Planning for the Future
The NHA’s Impact Survey Toolkit
Colleges and universities across the nation have closed their doors. Most have shifted to online learning as in-person public programs remain on pause indefinitely. As a result, large components of our work lives have come to a screeching halt while our focus has turned abruptly to new or heightened challenges in our personal and professional lives. At the National Humanities Alliance, our work documenting the impact of the humanities in a variety of contexts continues, with a particular eye toward how humanities organizations are helping their communities and constituencies make sense of the very recent past and unsettled present.
But the NHA is also using this time to support humanities faculty, practitioners, and organizations as they plan for the future. With that future firmly in mind, we are launching a new resource: a toolkit aimed at helping the humanities community collect data about the effects of the programs that lie at the heart of our mission, from professional development seminars to public humanities projects and programs that help students prepare for college and imagine humanities careers. Documenting the Impact of Your Humanities Program can help you make a stronger case for the impact of your work and the resources that support it.
The NHA has designed and implemented pre- and post-program surveys that take into account a project’s immediate goals and broader social impact.
Since 2018, the NEH for All initiative has been helping National Endowment for the Humanities grantees document the influence of their work through surveys of the participants in their programs. In partnership with project directors and with funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we’ve designed and implemented pre- and post-program surveys that take into account a project’s immediate goals and broader social impact, including its effects on trust, empathy, community connection, and appreciation for and pride in local culture and heritage. The surveys are designed to be broadly useful for humanities faculty and practitioners in evaluating their programs and making the strongest possible case for their work to a range of stakeholders—including funders, organizational leadership, and policymakers.
The toolkit includes:
- an introduction to impact-driven surveys;
- information about why to survey, how to construct a survey, and how to administer a survey; and
- advice for interpreting and using your data.
Many programs that we have surveyed to date took place on college campuses, and the toolkit contains a suite of editable surveys that can be used in programs run by faculty. These include:
- Pre- and post-program surveys for a humanities summer bridge program offered to first-generation college students. Among other measures, this survey includes questions about college preparedness, interest in internships with humanities organizations, and understanding of and interest in the humanities.
- Pre- and post-program surveys for two faculty professional development seminars, one focused on oral history programs and the other on integrating local culture and authors into humanities classrooms. The surveys focus on access to resources, the benefits of building interdisciplinary communities of practice, and gains in content knowledge and capacities appropriate to the curricula.
- Pre- and post-program surveys for humanities courses designed specifically for veterans, aimed at helping them reflect on their experiences through humanities texts. These surveys assess how the courses respond to veterans’ specific needs, such as help dealing with social isolation and building community. They also assess how humanities resources (art, film, literature, etc.) promote self-reflection and understanding.
Additionally, sample questions are grouped according to impact and designed to help build detailed surveys that document a program’s strengths. You can use these questions as presented or adapt them for pre- and post-program surveys, deepening your evaluations further. The questions have been tested and used successfully across a range of programs.
Thus far, the surveys have provided us with compelling insights into how humanities programs have an impact on higher education institutions, their faculty and students, and the communities they serve.
Thus far, the surveys have provided us with compelling insights into how humanities programs—from professional development seminars to reading and discussion programs—have an impact on higher education institutions, their faculty and students, and the communities they serve. They have also provided us, and our partners, with robust quantitative and qualitative data that speaks to the humanities’ broad-ranging role in American life, and the results can be used to engage policymakers, funders, leadership, and the public.
During this crisis, humanities courses and programs are continuing to offer crucial opportunities for people to learn, reflect, and engage in dialogue. We know that they will provide still more significant opportunities for scholarship and connection in the months and years to come. As you plan for the future, we hope you find this toolkit useful. And we want to hear from you! Please contact Emily McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
The National Humanities Alliance (NHA) is a coalition of more than 200 member organizations, including the American Historical Association. The NHA advocates for the humanities on campuses, in local communities, and on Capitol Hill. James Grossman, the AHA's executive director, is the current president of the NHA.
Cecily Hill is director of community initiatives at the National Humanities Alliance.
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