Like millions of other people, I have made my way to the movie theater to see Greta Gerwig’s Barbie. With my lap covered in popcorn stains and my cheeks covered in tears, the feelings that came forward for me from this film were truly unexpected. The last time I had these feelings in a theater was while seeing Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. Now, I could go on about the way Barbie impacted me as a person and as a woman. Instead, I wanted to take a moment to share the assessment lessons and reminders I took away from Barbie. As a current student in evaluation practices, my brain is primed to find lessons and reminders about assessment in most of the content I take in. In particular, Barbie had a few great takeaways that I am excited to share with you as you consider your assessment planning.
Beware, spoilers ahead!
The Impact You Are Making May Be In Your Head
Similar to the Barbies in Barbie Land, you may think the work you are doing is making a much larger impact than it actually is. But what exactly is making you think that? Is it what other people have told you or is this something you can point to and have evidence of? This is why we need to do assessment work.
However, even the most profound and impactful assessment findings will need to be checked back in as time goes on. Assuming that because something was true five years ago means it is still the case now is a dangerous approach to take, we need to continually come back to reask questions over time.
What do we do Barbie? Build an assessment plan that includes how you will triangulate your data. Triangulate is a fancy way of saying you will make sure your assessment findings will be coming from multiple places and not just a single place. This could mean multiple similar assessment questions in a survey, or using both a survey and an interview. Beyond triangulation, plan for how you will check back in on your findings across time to account for the changes that are bound to happen so your team can make the best decisions possible.
Bring Ken To The Table
At the beginning of the movie, I felt sorry for Beach Ken. He seemed so disappointed and was trying so hard to be involved, but no one really engaged well with him. This made me think about the stakeholders and student populations that are ignored or actively kept out of assessment practices. This includes excluding demographic questions in your own assessment. Because if you can’t break down your responses by Barbies and Kens you cannot show if there is a difference between a Barbie’s experience and a Ken’s experience.
What do we do Barbie? Work with stakeholders and different student populations to receive feedback on your assessment tools like surveys, interview questions, or focus group questions. This will allow you to make sure your tools are actually measuring what you want them to and are culturally relevant to different groups of people. Also, include demographic questions such as gender, race, and ability status for all of our tools.
We Can’t Always Wait For (Assessment) Leadership Barbie To Show
When Stereotypical Barbie was breaking down during the Ken’s takeover and said she was going to wait for another “more leadership-oriented” Barbie to come to fix things, I was moved to tears. I have noticed when it comes to assessment, people want to wait until there is an “expert” in the room to make any decisions or have a conversation. Sometimes we have to be alright with our “good enough” knowledge and we need to know we are empowered to do assessment work. I am a firm believer that assessment work is something that anyone can do, I believe you can do this work.
What do we do Barbie? Continue building up your assessment knowledge and adding tools to your toolbox. This might be reading books (this is one of my go-to suggestions and I also love this one), attending a conference or institute (this is a great Student Affairs institute and also a very welcoming evaluation conference), or engaging with great blogs written by RoomPact or SAA-L. You cannot know something without learning it and remember that while you are learning new content, be kind to yourself. You may realize the previous assessment you did wasn’t doing what you wanted it to do, you cannot change the past but you can take it as a lesson for the future.
You Are Not A Doll, You Have Feelings
As we saw from Stereotypical Barbie and heard from Ruth, feelings are a deep part of the human experience. We feel joy, pain, sadness, surprise, and loneliness. These feelings do not go away when we start doing assessment work. There is a notion that we can remove ourselves and our humanity from the assessment work we do, but I believe this is completely false. Some may say that is a detriment to assessment work since it is meant to be objective and often void of emotion. I think acknowledging our emotions and humanity during assessment work makes it honest and worthwhile.
What do we do Barbie? Try memoing about your assessment work, I have found it helpful as a way to stay connected to my humanity while doing this work. Memoing practices come from qualitative research. However, I think it is a helpful activity regardless of what type of assessment you are taking part in. Memoing is basically a reflective journal that you keep during an assessment process where you take note of what you are thinking, feeling, and reacting to as you complete assessment work. It is also a helpful place to jot down ideas as they come to you. This way you can use your memos while completing your reports as a check-in to see if your bias may be slipping into your findings and to also include how this process was for you as a person. If you want to learn more about memoing check out this article by Birks, Chapman, and Francis.
Create Space For Your Community
While watching Barbie, I couldn’t help but notice how much fun the Barbies had while in their community. How great is it that every night is girl’s night?! It got me thinking, how often do we get to come together in a community around assessment work and geek out about why we do what we are doing? Not working on the survey or deciding who our report will be sent to, but engaging in nourishing conversations about why we continue to do this work. These are also the same people who can remind you of your why when you may get away from it. For me, I think about the sporadic lunches I have with old co-workers and current classmates where we get to chat about these things and how full my heart feels following. Finding the people who inspire you and who cheer you on is a necessary part of this work, at least in my experience.
What do we do Barbie? We build community! This is the kind of stuff that often comes naturally to Student Affairs folks. We create intentional time and space with people. We grab coffee or lunch and get to understand why people were drawn to this field. We get to understand their fears and joys as it comes to assessment. We learn what support looks like for them and then show up for them in the ways they prefer. We find out how we can continue learning together. Prioritize these conversations with folks you are working with regularly around assessment, I always will advocate for getting a semester of check-ins scheduled in the first few weeks of classes to make sure I am making these spaces.
Now come on Barbie (and Ken, Allan, Midge, or Skipper too) and let’s go do some great assessment work! 💅