Assessment as a Tool for Organizational Change

NOTE: This blog post is inspired by Margaret Leary. During the ACPA16 Convention she and I discussed ideas she had regarding how assessment can foster organizational change. That conversation me to learn more about organizational change and how assessment might be related to it. This blog post is a result of that research and contemplation.

Higher education is in a constant state of flux. This change is natural and to be expected. In the past, learning to adapt was sufficient to weather change. But, given the current state of endless unpredictability, that is no longer true. To survive today’s and tomorrow’s ever-evolving higher education landscape colleges and universities cannot simply adapt reactively to manage change or even proactively to facilitate it – they need to be designed for change (Kezar, 2014).

The structure of colleges and universities makes designing for change challenging. Institutions of higher education are intricate, multi-layered systems. The larger they are, the more complex. A concerted effort is required to reshape a college or university.

Organizational learning is one model for change management. This concept posits that for organizations to be designed for change, they must continually learn what is working and what is not. Thus, by providing staff and faculty with data, information, and inquiry methods they can solve problems to achieve organizational effectiveness. (Kuk, Banning, and Amey, 2014).

This is where assessment comes in. The two main purposes of assessment are accountability and improvement, with an overall goal of enacting change to increase effectiveness and efficiency. The last step in the assessment cycle, closing the loop, is critical. If data is not utilized for improvement, then assessment is not really being done (Henning & Roberts, 2016).

Building a culture of assessment fosters the shared beliefs, values, and behaviors that data should be used for decision making. When such a culture of exists, infrastructure, systems, and practices are in place enabling assessment to be easily embedded into daily practice. Staff then have tools to use data to understand how effective and efficient their programs and services are producing an organization that is constantly learning what is working and what is not. And, this is an organization designed for change.

Assessment can be a catalyst for organizational change.

Henning, G. & Roberts, D. (2016). Student affairs assessment: Theory and practice. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Kezar, A. (2014). How colleges change: Understanding, leading, and enacting change. New York, NY: Routledge.

Kuk, L., Banning, J., & Amey, M. (2010). Positioning student affairs for sustainable change: Achieving organizational effectiveness through multiple perspectives. Sterling, VA: Stylus.


About Gavin Henning

Gavin is a college student educator with a reputation as an organizer, collaborator, and catalyst for educational change. His professional mission is to generate applied scholarship, bridge theory to practice, create systems and processes, and edify higher education professionals to foster college student learning, development, and success. Gavin has advanced this mission during his 20+ years in higher education in positions including professor, assessment practitioner, and student affairs educator. In his current position as Master of Higher Education Administration and Doctorate of Education Program Director at New England College, Gavin helps prepare the next generation of professionals to improve educational organizations. As president of ACPA – College Student Educators International he leads the premiere higher education association centered on fostering college student learning and development. As founder of Student Affairs Assessment Leaders (SAAL) and member of the executive committee of the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) Gavin helps further a national agenda of accountability and continuous improvement of higher education programs and services. Gavin has been recognized by for his contributions to student affairs and higher education by receiving ACPA’s Annuit Coeptis award and Diamond Honoree awards. Gavin holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Education Leadership and Policy Studies and a Master of Arts degree in Sociology both from the University of New Hampshire as well as a Master of Arts degree in College and University Administration and a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and Sociology from Michigan State University. In his free time Gavin enjoys reading, biking, kayaking, and losing to Facebook Friends in Scrabble.
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