Our cooking skills study group recently met to discuss how they are getting on with the challenges of thoroughly evaluating their cooking skills courses.
For many people that run cooking courses (or any other type of courses), it won’t be necessary to carry out the amount of evaluation that we are expecting from members of our study group. However, you might like to pick and choose from some of the different evaluation methods they have been trying out.
All the members are aiming to use a combination of three different methods or sources to find out if their courses are ‘working’ – that is, finding out if each course participant has achieved each of the outcomes planned for the course.
Two popular evaluation methods/sources are observation and questionnaires (and we have discussed these in previous blog posts). A third method/source that many members are also attempting to use is – to try and get the views of referral agencies, or any support staff that attend with participants.
As study group members often recruit participants through support agencies or community projects, getting support staff or volunteer views on participants’ progress makes sense. Their views can help verify and explain what participants themselves have reported. So, if a participant has reported that (for example) they are cooking more meals from ‘scratch’ than they did before attending a course, their support worker may be able to confirm this (or not).
It’s not that cooking course participants are more likely to exaggerate their achievements than anyone else – cross-checking evaluation information from one source (such as participants’ self-reporting through a questionnaire) with another source (such as the support workers) strengthens any evaluation project. Using three different sources as a way of evaluating is known as ‘triangulation’.
So, how can you get referral agencies to help you with evaluation? Our cooking skills study group discussed how they could encourage agencies to get involved. Their ideas included:
- Meet with the referral agency, build up a relationship with them and tell them what it is you are trying to do.
- Let them know their views are valued.
- Provide them with clear, tailored questions (for example: if asking evaluation questions by email).
- If they attend the course with participants – write up any spontaneous comments they make that indicate whether participants’ are (or are not) achieving outcomes (make sure both they and participants know you will do this).
- Arrange a meeting or focus group with them to discuss and reflect whether participants’ have achieved the planned outcomes.
- Ensure that referral agencies are aware that you need both positive and negative evaluation information.
If you don’t recruit participants through referral agencies, there may be other people that you can cross-check evaluation information with, such as participants’ family members, or staff or volunteers in other organisations. Anyone who knows the participants and the aims of your course may be able to help. However, you’ll need consider if they may be more inclined to give you more positive, rather than negative evaluation information.
More information about ‘triangulating’ evaluation methods/sources for cooking skills courses can be found in our publication ‘What’s cooking in Scotland? Part 2’.