Evaluation of programmes makes sense – Prof. Bruce Thyer

Hanlie Smuts -- Tue, 03/15/2016 - 00:00

Evaluation of programmes makes sense – Prof. Bruce Thyer

After delivering his Prestige Lecture as Extraordinary Professor, Prof Bruce Thyer – former Dean of the College of Social Work at the Florida State University, officially became part of the Optentia Research Focus Area family on the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University (NWU Vaal). 

The Indaba Room at Optentia was packed with attentive and keen audience members - among which his son, William.  Prof Thyer is a professor at the College of Social Work at Florida State University and also a research fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science and the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare in the USA.  

Above: Prof. Bruce Thyer

Prof Thyer emphasized the value of the evaluation of social programmes as a critical measurement tool of the success of such programmes.  This kind of research-based measurement is of utmost importance when social programmes have to compete for funding with other academic research activities - which is traditionally seen as being of greater value. 

He listed a host of myths found in the discipline of research that can hamper this kind of evaluation:  among others the misperception that good research needs strong theoretical background (while most pragmatic programmes are not based on theory at all); that the success of the programme must be proven by such research (while the reality is that research can in fact prove that the programme is ineffective, but that this is also good as the funds of such a programme may then be applied in a more productive way).  Prof Thyer also tended to the misperception that the size of the research sample must be an accurate representation of the population that the research is targeting.  The reality is, however, that in many cases the sample is drawn in a certain way due to convenience; when it is eg. drawn from a group who makes use of a service on a certain day (which may turn out to be all male or all from one certain ethnic group).

Taking these myths into account, Prof Thyer means to say that the research needed to evaluate programmes such as these (social programmes) are a lot simpler than one would think.  He says that simple questions may be answered by simple studies.  The success of a programme may be determined by merely asking the respondent what outcome it helped him/her achieve.  When a group of matric learners completed an additional course in mathematics, researchers may look at these learners’ matric results to determine the success or value of the programme. 

Prof Thyer says the success of a social intervention programme may be measured even further by asking whether or not it bettered something or helped someone.  A group may be assessed by means of a simple assessment prior to, and again after the completion of, such a programme.  Any differences in scores on the assessment may be attributed (at least in part) to the said programme.  Other questions that may be asked to measure the success of social programmes may include: Did the respondents achieve better over time?  Did the group show a greater level of growth than another group who was NOT exposed to the programme in question?  Is the positive change lasting over the passing of time?

Prof Thyer is of the opinion that the most conventional programmes cannot answer these questions.  The evaluation of social programmes and getting these answers makes sense in determining the success or failure and- in the long run - sustainability of such programmes.

Prof Ansie Fouché spoke to Prof Thyer about his lecture.  Click below for the audio visual clip: