apple Overview and Information Gathering Tools

Overview of the Assessment Process

Step 1 of the strategic planning process seeks to answer the following questions: Who are we and what we are about? What are our internal strengths and weakness? What external opportunities and threats does our agency face?

The goal of Step 1, Assessment, is to develop a complete description on paper of:

  • Part A: Your agency’s mission, mandates and values (who you are and what you are about)
    • Why you exist (mission)
    • What you value and believe
    • What you do (mandates and core business)
  • Part B: Your agency’s internal environment (your agency’s strengths and weaknesses)
    • Its resources
    • Its strategies
    • Its performance
    • Areas of internal strength and difficulty
  • Part C: Your agency’s external environment (the opportunities and threats facing your agency)
    • External forces, trends, challenges and changes affecting the literacy field, the political climate, the local community, the labour market etc
    • Competing interests of other organizations and agencies

Information Gathering Tools

Assessment is about gathering the necessary information about who you are as a literacy agency, your current strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats. Remember, at this point, you are simply gathering information on the current internal and external environment facing your literacy agency; you are not making any judgments or drawing any conclusions about what the information means for the future.

There are many different methods of information gathering that people have used to good advantage and here are a few:

  1. Questionnaires, surveys and checklists
    • Used when you want to collect a lot of information from people in a non-threatening way.
  2. Personal interviews
    • Used when you want to fully understand a person’s opinions or point of view or to get additional information to a questionnaire.
  3. Documentation review
    • Used when you want to gather information on current practices without interrupting the program by examining program monitoring reports, program statistics, learner progress reports, annual reports, performance appraisals, board evaluations, written policies and procedures, memos, minutes, financial records, etc.
  4. Observation
    • Used to watch the program in operation to gather information about what actually happens day-to-day.
  5. Focus group
    • Used to explore a topic in depth with key stakeholders to learn what the common understanding is on various issues.
  6. Case Studies
    • Used to depict experiences, processes or practices with a view to developing understanding through examination and cross comparisons.

Each approach has its own inherent benefits and drawbacks. Most agencies find that varying the information-gathering tools based on stakeholder and organizational needs yields the best results.

More Online Resources

Carter McNamara, a well known guru on program evaluation, has some excellent information on his website about the benefits and challenges of each information gathering method. See:

For a great read on stakeholder consultation and various tips and tools, read this article “Stakeholder Consultations” at:

For more information on how to conduct effective surveys and focus groups, please visit Community Literacy of Ontario’s Program Evaluation module on Literacy Basics and click on “Asking the Right Questions: Tools and Methods at:

The Minnesota Department of Health provides a comprehensive overview of data collection methods at

Questions and Activities for Reflection

  1. Which data collection techniques would be the most effective for your agency? Why?
  2. Who are the key stakeholders that should be involved in assessing the internal and external environment of your literacy agency?
  3. In terms of your internal environment, do you have any areas of concern about issues that might be raised?
  4. In terms of your external environment, do you have any areas of concern about issues that might be raised?
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