We—humans—spend a lot of time in groups. Families, workplaces, churches, mosques, and synagogues, political organizations, sports teams, clubs, associations, etc. A “group” is a collection of two or more people that interact, communicate, and influence one another. A crowded elevator or a subway car is not generally considered a group; it’s a crowd. A club or a work-team is a group.
Groups are the settings for a range of behaviors, all of which entail human interaction and influence. Individuals become members of groups in order to achieve goals and to satisfy needs. Groups have shared goals, or agendas, which include their “task agenda”—getting work done; and their “social agenda”—meeting the social-emotional and identity needs of members. Groups assign members to roles that prescribe a set of expectations for each member’s behavior. These roles typically have different statuses, or different levels of prestige associated with each role. There are “in-groups” and “out-groups”; the former are groups with which people identify as members and the latter are groups with which people don’t identify and are often “assigned” by members of other groups. An organization is a kind of group, whose members work together for a shared purpose in a continuing way. Organizations can contain various groups, both formal and informal, within its boundaries.
Groups have different levels of cohesion or incoherence. Both internal competition among group members and external competition with other groups, can affect the degree of cohesion, or solidarity of the group. While cohesion is important to most groups, if excessive, it can be the cause of undesirable factors like “groupthink” which can lower the quality of the group’s decision-making ability, lead to closed-mindedness, prejudice, and exert undue pressure to conform.
These features and dynamics (above) are applicable to most groups. They are especially noticeable at work, where group dynamics are often operative. Status of members, specified roles, pressures towards conformity and “groupthink”, leadership and “followership,” group decision-making, etc., are issues with which we must often deal—both consciously and unconsciously. In the for-profit world and the non-profit world, group dynamics are at play. Awareness of these features can help us to productively deal with them, rather than experience them unconsciously, and at times, adversely.
When you’re thinking about doing an evaluation — either conducting one yourself, or working with an external evaluator to conduct the evaluation — there are a number of issues to consider. (See our earlier article “Approaching an Evaluation—Ten Issues to Consider”)
I’d like to briefly focus on four of those issues:
- What is the “it” that is being evaluated?
- What are the questions that you’re seeking to answer?
- What concepts are to be measured?
- What are appropriate tools and instruments to measure or indicate the desired change?
1. What is the “it” that is being evaluated?
Every evaluation needs to look at a particular and distinct program, initiative, policy, or effort. It is critical that the evaluator and the client be clear about what the ‘it” is that the evaluation will examine. Most programs or initiatives occur in a particular context, have a history, involve particular persons (e.g. staff and clients/service recipients) and are constituted by a set of specific actions and practices (e.g., trainings, educational efforts, activities, etc.) Moreover, each program or initiative has particular changes (i.e. outcomes) that it seeks to produce. Such changes can be manifold or singular. Typically, programs and initiatives seek to produce changes in attitudes, behavior, knowledge, capacities, etc. Changes can occur in individuals and/or collectivities (e.g. communities, schools, regions, populations, etc.)
2. What are the questions that you’re seeking to answer?
Evaluations like other investigative or research efforts, involve looking into one or more evaluation questions. For example, does a discreet reading intervention improve students’ reading proficiency, or does a job training program help recipients to find and retain employment? Does a middle school arts program increase students’ appreciation of art? Does a high school math program improve students’ proficiency with algebra problems?
Programs, interventions, and policies are implemented to make valued changes in the targeted group of people that these programs are designed to serve. Every evaluation should have some basic questions that it seeks to answer. By collaboratively defining key questions, the evaluator and the client will sharpen the focus the evaluation and maximize the clarity and usefulness of the evaluation findings. (See “Program Evaluation Methods and Questions: A Discussion”)
3. What concepts are to be measured?
Before launching the evaluation, it is critical to clarify the kinds of changes that are desired, and then to find the appropriate measures for these changes. Programs that seek to improve maternal health, for example, may involve adherence to recommended health screening measures, e.g., pap smears. Evaluation questions for a maternal health program, therefore might include: “Did the patient receive a pap smear in the past year? Two years? Three years?” Ultimately, the question is “Does receipt of such testing improve maternal health?” (Note that this is only one element of maternal health. Other measures might include nutrition, smoking abstinence, wellness, etc.)
4. What are appropriate tools and instruments to measure or indicate the desired change?
Once the concept (e.g. health, reading proficiency, employment, etc.) are clearly identified, then it is possible to identify the measures or indicators of the concept, and to identify appropriate tools that can measure the desired concepts. Ultimately, we want tools that are able either to quantify, or qualitatively indicate, changes in the conceptual phenomenon that programs are designed to affect. In the examples noted above, evaluations would seek to show changes in program participants’ reading proficiency (education), employment, and health.
