Understanding impact is critical to assure that the best possible programming is being developed to meet the greatest needs and interests, but a discussion of impact raises its own questions. Are the words “outcome” and “impact” interchangeable? Is there still a role for such traditional indicators of success as the number of participants? How will the many terms associated with evaluation co-exist in the research framework? These questions illustrate the complexity of the process ahead.
One challenge in developing the NILPPA research framework is capturing measurable data to reflect seemingly intangible, personal gains. The development of a research framework begins with the shared understanding that the lives of the users of library services, public programming in this case, will be enriched because of their participation. They may learn new skills, enhance their knowledge, develop new interests, or broaden their perspectives on important issues. Their experiences may also be transformative, becoming catalysts for deep-level changes.
The research framework should incorporate ways to assess many levels of impact and capture the changes happening in both the individual and the group. Learning in informal settings, whether in library programs, museum programs, or other contexts, often seeks to stimulate change of attitudes, behavior, or motivations within the program participants.
Some examples of such deep-level impact were defined as:
- Indicators that illustrate a deepening of the trust and reciprocity happening among audience members or community groups;
- An awareness of change occurring in an individual’s or group’s thinking;
- The generation of new questions;
- An increasing sense of confidence in one’s abilities; and
- Recognition that something has “pushed one’s mind.”
Just as the range of programs and intended outcomes is quite wide, the concept of “impact” has many levels and requires ongoing thought. Some goals can be quickly assessed; others will require more complex follow-up. The questions about impact will continue throughout the planning process and have already led to the awareness that a suite of tools will be necessary to provide a comprehensive research study.
How do you or your institution define “success” for library programming?
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