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Bola Owoade

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Book Review – The Success Case Method By Robert O. Brinkerhoff


Success Case Method

Evaluation is that holy grail learning and development practitioners talk about a lot but can rarely agree on how to do it convincingly. In The Success Case Method Robert Brinkerhoff presents an evaluation method which he describes as being faster, cheaper, and a better way to find out what's working and what's not. Brinkerhoff, a Professor at Western Michigan University is a recognized expert in evaluation and training effectiveness. But this is not just a book for training, The Success Case Method or SCM is a technique for identifying how organizational initiatives are working. According to Brinkerhoff, using the SCM , people can get useful and accurate information about new initiatives: What results are being achieved using new approaches, what is working, what is not, and how it can be described. As such it can be used to evaluate training and other initiatives. Here are some examples listed in the book that the SCM can be used to evaluate:

  • How well is a new team assembly approach at an automobile manufacturer working?
  • How effective was the listening training telecommunication staff at a particular company in increasing customer satisfaction?
  • Was the emotional intelligence successful?

This is an easy to read book written in very plain language. It has a lot of case studies and stories. Though it is text heavy it does have a number of figures and table. The biggest plus for this book is that it is very practical, and that is surprising. For a book written by an academic it has quite a pragmatic approach. There does seem to be a degree of repetition in the book but I would definitely recommend it, especially if you are looking for a non-complicated way to evaluate learning programs. The good thing about SCM as described in the book is that it was not designed just for training or learning programmes but rather it is a generic evaluative tool which can be employed to assess the impact of change initiatives.

The book has eight chapters and 220 pages with the following structure:

  • Contents page
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Eight chapters with the main content
  • A success case study final report
  • References
  • Index
  • A bit about the author

Here is a short overview of each chapter.

  1. Chapter One - What is the Success Case Method and How Does it Work?: This chapter introduces you to what SCM is. It deals with the purpose of SCM and how it works.
  2. Chapter Two - The Success Case Method - Step by Step: Builds on chapter one by going more into details about what the SCM is. The key steps of the SCM are outlined, supported by some good examples. It ends with a straightforward case study.
  3. Chapter Three - Focusing and Planning a Success case Study: The SCM is predicated on conducting success case studies on initiatives and programmes to identify what is working and what isn't working. This third chapter delves into what needs to be considered to prepare and plan for a success case study to ensure it is carried out effectively. It looks at eight key steps which take into consideration stakeholder analysis, defining study purpose and identifying clearly the people whom the study will focus on.
  4. Chapter Four - Envisioning Success: Creating an Impact Model: By Brinkenhoff's definition,an impact model in relation to SCM is, a carefully articulated and concise "forecast" of what the most successful performance might be expected to look like if the program we are studying is accomplishing what its stakeholders hope it should. This chapter explains how to create an impact model. The impact model is crucial to any success case study, and this chapter goes into extensive detail to give you the information to create a good impact model.
  5. Chapter Five - Using a Survey to Search for Best and Worst Cases: The SCM focuses on searching for best and worst cases of success in an initiative. It is the identification of these cases that enables what is working and what isn't working, and why to be discovered. This chapter describes the process and tools used to conduct a successful survey.
  6. Chapter Six - Interviewing and Documenting Cases: In the SCM after identifying success cases, stories need to be told about them which are backed by credible and valid information. This can be done by interviewing people who had the success stories. This chapter deals with how to discover those stories and document them for reporting purposes.
  7. Chapter Seven - Communicating Credible and Compelling Results that Tell the Story: After conducting a success case study, the information needs to be presented to the relevant stakeholders. This chapter gives guidance on how to create SCM reports. 
  8. Chapter Eight - Putting the Success case Methods to Work: Strategic Applications: This is the last chapter and it describes a number of relevant applications for using the SCM.

Personally, I like this book a lot which means I do like SCM. It is a practical book that presents a doable way to evaluate learning programmes. Here are three things in particular that I really like about the book:

  • The case studies and examples
  • The language in which the book is written which makes a seemingly dry topic interesting
  • The way each chapter builds on each other. Each chapter has an almost incremental linear relationship

If you are looking for a straightforward way to evaluate learning programmes in your organisation, then this book might give you some ideas. It should be in your tool box.

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Bola Owoade

Senior Learning and Development Advisor

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