How Evaluation Saved my Family Christmas

A few weeks ago, my dad sat me down and started asking about whether we’d be having stockings for Christmas, and who would do it, and suggesting that maybe we shouldn’t have stockings anymore.  My sister called me the same night to talk about whether we should have turnips in the mashed potatoes or not.  I could feel the start of it…Christmas drama. 

Instead of engaging in the usual backroom negotiations and lobbying for my preferences, I used appreciative inquiry to think about how I could make this the best Christmas ever.  What do we all really want?  I know that deep down we all want to have a joyful holiday that brings us together to eat good food and enjoy one another’s company.  The worry about what kind of gifts to get or who should cook the gravy using what technique was distracting us from what is truly important. 

I spent some time thinking about the tools I use in my daily work, and I decided to try a Christmas survey.  What better way to find out what everyone wants?  To be successful, this would need to incorporate some important principles:

1.       Full engagement-            Everyone would have to participate to be heard, and the experience would have to be fun to inspire their participation

2.       Transparency-                   The raw results would have to be shared to build trust

3.       Simplicity-                          The survey would have be quick and simple

4.       Actionable recommendations- I’d have to translate the raw data into actionable items that everyone could understand and participate in

Full Engagement

I did my best to make the invitation to the survey fun, and to make the survey itself an enjoyable experience.  I incorporated the following elements:

·         Casual, fun language in the survey invite

·         Explicit statement of goal in the invite: “We want to make this the best Christmas ever”

·         Everyone is asked to click on “I will help make this the best, most fun Christmas ever” at the end of the survey

·         The survey is highly visual with fun and symbolic Christmas images like trees and ornaments

·         The survey questions are short and simple

Transparency

The full results are presented so that everyone can see the raw data.  On top of the raw results, I help with interpretation by clearly showing which choices were most and least popular.  This was important in an environment where one person in a family might speak for another.  For example, in one of the comments, someone said: “Thanks for organizing! Absolutely no purchased items for me or anyone in our family :-) Can't wait for cookie day - I vote sugar cookies”.  Needless to say, the other family members actually voted that they wanted stockings and gifts.  The survey allowed each individual to express their wishes without going through a family representative who might alter their response.  Transparency was key to establishing trust in the process and further supporting buy-in.

Simplicity

The survey has only two questions:

·         How do you feel about the following activities?

·         What do you want to eat?

The scales were simple and fun:

·         Activities:            Love it!    *     Um…maybe.   *     Kill me now.

·         Food:                    Yum J     *     If I must…        *     Gross.

I incorporated images into the survey and the “report” to keep it entertaining. 

Actionable Recommendations

The results were important to share, but in order for people to take the data and act on it, the recommendations needed to be clear.  In the case of Christmas, this took the form of a list of activities, menus for dinner and dessert, and a budget for gifts and stockings. 

Several people made new suggestions in the activities section, so we had a one-question ranking survey sent out to follow up, and we are now starting a new family tradition- we’ll be watching James Bond together.

This is the Best Christmas ever!

I’m happy to say that I’m more convinced than ever that the tools of evaluation can help us to encourage engagement, build relationships, and create a shared sense of purpose and agreed process.  We’ll be having English trifle for dessert, which is my favourite, and everyone has been completely on-task and excited about Christmas.

Happy Holidays!

 


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