Peak experience description

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This method provides a succinct and coherent description of a program, project or policy when it is operating at its best.

This can then be used to develop a logic model (program theory) and to develop an evaluation plan to investigate how often it operates like this and how this can happen more often.

The description is developed by asking individuals a series of related questions. These descriptions can then be combined to create a single description of the program, or they can be used to show different perspectives on what success looks like.

This method is important in terms of the information it produces and the effect of the evaluation process itself. It can be very useful in terms of identifying desired impacts and suggesting aspects that should be addressed in developing a logic model. It is also a good way of engaging stakeholders in the evaluation, especially those whose previous experiences of evaluation have been negative.

This method is an important component of the approach “Appreciative Inquiry” and can also be added to evaluations that are not using the full approach.

Examples

An example taken from Preskill (2007) presentation on Using Appreciative Inquiry in Evaluation Practice:

"Maui High-Performance Computing Center (MHPCC) Appreciative Inquiry Organizational Survey

Peak Experiences: In your work here, you have probably experienced ups and downs, some high points and low points. Think about a time that stands out to you as a high point- a time when you felt most involved, most effective, most engaged. It might have been recently or some time ago.

  • What was going on?
  • Who were the significant people involved?
  • What were the most important factors in the MHPCC that helped to make it a high-point experience? (e.g., leadership qualities, rewards, structure, relationships, skills, etc.)

Advice for choosing this method

Ensure that the use of this method is complemented by methods that will empirically investigate the program or policy. 

Advice for using this method

Make sure you ask a range of people to provide a peak experience description.  Facilitate the conversation carefully to ensure that important differences are not lost.

Resources

Overview

Websites

Sources

Preskill, H. (2007). Using Appreciative Inquiry in Evaluation Practice, AEA-CDC Summer Evaluation Institute, June 11-12, 2007. Atlanta, GA.

'Peak experience description' is referenced in: