I am a systems thinker.  As soon as I enter a new. . .whatever. . .I start seeing the systems in place (or that need to be in place).  My head starts designing the inputs and outflows, the structures of what is happening or should be happening, the way it works. 

However, the danger I find in most systems is that it is stagnant.  We develop the system with all the pretty pictures and appropriate understanding of what the system does and then we leave it.  Leaving it is great. . .if no changes are needed.  However, we live and work in an ever-changing environment.  Our processes are in need of update because of this changing environment. 

A system, however good it is, without assessment tends towards bureaucracy and stagnation.  When we are putting a system in place, we should be excited.  We are learning to manage well when we do that.  But when we don’t check on whether the system is working or in need of tweaking, we are trending towards failure. 

Systems without assessment is like a long winter with snow.  The first snow may be beautiful with a roaring fire in the fireplace and a hot beverage in hand.  When we slog through the snow and feel the freezing weather shivering up our backs, we get to the point of what I called “snow fatigue” when I lived in Cleveland, OH.  It isn’t something you particularly enjoy by the end of the season.  You needed some warm weather and sun by the end of the season. 

The same is true when we have systems without assessment.  When the system is working right and doing what you need it to do, it’s a happy time.  When you’re slogging through the mundane of it and having to do workarounds to make it function, it’s time for a change. 

Believe me when I say it, your customers notice it too.  Whether that is students, parents, faculty, donors, vendors, or some other group, they realize that the system needs an overhaul.  My freshman year in college, the college I attended had a registration day for us.  It took me eight (8). . .EIGHT!!!!. . .hours to get through registration with a schedule that they had pre-decided.  I was one of the short stories of that process.  I paid cash for my balance and didn’t use loans.  It was a terrible experience.  I still very much remember the poor experience 30 years later.  To their credit, they continued to fix their system.  It continued to get better.  It still wasn’t perfect but it got much quicker.  Believe me, there were a lot of us (students and the staffers working it) that were assessing the system that fall. 

The secret is that assessment and its data do not have to be cumbersome…but they must be useable.  One of the dangers of assessment comes when adding an assessment to the process that is so difficult that no one wants to do it (or knows how to do it).  The assessment process and the data it produces, when they come out of your system, should be easily understood and help you make the necessary adjustments.  If not, you need to rethink your assessment. 

How are you assessing your systems?   

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