law and therefore vote a certain way.  Perhaps we just want them to care about water and make decisions with water in mind.  Regardless, interpreters must (1) determine their goals and (2) set objectives by which to measure their effectiveness.

Start With the End in Mind

When I first became an interpreter, if you had asked me what the goals of my program were, my best answer probably would have been “to cover the information I need to in the allotted time.”  This was my goal – but what about my goals for the audience?  What did I hope my audience would take away from my presentation?

This was always a much harder question for me to answer, especially when I was new and unsure what audience expectations were even realistic.  I knew they wouldn’t remember everything I said, especially a few days later, but what did I hope they would remember?  What were my most important points?

Today, having program goals and objectives is especially critical, and essential for those working with students.  Educators usually need to tie their programs to specific curriculum standards and provide some proof of success.  As we struggle to find ways to measure the effectiveness of programs (always a difficult task), having goals and objectives from the outset is crucial.  We need to know what we want our audience to learn and remember, and we need to determine ways to measure our effectiveness in achieving those goals.

Goals: The Big Picture

Goals describe broad desired outcomes.  They may not be measurable, or attainable as the result of a single program.  But they should describe what you ultimately want your program and your audience to accomplish.

A few examples of goals might include:  My audience will…

  1. Make decisions based on a deeper water knowledge.
  2. Realize the water-related ramifications of life in a dry climate.
  3. Appreciate how their actions affect the health of their watershed.
  4. Understand the costs and benefits of transbasin diversions.
  5. Adopt water-saving measures such as Xeriscaping in their homes.

Objectives: Measuring Success

Objectives, in contrast, are used to measure how well you achieved your goal.  All objectives should be measurable.  They require an action, defining what the audience should be able to do, know, or feel after the presentation.

When writing your objectives, consider:

  • Audience:  are you addressing children, families, adults, professionals, or experts in the same field?
  • Behavior:  what do you want the audience to do as a result of your presentation?  Teach, explain, or advocate to others, make informed choices, petition local decision-makers, turn off the faucet when brushing teeth…?
  • Timeframe:  should audience members be able to meet the objective immediately after the presentation (name Colorado’s major rivers), when they get home (install low-flow showerheads), or six months from now – or even later?
  • Degree:  what will indicate success?  It is unrealistic to expect your audience to remember all the points of your presentation, so set limits.  For example: Identify three categories of water users in the state of Colorado, name two ways we can conserve water at home, etc.

Objectives should contain action verbs. These are few examples you might want to consider when determining your objectives: Answer, choose, demonstrate, describe, explain, list, discuss, prepare, identify, show, tell…

A few examples of objectives: My audience will be able to…

  1. List four beneficial uses of water in Colorado.
  2. Describe in general terms two or three components that make up a healthy waterway.
  3. Explain the importance of Colorado’s snowpack to a family member.
  4. Identify three causes of stormwater pollution and two ways to prevent it.
  5. Demonstrate why adjusting sprinkler heads to fall on the ground only (not sidewalks) will save water and money.

Putting It All Together

When you plan your program, you may want set out 2-3 goals, and then write at least 3 objectives that will measure the success of your goals.

For example, perhaps you are giving a program on water utilities.  You plan to cover the challenges that water providers face, from obtaining water rights to transporting water to the wear and tear on infrastructure to the methodology that goes into calculating rates.  You want to encourage water conservation. Your audience is the general public, many of whom may be unaware of the basics of utilities management.

GOAL: Coloradans will understand the underlying costs associated with their water bill.

OBJECTIVES:  The audience will be able to…

  1. Name their water provider.
  2. Name the source of their water.
  3. Identify three key costs affecting the calculation of the water bill.
  4. List two ways they can conserve water in their homes.

Determining Effectiveness

Depending on the type of program you give, you may not be able to ascertain whether you met your goals or objectives.  If you are presenting a classroom program, you may be able to submit follow-up questions to the teachers or students later.  Questions or comments from your audience may also indicate your degree of success.

If you present the same program multiple times, you may want to adjust your objectives and/or goals as you receive feedback, realize what does or does not work in your program, or discover new topics to cover and measure.

And remember your goal as an interpreter – to provoke, to inspire, to encourage your audience to learn more – not to cover everything about your chosen topic.

next step

– Write three goals for a program you are developing or have already established.

– Brainstorm ways to measure these goals.

– Write objectives for a current or future program (remember to define your audience, include an action verb linked to a behavior, set a timeframe, and determine a degree).

– Check out CFWE’s Water Educator Network which provides tools, trainings and collaborations for water educators – look for upcoming topics on measuring program effectiveness through evaluation.

Read the rest of the series on interpretation:
Building a Foundation
Connecting Resources, Audiences, and Meanings
Appealing to Hearts and Minds
What’s Your Point?
Assembling the Puzzle

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