My friend Conny is in town and being with her inspires this post. We met at Bowdoin College in Maine and were roommates for a short time during our sophomore year, but spending time together the following year cemented our friendship. Most of our classmates who studied abroad only did so for one semester, but Conny and I both chose to spend our entire junior year overseas, she in Greece and I in Germany. When my long mid-year break came, I figured out that traveling in Greece in March was more appealing than northern Europe’s damp cold. Her program was an immersive experience that included modern Greek language and history embedded in classical archaeology and mythology. She was a great tour guide for all the sites in Athens and opened my eyes to the wonders of ancient ceramics and architecture. Also Greek food (can you say garlic, lemon, and olive oil?) and sunshine. I was smitten.
After sampling city life, we headed out to explore a few of the legendary islands, notably Naxos, Paros and Santorini. It was Santorini that enchanted us. I remember climbing up a crazy steep long staircase from the harbor, lugging our own bags (because we were feminists, dammit! — and not perhaps as culturally sensitive to the needs of the baggage handlers as we might have been), finding a room to rent in a family’s home and exploring the island. It was Carneval, so everyone had these small plastic hammers and apparently the custom was to bonk each other (and strangers) on the head with them. Come nightfall, we found ourselves in a taverna where we witnessed something if I didn’t have Conny to back me up, I might not believe myself. During the requisite music and dancing part of the evening, after circle and scarf dances accompanied by impromptu live music, a short, thickly set man proceeded to pick up a chair and dance around the room with it — in his teeth! As we were pinching ourselves not quite believing what we were seeing, he put it down and did the same thing with a table. A table. In his teeth. Dancing around the room to a chorus of “Opa!” and hand clapping. We were flabbergasted. Shaking our heads. That feat remains one of the most astounding I have ever witnessed. We must have demonstrated our amazement and joy, as we soon became fast friends with the owners of the taverna and were invited back to their home for the after party. I think in that moment, I fell in love with Greece, with travel, with the kind of experiences you can only have when you get off the beaten track.
What does this have to do with Measurable Outcomes, you say? Well, Conny went on to enjoy a long career at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation where she managed guest research and evaluation as well as directed interpretive education. She became a nationally recognized expert on museum program evaluation. About fifteen years ago she began to transition into consulting for other museums who desire to learn her skills in interpretive history methods, measurement and evaluation. In this way, our paths have converged, because in my strategic planning work I am also confronted with providing measurable outcomes for transformative experiences. When I asked her to boil down her methods into simple terms, she said: “Think-Feel-Do.” What do you want your clients to think, feel, and do after they have experienced one of your programs?
I love both the simplicity and clarity of this way to frame goals. It works for any job, program, project, or class. Of course, just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. But once you have identified outcomes, it does become easier to measure them. Ask yourself: What tools do I have that will help me know what people are thinking, how they are feeling, and what actions they take as a result of the experience? What combination of observation during the experience, exit interviews, surveys, and numerical data afterward can I use to encourage improvement? If I am not sure, where can I go for help?
I look forward to practicing this simple strategy in my own business and encouraging organizations I serve to do the same. I welcome your comments on methods you have found useful to create and measure outcomes.