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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Don’t fear evaluation – embrace it!

Updated: Dec 4, 2022

The word evaluation is superimposed over a woman holding a cell phone

The mere thought of evaluation can be fear-producing.

Memories of bad test scores, nerve-wracking performance appraisals, negative feedback, critical comments, having a project or piece of work judged, getting the letter that says our application was not selected… the list could go on and on.

Why do we avoid evaluation?

Might we avoid evaluation because it conjures up so many negative memories? Why don’t we remember the blue ribbons, acceptance letters, and A grades as readily? According to research, we recall negative memories more easily than positive ones.

The fear of negative evaluation even has a name – atychiphobia – also known as the fear of failure. It is related to social anxiety, body dissatisfaction, and eating disorders.

Humans are also known to fear success and positive evaluation.

We need to embrace and value evaluation

To be successful communicators, we need to reframe our thinking about evaluation. Don’t fear it – embrace it!

When you think of evaluation, what comes to mind? A post-test or a feedback form after a session? A review posted on a website?

Evaluation is all of that and much more. Let's take a closer look and when and how to evaluate communication.

Evaluate throughout communication development

Evaluation is often thought of as something that takes place at the completion of a project but is essential throughout. From conception through completion of a communication endeavor, evaluation serves to keep communication on track to achieve the desired outcomes.

Chapter 38 in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide covers this critical yet often neglected task. The chapter includes a helpful list of the five stages of communication development and the related types of evaluation:

Stage 1 – Assessment of communication problems and needs – needs assessment

Stage 2 – Determination of communication goals and objectives – formative evaluation

Stage 3 – Design of communication message/program – formative evaluation and pilot testing

Stage 4 – Communication implementation – process evaluation and program monitoring

Stage 5 – Communication outcomes – outcome evaluation

5 Tips for Effectively Evaluating Communication

I created a tip series for Effectively Evaluating Communication, summarizing five key concepts from the chapter that when put into practice will increase your communication effectiveness:

Tip #1: Evaluation is essential

How does one know if communication is successful? One word: evaluation. Without assessing the entire process and measuring the final outcome, it’s anyone’s guess whether a message hit the target and led to the desired result. Evaluation tells us if the audience was aware, if they understood, and if the message made a difference in their knowledge, attitudes, or behaviors.

Tip #2: Inform creation with evaluation

Evaluating communication consists of more than counting attendees or administering post-tests. It begins with gathering information that guides message and program development from the conception of the initial idea through implementation and delivery. Formative evaluation engages the audience and ensures communication is effectively tailored to meet their needs.

Tip #3: Assess fidelity, dose, and reach

Process evaluation assesses the effectiveness of communication delivery. Three dimensions commonly measured are fidelity, dose, and reach. Was the communication delivered as planned? That’s fidelity. How much was delivered? That’s dose. What proportion of the target audience received the communication? That’s reach. Evaluation identifies barriers to success.

Tip #4: Think qualitative and quantitative

Which evaluation methods should be employed? There are many options – metrics, surveys, focus groups, interviews, observations – each with pros and cons. Consider audience factors and available resources. Consider qualitative as well as quantitative methods to collect more than numerical data and gain explanations and deeper understanding. Evaluate and validate your method.

Tip #5: Determine outcomes and future directions

Ultimately, outcome or summative evaluation assesses the degree to which desired outcomes were achieved. The end result is rarely a surprise when formative and process evaluation occurred along the way, helping explain why goals or objectives were or were not met. Problem-solving continues as outcome evaluation serves to direct future communication efforts.

Interested in learning more about evaluation in nutrition communication? Access the recording of the third and final webinar in our series for Dietitians in Business and Communication: Market and Measure for Success (release date May 18, 2021)

Don’t fear evaluation – embrace it!

“Evaluation is creation: hear it, you creators! Evaluating is itself the most valuable treasure of all that we value. It is only through evaluation that value exists: and without evaluation the nut of existence would be hollow. Hear it, you creators!” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

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