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Assessments: The "art" of Performance Measurement: How We Can Implement Best Practice Assessments (from the medical profession) in Development

Tanya Gupta's picture

In our last two blogs, we spoke about why measurement is key for development professionals and what should we measure? and about some take-aways from the medical profession on the measurement of competencies and performance. In this blog, we discuss specific ways we can use those lessons and apply them to the development sector.

As we discussed, in the medical world, lessons learned in competency and performance measurement relate to:

  • The focus on competencies, performance, and the space in between

  • Competence being specific to situations and existing on a continuum

  • Assessment as a program of activity that uses multi-source qualitative and quantitative information

  • The importance of the reproducibility of assessments

  • Encouraging the use of a portfolio.

But how can the above be specifically applied to development? Development practitioners can certainly take a page from the medical profession, as the stakes for getting measurement right are no less than bettering the lives of those who live on less than a dollar a day.

Here are some ideas about how we could use the above principles in measuring competencies and performance in the development world:

  • Differentiate between competencies (general and sector specific) and performance: Development organizations may benefit from having separate but interrelated frameworks to measure competencies and performance.  Competency could be general (for instance you could say that all staff need to have a technology competency) or sector specific (agriculture, engineering, etc). Performance measurement would relate the competence to the quality of its application in the workplace. For example, a staff member may be the world’s expert on agricultural systems and may, therefore, have a competency measure of 100%. However, in the field, failure to do an adequate political economy assessment may lead to a less- than- stellar performance.

  • Do away with the career development map: Competency models could be used to show and encourage competence progression (an improvement over career development maps). As an example, the competency model for an effective climate change expert could involve competencies in climate change, economics, political economy, management, environmental science. To slowly gain experience in the different facets of the model would be more productive than a career development map that goes from a climate change analyst all the way to a senior expert.

  • Use information systems: Almost all of the “real-life” interactions in the modern workplace are already being captured in our systems. If assessment is now thought of as a “program of activity” that collects and integrates quantitative and qualitative information from different sources, much of this information can be derived from the organizational management information system (MIS).  For example, requests for help from colleagues and the provision of help to colleagues are already captured via email.  The challenge, then, becomes how to extract this information in a meaningful way so that it can be translated into useful metrics.

  • Multisource evaluation: Use multiple methods to collect evidence and using multiple raters over time. Development professionals interact with junior professionals, seniors, colleagues, clients, counterparts, and others.  Over time they become more effective and gain knowledge.  Methods to capture both the multisource feedback and the growth of the skills over time will put us in a better position to do rigorous assessments.

  • Create knowledge portfolios, kill LinkedIn: Through technology, automate the creation of virtual knowledge portfolios that capture “dossiers of evidence” that illustrate and document a practitioner's education and practice.  These dossiers can then be used as a source for measures of competency and performance.

Finally, common to both development and the medical profession is the challenge of measuring intangibles.  As Paul pointed out in a comment to our last blog, intangibles such as personal loyalty should not affect the rigor of measurement.  It is our belief that these factors are not, in fact, as impossible to quantify (albeit a bit fuzzily) as they are perceived to be. We believe that measurement of intangibles would necessarily be a rough proxy of reality, but to account for them would be vastly better than ignoring them completely.  We will explore this idea further in our next blog.

Photo by Nugroho Nurdikiawan Sunjoyo via the World Bank Photo Collaction, available here.
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