We have more information on these topics:
Program evaluation is a way to judge the effectiveness of a program. It can also provide valuable information to ensure that the program is maximally capable of achieving its intended results. Some of the common reasons for conducting program evaluation are to:
- monitor the progress of a program’s implementation and provide feedback to stakeholders about various ways to increase the positive effects of the program
- measure the outcomes, or effects, produced by a program in order to determine if the program has achieved success and improved the lives of those it is intended to serve or affect
- provide objective evidence of a program’s achievements to current and/or future funders and policy makers
- elucidate important lessons and contribute to public knowledge.
There are numerous reasons why a program manager or an organizational leader might chose to conduct an evaluation. Too often however, we don’t do things until we have to. Program evaluation is a way to understand how a program or initiative is doing. Compliance with a funder’s evaluation requirements need not be the only motive for evaluating a program. In fact, learning in a timely way about the achievements of, and challenges to, a program’s implementation—especially in the early-to-mid stages of a program’s implementation—can be a valuable and strategic endeavor for those who oversee programs. Evaluation is a way to learn about and to strengthen programs.
What is Privacy Good For?
The right to privacy is a much-cherished value in America. As we noted in an earlier article, “Transparent as a Jellyfish? Why Privacy is Important” privacy is crucial to the development of a person’s autonomy and subjectivity. When privacy is reduced by surveillance or restrictive interference—either by governments or corporations—such interference may not just affect our social and political freedoms, but undermine the preconditions for the fundamental development and sustenance of the self.
Danial Solove, Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School, lists ten important reasons for privacy including: limiting the power of government and corporations over individuals; the need to establish important social boundaries; creating trust; and as a precondition for freedom of speech and thought. Solove also notes, “Privacy enables people to manage their reputations. How we are judged by others affects our opportunities, friendships, and overall well-being.” (See “Ten Reasons Why Privacy Matters” Danial Solove). Julie Cohen, in “What is Privacy For?” Harvard Law Review, Vol. 126, 2013 writes: “Privacy shelters dynamic, emergent subjectivity from the efforts of commercial and government actors to render individuals and communities fixed, transparent, and predictable. It protects the situated practices of boundary management through which self-definition and the capacity for self-reflection develop.”
Strains on Privacy
Privacy, of course, is under continual strain. In his recent article, “Uh-oh: Silicon Valley is building a Chinese-style social credit system,” (Fast Company, August 8, 2019) Mike Elgan notes that China is not alone in seeking to create a “social credit” system—a system that monitors and rewards/punishes citizen behavior.
China’s state-run system would seem to be extreme (e.g., it rewards and punishes for such things as failure to pay debts, excessive video gaming, criticizing the government, late payments, failing to sweep the sidewalk in front of your store or house, smoking or playing loud music on trains, jaywalking, etc. It also publishes lists of citizens’ social credit ratings, and uses public shaming as a means to enforce desired behavior.) Elgan notes that Silicon Valley has similar designs on monitoring and motivating what it deems as “desirable and undesirable” behavior. The outlines of an ever-evolving corporate-sponsored, technology-based “social credit” system now include:
- Life insurance companies can base premiums on what they find in your social media posts
- Airbnb—now has more than 6 million listings in its system, and the company can ban customers and limit their travel/accommodation choices. Airbnb can disable your account for life for any reason it chooses, and it reserves the right to not tell you the reason.
- PatronScan, an ID-reading service helps restaurants and bars to spot fake IDs—and troublemakers. The company maintains a list of objectionable customers which is designed to protect venues from people previously removed for “fighting, sexual assault, drugs, theft, and other bad behavior,” A “public” list is shared among all PatronScan customers.Under a new policy Uber announced in May: If your average rating is “significantly below average,” Uber will ban you from the service.
- WhatsApp is, in much of the world today, the main form of electronic communication. Users can be blocked if too many other users block you. Not being allowed to use WhatsApp in some countries is as punishing as not being allowed to use the telephone system in America.
