An Assessment Director’s Dilemma: How to Get Assessment Work from People Who Do Not Report to Us

February 12, 2020

Cynthia Tweedell, Ph.D.

Professionals working in institutional effectiveness go by many titles: Assessment Coordinator, Director of Learning Outcomes Assessment, Assistant Provost for Institutional Effectiveness, etc. We probably don’t have a large staff but are responsible for coordinating assessment reports, assessment testing, accreditation reporting, and a wide variety of other duties. We may not be in senior administration, but to do our jobs, we must gain cooperation from people in faculty, student development, institutional technology, admissions, advising, and many other departments. Why should they take time away from the press of their regular duties to meet with us, collect data, get us a report, or serve on a committee? What’s in it for them?

How do we encourage people to engage in assessment when they do not directly report to us? I recently posted this question on the Association of Higher Education Effectiveness listserve (ahee.org). Here are some of the responses:

  1. Bargaining: Alan Sturtz, Director of Institutional Research, Emeritus at Naugatuck Valley Community College, requests data from colleagues with the understanding that when they need data, it will be provided to them. Assessment leaders become the collectors of important information that is needed in program review, accreditation, planning, marketing, advancement, and many other functions of the college. A quid pro quo approach can work very well, as long as we are timely in responding to their requests.
  2. Connect assessment with budgeting: Julie Penley, Vice President of Research, Accreditation, and Planning for El Paso Community College, suggests showing how assessment data can support budget requests for additional resources (people, money, space). This seems to answer the question, "What’s in it for me?"
  3. Suggest an assessment policy: Rachael Whittingham, Learning Resources Division Chair at Central Baptist College, reports they recently drafted a campus Assessment Policy that is going through the approval process. This legitimizes the authority of the assessment committee to request reports from departments.
  4. Establish good relationships with those in authority: Heather Snider at Rock Valley College, and Marla Smith at Mitchell Technical Institute report it is important to have support from department chairs and the Vice President for Academic Affairs. Assessment directors can "borrow" the authority from others by mentioning them in the requests, such as:
    • "The Provost needs to see this report by . . . ."
    • "Your department chair will need to review these data."
    • "The President is requesting I collect data on . . . ."
  5. Appeal to the shared concern for accreditation: I’ve found faculty are particularly responsive when an accreditation visit is around the corner. They often come to me, asking, “What do I need to provide for accreditation?” In an era of increased monitoring by accrediting agencies, there are more opportunities to say something like, “SACS is asking for a report on . . . ."

These responses show an overall need to build relationships and show that we in institutional effectiveness have their interests at heart. It seems we need to do a good job of impression management to gain the trust of the people from whom we are making requests. People must trust that when we make a request, we have a good reason for doing so. In order to get them to comply, we must build a relationship and demonstrate our worth as their partner. Otherwise, they may see us as adding to the bureaucratic burden of yet another request that interferes with their “real work” at the institution.

Attempting to coerce people to write assessment reports against their will is never a good idea. If you perceive people are avoiding you out of fear of yet another request for data, you might rethink your impression management. By creating a good collegial atmosphere and having a highly professional demeanor, people will trust that when you make a request, it is legitimate. When people perceive that you speak from a place of service and support, they are much more likely to respond positively. It’s like your mamma said: "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."