A comparison of appreciative inquiry and nominal group techniques in the evaluation of a college counseling center
McGough, Elizabeth M
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Program evaluation is increasingly essential in higher education. The focus on retention and graduation rates is similar to corporate focus on the "bottom line." The connection between academic success and student affairs activities is not always apparent, increasing their need to use evaluation data to justify continued funding. The competing demands for accountability and economy are creating a need for efficient and effective evaluation methods. This study used Phase 2 of an on-going assessment of the Counseling Center's programs and services as an opportunity to compare Appreciative Inquiry and Nominal Group methods. The interrelated needs for advancing evaluation methodology in the context of complex problems facing college counseling centers and issues raised in the literature are addressed. Five focus groups were held with stakeholders from the college and surrounding community. Two of the groups used Appreciative Inquiry and the other three were run with Nominal Group methods. The participants were also asked to complete brief questionnaires before and after the focus groups. Content and process comparisons were made between two types of groups to answer the following questions: In what ways are the results or output from these groups similar and different? How do the groups compare based on the number and usefulness of ideas generated (brainstorming)? How does acceptance (or buy-in) of the ideas generated differ by group type? How do the participants experience the different group types? What are the differences and similarities in their experience? The results revealed similarities and differences in the content and process data. The same main topics in were raised in each method, however the framing was different. The participants responded well to both methods. Survey responses indicated that NGT participants enjoyed their experience a little more than in the AI participants, however, AI participants indicated slightly higher acceptance than NGT participants of their group's outcomes. They identified the method, questions, leadership, participants, interaction, time, and environmental factors as affecting their experience of the focus groups. Implications for practice, suggestions for modification of the methods, and implications for research are discussed.