While no one wants to endorse “bad behavior,” ceding the power to corporations and technology giants to determine which behavior counts as undesirable and punishable may not be the most just or democratic way to ensure societal norms and expectations. As Elgan observes, “The most disturbing attribute of a social credit system is not that it’s invasive, but that it’s extra-legal. Crimes are punished outside the legal system, which means no presumption of innocence, no legal representation, no judge, no jury, and often no appeal. In other words, it’s an alternative legal system where the accused have fewer rights.” Even more ominously, as Julie Cohen writes, “Conditions of diminished privacy shrink the capacity (of self government), because they impair both the capacity and the scope for the practice of citizenship. But a liberal democratic society cannot sustain itself without citizens who possess the capacity for democratic self-government. A society that permits the unchecked ascendancy of surveillance infrastructures cannot hope to remain a liberal democracy.”
“Uh-oh: Silicon Valley is building a Chinese-style social credit system,” Mike Elgan , Fast Company, August 8, 2019.
“China has started ranking citizens with a creepy ‘social credit’ system — here’s what you can do wrong, and the embarrassing, demeaning ways they can punish you,” Alexandra Ma, Business Insider, Oct. 29, 2018.
“America Isn’t Far Off from China’s ‘Social Credit Score’” Anthony Davenport, Observer, February 19, 2018.
“How the West Got China’s Social Credit System Wrong,” Lousse Matsakis, Wired, July 29. 2019
“Ten Reasons Why Privacy Matters” Daniel Solove
“What Privacy Is For?” Julie Cohen, Harvard Law Review, Vol. 126, 2013
“The Spy in Your Wallet: Credit Cards Have a Privacy Problem,” Geoffrey A. Fowler, The Washington Post, August 26, 2019.
Why do so many of us aspire to be “normal?” Who decides what’s normal and abnormal? What happens to our self- and social- worth when we discover that we aren’t “normal?” In a recent article, “How Did We Come Up with What Counts as Normal,” Jonathan Mooney discusses the rise of an idea that has acquired substantial power in modern society. Mooney notes that “normal’ entered the English language only in the mid-19th century and has its roots in the Latin “norma” which refers to the carpenter’s T-Square. It originally meant simply “perpendicular.” Right-angles however, are considered mathematically “good” and “normal” soon came to be associated not just with their description of the orthogonal angle, but also with the normative notion of something that is desirable or socially expected. Mooney argues that it is this ambiguity as both a descriptive word and as a normative ideal, that makes “normal” so appealing and powerful.
“Normal” was first used in the academic disciplines of comparative anatomy and physiology. For academics in these and other fields, “normal” soon evolved to describe bodies and organs that were “perfect” or “ideal” and also was used to name certain states as “natural”. Eventually, thanks largely to the field of statistics, ideas about the normal soon conflated the average with the ideal or perfect. In the 19th century, for example, Adolphe Quetelet, a deep believer in the power of statistics, advanced the idea of the “average man” and argued that “the normal” (i.e., average) was perfect and beautiful. Quetelet characterized that which was not “normal” not simply as “abnormal,” or non-average, but as something potentially monstrous. “In 1870, in a series of essays on “deformities” in children, he juxtaposed children with disabilities to the normal proportions of other human bodies, which he calculated using averages.” Thus, averages soon became the aspirant ideal.
Mooney also describes how the statistician Francis Galton, who was Charles Darwin’s cousin, “…was both the first person to develop a properly statistical theory of the normal . . . . and also the first person to suggest that it be applied as a practice of social and biological normalization.” “By the early twentieth century, the concept of a normal man took hold. Soon, the emerging field of public health embraced the idea of the normal; schools, with rows of desks and a one-size-fits-all approach to learning, were designed for the mythical middle; and the industrial economy sought standardization, which was brought about by the application of averages, standards, and norms to industrial production. Moreover, eugenics, an offshoot of genetics created by Galton, was committed to ridding the world of human “defectives.”
The ensuing predominance (some might say “domination”) of “the normal” became firmly established by the mid-20th century. Mooney points out however, that the normal was not so much “discovered” as it was invented, largely by statistics and statisticians, and promulgated by the social sciences and moralists. “Alain Desrosières, a renowned historian of statistics wrote, “With the power deployed by statistical thought, the diversity inherent in living creatures was reduced to an inessential spread of “errors” and the average was held up as the normal—as a literal, moral, and intellectual ideal.”
“How Did We Come Up with What Counts as Normal,” Jonathan Mooney, Literary Hub August 16, 2019
Normal Sucks: How to Live, Learn, and Thrive Outside the Lines, Jonathan Mooney, Henry Holt and Co., 2019
For information on social norms (formal and informal norms, morays, folkways, etc.) see https://courses.lumenlearning.com/alamo-sociology/chapter/social-norms/ and “What is a Norm?”