Monday, 1 July 2013


This post is triggered by the Carol Ross's blogpost, which I consider as the start of a fruitful discussion between facilitators.

How do we know what is or isn't working for participants?

The issue of evaluating the writing group process is all about comparing what a person's 'situation' was at the start of the group with the situation at the end. And in my view it is only the person, her or himself, who needs to do the comparing and draw the conclusions.

The main problem I've found over the years (similar to therapeutic contexts), is that people forget how they were when they started. Thus they cannot really compare the end situation with their baseline.
This led me to develop some subjective tools for participants to record baselines and to employ personal journal writing at each session in order to track the process. When it comes to evaluating the whole process at the conclusion of the sessions, each participant has this record to compare with.
(I am thankful to Celia Hunt and the 2009-2010 teaching team of the Sussex MA in Creative Writing and Personal Development for helping me to fine-tune these tools.)

To help people remember, I ask them at the first session (of 12 ) to write a letter to themselves, in which they set out their goal(s) and expectations of this writing group. Suggestions for this letter can be found at my blogpage titled 'First letter to yourself'. 
The letter is then filed at the back of their folder for future reference. No one else will read the letter, but if they want to share anything from it with the group they are of course free and welcome to do so.

Towards the end of each session about 5 minutes are set aside for personal journalling: "what I want to remember from this session".

At the last session they are asked to write a second letter to themselves, evaluating what they now feel/think/know that they actually got out of the group. (See blogpage titled 'Second letter to yourself').   
They are then invited to compare the second letter (any outcomes) with the first (any goals and expectations).
After all this there can be a questionnaire, but without any 'leading' questions. In my current study there is a follow up 6 months after the end of the group in the form of a personal interview, held by an external person. Questions are at the page entitled 'Evaluation interview topic guide'.

These intensely personal evaluations are meant for the benefit of the participants and serve as feedback for the facilitator. They do not fit any quantitative, standardised format that allows for comparisons between people and populations.

As always I welcome comments of any kind.

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