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  • Further Education Society of Alberta

Dig Insights - 2019 Celebration of Learning Award (Organization)

Dig Insights is a marketing research and evaluation firm based in Toronto and the external evaluator for our Going the Distance project. We recognize their significant contributions to FESA, including the development of the PhotoVoice app which has given us tremendous insight into our Going the Distance participants.

We reached out to Patricia King, VP of Evaluation, and Marshal Rodrigues, Evaluation Manager, to learn more about Dig, evaluation and their partnership with us on Going the Distance.

1. Why has Dig leveraged emerging technologies into the field of evaluation?

As evaluators, our job is to support our clients as they design, develop, implement and reflect upon the programming they offer to their clients. To do this effectively, we need to speak to the participants in a way that is familiar to them – and in today’s world, that means we always need to consider a tech solution. Technology not only leads to higher engagement, it also helps overcome the limitations of traditional methodologies. By using emerging technology, participants are no longer limited by reading ability, geographical location or language proficiency to partake in evaluation. They can use their voice, pictures and even emojis to share their experience. Participants don’t have to wait ten weeks to express what they’ve learned throughout the program. Through technology we can communicate with participants on an ongoing basis and capture their learnings as they are happening – it is a game changer!

2. What makes the PhotoVoice app an innovative tool for users? For Dig?

At Dig, we have seen the impact of technology on how we talk to consumers in market research. However, while technology has been advancing, the evaluation field has been slow to incorporate it into our traditional methodologies. We see the over usage of in-person and telephone surveys, as well as in-person focus groups that only occur once or twice during the entirety of a program.

Dig developed PhotoVoice to provide users the ability to take evaluation into their own hands. The platform takes the learnings of social media (think Instagram and Facebook) and allows participants to upload photos or videos to show the impact the program has had on them in real time. They can provide a caption and hashtag to show that they understand and can apply their learnings from inside the classroom to outside situations. PhotoVoice also provides a fun and innovative way to capture qualitative and quantitative data, while interacting and learning from others in the program.

3. Tell us about storytelling as a research method. In what ways can storytelling inform design, participation and evaluation?

Storytelling is one of the most traditional forms of evaluation. It clearly demonstrates the changes a person, community, and organization has experienced from the beginning to the end of the intervention. It’s an approachable method that is culturally sensitive and can be easily customized to users’ needs and abilities.

When storytelling is identified as an appropriate method for an evaluation, it helps frame all the work that is being done. Storytelling helps place the user in control of the evaluation. It is their story to tell – so we look for methods that will allow them to share their story, whether through the PhotoVoice app, site visits, using visual representations, interviews or video recordings.

When writing evaluation reports, it’s sometimes difficult to showcase the participants’ journey. Through storytelling, we bring their journey to life by including more individual call outs and case studies so that the end user of the report can really feel the impact of the program.

4. What’s been your favourite part about working on this project with FESA?

Where to start! At Dig, we love working with both the staff and the clients at FESA. From FESA’s care for each of their learners, to their innovative and fearless approach that pushes them beyond the scope of their programs, and their amazing ability to reflect on their target users within both the general population and Indigenous communities across Canada and adapt to their programming to best meet the individual learner’s needs.

As evaluators, it also gives us the opportunity to be innovative and create new tools to keep up with the amazing work happening at the organizational level. The FESA team want to learn, they want to hear what we have to say, and they use our evaluation findings to make their programming better for their clients – what more could you ask for?

5. Why is evaluation important and what’s the most exciting aspect of it for you?

Evaluation is not just a process, it’s a culture. So, when an organization like FESA embraces evaluation to ensure their programs are supporting participants to the best of their ability and are being responsive to the ever-changing needs – that is exciting!

So why is it important? There are so many reasons. But let’s talk about the basics.

First and foremost, as an organization, you need to know if your program is working – is it meeting the needs of your clients? It is achieving the expected outcomes? And if not, what can be changed to support your clients better? Embracing evaluation helps an organization do their job to the best of their ability – an eyes open approach!

And secondly, while it is great to be doing amazing work, to be successful in growing an organization (and therefore help more clients), it’s important to measure and report on outcomes so that others know it too. So maybe I’m biased, but good performance measurements and evaluation practices equals all levels of success!

6. Is there anything else you would like to add or highlight?

At Dig, we consider ourselves a partner to FESA. It is not a one-sided relationship – we have the opportunity to work with an organization that truly embraces evaluation and works with their partners to better serve their clients. We truly hope our relationship with FESA will expand far beyond the Going the Distance project to impact more learners across Alberta and the country.

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