Emily Lauer and Courtney Dutra on Person-Centered Evaluation: Aging and Disability Services

Hello, we are Emily Lauer and Courtney Dutra from the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Center for Developmental Disability Evaluation and Research (CDDER). We have designed and conducted a number of evaluations of programs and projects for elders and people with disabilities. In this post, we focus on the topic of person-centered evaluations. We have found this type of evaluation to be one of the most effective strategies for evaluating aging and/or disability services, as it tends to provide results that are more valid and useful through empowering consumers in the evaluation process.

Why person-centered evaluation? Traditional evaluations tend to use a one-size-fits-all approach that risks supplanting judgment about consumers’ individual perspectives and may not evaluate components that consumers feel are relevant. In a person-centered evaluation, consumers of the program’s or project’s services are involved throughout the evaluation process. A person-centered evaluation ensures the program or project is evaluated in a way that:

  • is meaningful to consumers;
  • is flexible enough to incorporate varied perspectives; and
  • results in findings that are understandable to and shared with consumers.

Lessons Learned:

Key steps to designing a person-centered evaluation?

  1. Design the evaluation with consumers. Involve consumers in the development process for the evaluation and its tools.
  2. Design evaluations that empower consumers
    • Utilize evaluation tools that support consumers in thinking critically and constructively about their experiences and the program under evaluation. Consider using a conversational format to solicit experiential information.
    • Minimize the use of close-ended questions that force responses into categories. Instead, consider methods such as semi-structured interviews that include open-ended questions which enable consumers to provide feedback about what is relevant to them.
    • Consider the evaluation from the consumer’s perspective. Design evaluation tools that support varied communication levels, are culturally relevant, and consider the cognitive level (e.g. intellectual disabilities, dementia) of consumers.
  1. Involve consumers as evaluators. Consider training consumers to help conduct the evaluation (e.g. interviewers).
  2. Use a supportive environment. In a supportive environment, consumers are more likely to feel they can express themselves without repercussion, their input is valued, and their voices are respected, resulting in more meaningful feedback.

Hot Tip: Conduct the evaluation interview in a location that is comfortable and familiar for the consumer. When involving family or support staff to help the consumer communicate or feel comfortable, ensure they do not speak “for” the consumer, and that the consumer chooses their involvement.

  1. Involve consumers in synthesizing results. Involve consumers in formulating the results of the evaluation.

Rad Resource: Use Plain Language to write questions and summarize findings that are understandable to consumers.

Many strategies exist to elicit feedback from consumers who do not communicate verbally. Use these methods to include the perspective of these consumers.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


3 thoughts on “Emily Lauer and Courtney Dutra on Person-Centered Evaluation: Aging and Disability Services”

  1. Chelsea Horsburgh

    As a Special Education teacher working with people with disabilities I enjoyed reading your post about Person Centered Evaluation. I like that the approach that you described is flexible, meaningful to consumers, and works to ensure the results are understandable and shared with the consumer. In this evaluation model, you are carefully considering how everything from beginning to end will affect the use of the evaluation.

    Specifically, I also appreciated that you mentioned the importance of using plain language to ensure that the results of the evaluation are understandable to all users of the information. The link you included to the checklist for plain language is very helpful. I plan to use it when reviewing my next Individual Education Program to ensure the language is accessible to parents/guardians, students, teachers, and administrators.

    In my role as a Special Education teacher we often use a Person Centered Planning sheet when designing a student’s Individual Education Program. In the document the team considers the students
    -Experiences and Activites
    -Preferences and Interests
    -Strengths and Abilities
    -Essentials for Success
    I find this document often helps the team build a plan which considers multiple aspects of a students strengths and needs in order to build a more appropriate education program.

  2. Kudos on considering a semi-structured interview as the population of disabled and aged population at times may not be able to tolerate arduous interviews. Good point on adapting to the consumers special needs such as their cultural and cognitive needs. I am a Junior at A&M and and have a son with Autism and a mother with Alzheimer’s and your blog has educated me in how interviews can be conducted for this population.

  3. In reading your post and given the 35 years I have focused on program evaluation in the developmental disabilities area as well as my knowledge of person centered planning I was struck that you made no mention of Council on Quality Leadership’s Personal Outcome Measures (POMS). Given in New York there is a big push to use this with person centered planning. Finally, I am always looking for tools in this area so curious if you know of a good website that has material on surveys as well as observational tools.

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