Assessment professionals use the term “close the loop” a lot. (The irony is that if it is a loop, it is already closed.) The gist is that you reassess the changes you made based on some assessment you did, which led to the decision to make that change in the first place. Makes sense, right?
I think the challenge is that we move quickly and move on to the next thing quickly. In order to really “close the loop,” we need to plan and document. Let’s take a look at this step by step as a long(er) term process.
Let’s say you have an idea to assess something…a conference, student learning, climate, etc. You spend quality time thinking about what you really want to know, from whom, in what manner, and when. You create a great assessment (survey, focus group, observation, etc.) that answers your question(s). Usually, you confirm that you are doing many things right. Your audience is having a positive experience, learning what you intended them to learn, etc. Most of the time, there are a couple of things that you could do better based on your assessment results. (Remember, your assessment should be very focused because you can’t work on 100 things in the next year.) As a good student affairs professional, you make plans to change something in your program/service/activity and move on to the next project or program.
But wait! You’re not done. As you decide to make a change (or two or three), You need to make sure you actually implement them. You also need to make a plan to reassess the thing(s) you change. Don’t just walk away and assume the change is beneficial. Do you have a rationale as to why you think your change will be an improvement? When will you reassess the change to be sure it was positive? Where will you document all of that good stuff?
Let’s look at a simple example. If you host an annual conference and collect data through a survey after each iteration, you may have a built in mechanism. Last year’s participants really disliked the food, which rated a 2.3 out of a 5-point scale and expressed displeasure in their comments. You discussed the results with your staff and decided to seek out a new caterer. After taste testing three options (what a great assessment gig!), you choose the new caterer that you think will meet your needs within the budget you have. This year, the assessment results changed dramatically, with a score of 4.4 out of 5.0. You decide to renew your contract with that caterer for next year and note that in your transition documents. While that is a very basic example, it illustrates that you assessed, reviewed the results with others, made a decision about change, implemented the change, assessed the change, and documented the process and assessment.
While this process is the right thing to do, it also helps with accountability. Departmental and institutional assessment plans seek documentation about assessment, change, and reassessment. It can be really easy to overlook the reassessment step if there is not accountability to remind us the importance of doing it.
I hope this information was helpful in framing “closing the loop.” Feel free to reach out to Student Life Studies for assistance. We are always here to help.