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Managing Assessment in a Political Arena
Dianne M. Timm
Assistant Professor, Department of Counseling and Student Development
Eastern Illinois University

People working together in an organization with competing ideas, values, norms, goals and ways of conducting business, create political environments.  Such differences are normal within any organization (Bolman and Deal, 1997).   Assessment, as an integral part of organizational culture is inherently political.  The data that is collected and shared impacts those within and outside of a given unit, impacting programs, resources, services, and financial allocations further complicating the political environment within an institution (Roberts & Osters, 2006).  Often professionals avoid assessment because they fear what the results might mean to their position, their programs, and the unit as a whole. 

Below are some tips for managing assessment through the political arena:

  • Recognize that you are conducting this assessment in a political environment. 
  • Identify who your key stakeholders, or those with perceived (or real) power. 
  • Identify what the anticipated results may mean to stakeholders.
  • Communicate openly throughout the assessment plan.
  • Disseminate information in a format that will be impactful to key stakeholders.
  • Share how and why this information is important and how it will be used to improve programs and services from the beginning of the assessment plan.
  • Solicit feedback regarding results and make the changes that you and others have identified.

One of the biggest issues when looking at assessment through a political lens is the fear that results of an assessment will result in lost resources, financial or personnel.  However, professionals who know their area and have planned an assessment anticipating results, despite the negative or positive, can better inform those around them throughout the process.  Plan to be open and forthright throughout the process and involve those most impacted by the results (Banta, 2002). Identifying and focusing on how the results will be utilized to inform practice and improve services provides all involved with a positive view of the results (Upcraft & Schuh, 1996).  Assessment done with the intent to continuously improve programs and services has a positive impact on the work we do.

Banta, T. W. (2002). Characteristics of effective outcomes assessments: Foundations and examples. In T. W. Banta, and Associates (Eds.) Building a scholarship of assessment (pp. 261-283).
            San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. (1997). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Morgan, G. (1997). Images of organization. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Roberts, D., & Osters, S. (2006, June 14). The politics of assessment. NASPA NetResults 186.

Upcraft, M.L. & Schuh, J.H. (1996). Assessment in student affairs: A guide for practitioners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Navigating Assessment Politics & Cultivating Buy-in for Assessment
By Beau Seagraves & Jan Davis Barham

The process of navigating assessment politics and cultivating buy-in for assessment activities can be challenging for even the most experienced practitioners.  Recognizing the need to intentionally address these issues early in your planning process will prevent unnecessary complications and promote efficiency in your work.  Schuh and Upcraft (2000) highlight several key points that we can use when considering the politics of assessment:

  • Don’t Do a Study Nobody Wants
  • Identify Important Constituents Before the Study is Conducted
  • Involve Key Constituents Before the Study is Conducted
  • Build Support from Senior Leadership
  • Build Support Among Staff
  • Help Key Audiences Understand the Differences Between Research and Assessment
  • Conduct a Good Study
  • Write a Good Report
  • Report Assessment Study Limitations
  • Be Ready (for political problems to still arise)

Readers should more closely examine Schuh and Upcraft (2000) for a thorough examination of these salient issues related to the politics of assessment.
Cultivating buy-in for assessment activity involves going beyond the recognition and navigation of potential pitfalls and requires practitioners to actively promote the benefits of assessment to key constituents.  When working to cultivate buy-in among senior leadership, an important consideration is the scope of the project.  Implementing small scale assessment efforts that yield important results that lead to improvements is more likely to foster ongoing support than proposing projects that require an initially large fiscal or human resources investment.  Furthermore, connecting assessment activities to existing processes such as budget development, annual reporting and/or accreditation may encourage support from senior leaders as well as middle managers and entry-level staff. 
Barham, Tschepikow, and Seagraves (2010) outlined a series of ten strategies for creating a culture of assessment.  The following six strategies specifically address ways in which buy-in can be cultivated among staff:

  • Provide Ongoing Educational Opportunities for Staff
  • Orient New Staff to Assessment Expectations
  • Build a Common Language Among Staff
  • Build Confidence Among Staff
  • Celebrate Staff Contributions to Assessment Priorities in Ceremonies and Rituals
  • Use Assessment Results in Decision-Making Opportunities

Implementing these strategies may lead to increased assessment literacy, increased engagement in assessment practices, and ultimately the development of an overall culture of assessment.
Barham, J.D., Tschepikow, W.K., & Seagraves, B. (2010).  Creating a culture of assessment.  Manuscript submitted for publication.
Schuh, J.H. & Upcraft, M.L. (2000).  Assessment Politics.  About Campus, 5(4), 14-22. 

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