Return on Investment

In their book, Lifelong Action Learning for Community Development, Ortrun Zuber-Skerrit and Richard Teare (2013) make a passionate please for learning and development to be accessible to ordinary people regardless of their financial ability to pay. Access to learning, they claim, is restricted by the high cost of the higher and further education systems within which much learning is situated.

These academic institutions provide rigorous processes for measuring the quality of the work undertaken by students but this comes at a significant cost. A cost that is often hard to meet by people who work with transitional organisations.

Teare (2013:75) claims it is often difficult to provide the evidence of impact that demanded. Certainly, in the UK, impact is a major element of the three yearly research excellence framework - an assessment of each university's research output. Teare suggests the reason this 'return on investment' is so difficult to provide is because the focus is on the inputs rather than the outputs.

This idea presents a challenge for Christians delivering training for media activity where the focus is invariably upon the skills. Many trainers could point to the many invitations to come and do training but when we have tried to ask what is needed the response is often silence. Even some trainers can be so passionate about the need for training that we slip into the mistake of wanting to do training to the learners.

As outsiders, looking in, we can often see that partners would benefit from training. That insight can sometimes mean that we want to provide that training and without actually involving the partners concerned.

Sometimes the problem works the other way around. The partners know, intuitively, that they would benefit from training but when we ask what they need the answer is often 'Anything that you can offer will be great!'

There are many tales told among trainers of 'basic' courses delivered over and over again by different agencies to the same target audience. The result being that there is no significant advance in terms of the knowledge and skills of the learning group. The return on investment diminishes with each training event.

Needs analysis must ask what impact is needed looking forward (Steele and De la Haye 2003). Of course it will take account of the turn-over of staff. New people still need the basic skills. But those who have been around for awhile need help to go forward and develop their knowledge, skills and attitudes. And the organisation wants to move on too.

Could it be that in the past we have focused too much on the technical and theoretical at the expense of creative and innovative thinking?

There are questions to be addressed in the light of cost of education increasing faster than the rate of inflation and the devaluation of traditional qualifications (Barber et al. 2013).

  • How do we maintain the quality of the training that is delivered and offer a value for the clients?
  • How do we ensure that the outcome of the training provided gives participants a greater sense of employability and their organisations a return on their investment?
  • How does learning need to change for the future world?

 Comments are welcome...

A useful resource developed as part of the BetterEvaluation project offers an approach to evaluating development projects.

Barber, M., Donnelly, K., and Rivzi, S. (2013) An Avalanche Is Coming: Higher Education and the Revolution Ahead. London: Institute for Public Policy Research
Steele, A. and De la Haye, D. (2003) ‘Training Needs Analysis: A Starting Point for Developing New Leaders’. Journal of the International Communication Training Institute 2, 25–34
Zuber-Skerritt, O. and Teare, R. (2013) Lifelong Action Learning for Community Development. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers

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