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#BeyondTheMean

  • Writer's pictureMatthew B. Courtney, Ed.D.

Qualitatively Evaluating Local Innovations



Evaluating the impact of local educational innovations is crucial for gaining deep insights into their effectiveness and areas where they can be improved. Qualitative evaluations offer rich, detailed views that go beyond numbers, capturing the subtleties of user experiences and the nuanced impacts of new initiatives. This type of assessment allows educators to understand not only the outcomes but also the processes and cultural contexts that shape the success or failure of educational innovations. Below, we explore 15 qualitative methods to evaluate educational innovations, each providing unique and valuable perspectives.


  1. Interviews with Stakeholders: Conduct in-depth interviews with a range of stakeholders including teachers, students, parents, and administrators. These conversations can reveal personal experiences and individual perspectives on the innovation. They provide an opportunity to explore the perceived benefits and drawbacks in detail, offering insights that surveys might miss. Moreover, interviews can uncover the deeper motivations and resistances to change that inform the broader impact of the innovation.

  2. Focus Groups: Organize focus groups to facilitate discussions among different groups affected by the innovation. This method encourages participants to express their views in a social setting, where they can interact and influence each other's opinions, providing a richer understanding of community reactions. Focus groups can help identify consensus areas and divergent views, enriching the understanding of the innovation’s impact. They are particularly useful for exploring complex issues and generating new ideas about improving the innovation.

  3. Observations: Implement direct observations in classrooms, meetings, or other environments where the innovation is being used. Observational data can capture the dynamics of interaction, usage, and engagement in a natural setting. This method helps evaluators see how the innovation integrates into regular activities and its immediate effects on behavior and interactions. Observations can also reveal discrepancies between reported behaviors and actual practices, providing a grounded understanding of the innovation's implementation.

  4. Document Analysis: Review various documents related to the innovation, such as project plans, meeting minutes, teacher notes, and communications between stakeholders. Analyzing these documents can shed light on the intended goals versus actual outcomes, and the consistency of the innovation's implementation across different contexts. This method can also reveal how the innovation is being discussed and documented internally, which is critical for understanding organizational commitment and possible areas of resistance.

  5. Case Studies: Develop case studies that focus on specific instances or particular aspects of the innovation. This approach allows for an in-depth exploration of the innovation's impact on individual learners, teachers, or schools. Case studies provide a narrative that illustrates key successes and challenges, offering valuable lessons that can be applied to other contexts. They also allow for a comprehensive examination over time, capturing the evolution of impacts as the innovation matures.

  6. Ethnographic Studies: Engage in ethnographic research by embedding within the school or community. This method involves a detailed study of the cultural, social, and interpersonal dynamics that influence the adoption and outcomes of the innovation. Ethnography allows evaluators to experience the daily routines and interactions that shape the educational setting, providing a deep, contextual understanding of the innovation's effects.

  7. Participant Diaries: Invite participants to keep diaries or learning logs throughout the implementation of the innovation. This method provides a personal, longitudinal account of how individuals interact with and feel about the innovation over time. Diaries can capture evolving attitudes and detailed experiences, offering insights into the user journey that other methods might miss. They also empower participants by involving them actively in the evaluation process.

  8. Expert Reviews: Utilize external experts to assess and critique the innovation. Experts can provide an unbiased assessment, comparing the innovation against current best practices and theoretical frameworks. Their reviews can help identify strengths and weaknesses from a professional standpoint, providing credibility to the findings. Additionally, expert insights can guide further refinement of the innovation, ensuring it aligns with broader educational standards and goals.

  9. Feedback Sessions: Conduct regular feedback sessions with users to discuss their experiences with the innovation. These sessions should be open-ended and designed to encourage honest and detailed feedback. They provide a forum for users to share their thoughts in a less structured environment than formal surveys or interviews. Feedback sessions are valuable for gathering immediate reactions and suggestions for improvement, fostering a sense of ownership and involvement among participants.

  10. Artifacts Collection: Collect and analyze artifacts created as a result of the innovation, such as student assignments, digital footprints, and teacher planning documents. These artifacts can provide concrete examples of how the innovation has affected teaching and learning practices. Analyzing these outputs helps quantify the qualitative impacts, offering tangible evidence of change. Artifacts also serve as a historical record of the innovation's effects and adaptations over time.

  11. Video and Audio Recordings: Make use of video and audio recordings to capture interactions and activities related to the innovation. This approach allows for the detailed observation of behaviors and verbal responses in real-time, which can be reviewed repeatedly to catch nuances that might initially be overlooked. Recordings are particularly useful for training purposes, allowing stakeholders to see exactly what works and what might need adjustment. Additionally, this method provides a dynamic archive of the innovation in action, useful for both current analysis and future reference.

  12. Photovoice: Implement the photovoice technique, where participants use photography to document their experiences with the innovation. This method empowers participants by giving them a direct role in capturing the evidence of the innovation’s impact from their perspective. The resulting photographs provide a visual narrative that can communicate powerful stories and themes that words alone might not capture. Photovoice is especially effective in engaging younger students or other groups who might express themselves more fully through visual means than traditional verbal methods.

  13. Role-Playing: Use role-playing exercises to simulate potential scenarios involving the innovation. This method can help uncover practical challenges and behavioral responses in a controlled, yet imaginative, environment. Role-playing allows participants to experience and react to hypothetical situations, providing insights into readiness and potential areas of conflict or confusion that the innovation might provoke. This technique is also great for training purposes, helping participants to explore different outcomes and refine their approach to implementing the innovation.

  14. Satisfaction Surveys with Qualitative Elements: While satisfaction surveys are often quantitative, adding open-ended questions can transform them into valuable qualitative tools. These questions allow respondents to express in their own words their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the innovation, providing deeper insights into their experiences. Analyzing the text responses can reveal patterns, unexpected outcomes, and detailed suggestions for improvement that numeric data might overlook.

  15. SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats): Conduct a SWOT analysis focusing on gathering qualitative input from various stakeholders about each aspect of the innovation. This strategic tool can highlight areas where the innovation excels and where it may be vulnerable. The analysis also identifies external opportunities for scaling or enhancing the innovation and potential threats that could undermine its success. A qualitative SWOT analysis ensures a comprehensive understanding of the innovation’s position and prospects, making it a powerful tool for planning and decision-making.


Utilizing these 15 qualitative evaluation methods provides a robust framework for understanding the full impact of educational innovations. Each method offers a unique lens through which to view the initiative, contributing to a rich, multi-dimensional portrait of its effectiveness and areas for improvement. By combining these approaches, educational leaders can ensure they have a comprehensive understanding of how innovations perform in real-world settings, leading to better-informed decisions and more effective educational practices. Qualitative evaluations not only highlight what is working but also foster a culture of continuous improvement and stakeholder engagement, essential for the sustained success of any educational innovation.

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