7 tips for evaluating your spiritual formation program

Feedback Form Excellent Dominik Gwarek

As the end of the program year draws near, I know that there’s still lots on your to do list --  graduation celebrations, thanking volunteers, maybe an iConfirm service. But if it isn’t already on there, please add one very important task to your list: evaluating your spiritual formation program. 

There are two different approaches to this evaluation, and I recommend doing both of them. The first is to get evaluation and feedback from participants (and possibly non-participants!); and the second is to do an internal check on what worked and what didn’t. 

Today I’m going to focus on soliciting participant feedback and will follow up next week on how we evaluate ourselves.

Soliciting Feedback

Here are a few things I’ve gleaned over the years about getting feedback from program participants.

  • Think through what you want to find out. This may seem obvious, but it actually takes a little time and is the first thing you need to consider. For example, if you know you're not going to change curriculum, “Was it a good program?” may be less important than “What were some of the barriers that made it difficult for people to participate in this program?” “Did you enjoy it?” may be less important than “How likely are you to continue to be active in our congregation in future?” What information will help you the most with changes you have in mind?
  • Think about who your audience is. Is it just participants? Is it teachers? Mentors? Parents? Whose feedback do you need? If you have the bandwidth, err on the side of including as many audiences as possible. Bear in mind, you may need to make slightly different tools for data collection for different audiences. Speaking of which...
  • What tool will you use for collecting info? I'm a big fan of the general survey, which is where I'm focusing my attention in the suggestions that follow. But you may instead prefer a forum or discussion, one-on-one meetings, a suggestion box, or other techniques. However, I think a survey is extremely helpful if you want to receive focused feedback on particular issues. I love SurveyMonkey and use it all the time.
  • Keep surveys short and clear. The reason you need to think through what you want to find out very carefully is so that when you create a survey, you ask only what you need and no more. Do your best to keep it under 10 questions. Use easy, one-answer multiple choice questions wherever possible. Using a five-point Likert scale can help get nuance even in a very short survey.
  • Keep it anonymous. You’re much more likely to get good feedback if people feel free to say what they really think. By and large in my experience, people who have participated in a program in good faith are good about honest, constructive feedback. The folks who are going to be nasty have been sniping at you all along. So for the sake of those who want to be honest but have difficulty saying hard truths in person, allow for anonymity.
  • Put yourself in the participants’ shoes. As you are writing your survey, be sure to take your prospective audience into account. For example, if you want to know what keeps people from coming to your program, for youth you may want to include “Can’t get a ride,” while middle-aged adults may be traveling for work and older adults may have difficulty going places at night.
  • Leave room for unexpected responses. Do your best to provide appropriate choices, but there are always things we haven’t thought of. Leave space for “other” so people can help you understand more about how you can help them.
  • Evaluate and use the information you gather! Once you get the data, don’t let it go to waste. Analyzing the feedback you get is an incredibly powerful way, not only to improve your program, but to show people that you respect and care about them and their situation and will listen to what they have to say.

We’ll talk more about evaluating feedback in part 2, when we focus on our internal check.