1.1 What is Assessment?

Although the terms “evaluation” and “assessment” are often used interchangeably in everyday usage, in many fields (such as education and community development) they are distinct concepts.

An assessment is an activity that collects data to use as evidence to answer a question. For example, you may want to know what your young patrons think about your library’s teen space. In order to answer this question, you could conduct any number of assessments. You could observe the teens using the space, taking note of how they interact with the space and what they do in it. You could ask teens what they think directly by conducting interviews or distributing a survey. Whatever method you choose, you are collecting data (observations, statements from the interviews, or survey results) which you will analyze and use as evidence. Perhaps most of the teens like the furniture, but want more computers or a different layout. This evidence answers your original question — what do your teenage patrons think about the teen space?

What questions can you answer with an assessment?

Assessments can help you answer many different questions, such as:

  • What knowledge or skill does a teen have in a particular area?
  • What was the scale of an initiative’s impact?
  • What benchmarks should we use to help measure progress later?
  • What or how much did a teen learn from the program?
  • How do teens feel about the program?
  • What are participants’ attitudes toward a topic?
  • What was improved or achieved?
  • How many teens were helped?
  • How quickly were issues resolved?
  • What was the quality of the program implementation?

Three phases of program trajectory.

According to Evaluating Library Programming, data collection and analysis relating to a library program can occur in three different stages. Each stage serves a different purpose, and may require different collection and analysis techniques:

  • Identifying, where data is collected to help make decisions for new programming
  • Reflecting, where data is used to improve ongoing programming (formative evaluation)
  • Documenting, where outcomes are captured to evaluate the overall impact of a program (summative evalution)