Assessment on the Fly: Opportunity from Inefficiency


Got an hour to wait for tickets? Mind answering a question?

I got a great deal from Tim St John‘s post earlier today, “How to be Innovative (Sort of) In Student Affairs”. I happened to stumble upon, and then read, it while that line to the far left was forming outside my office. We sold tickets for an upcoming Bruins game today at 12:15pm. This line started forming before 11am.

I’ve struggled with how to make this system more fair than a matter of who has time to camp for a few hours, but have been at a loss to come up with an alternative with fewer drawbacks. But as my anxiety heightened and more people came, it occurred that maybe this wasn’t my problem to solve. After all, the students in line have brains. And despite the fact that they’re between classes, they should be using them. So I drew up a “quick and dirty”, single question sheet, for each waiting person (including, I should note, those who were not likely to get tickets as a result of the current system). The two questions posed: What events would you like us to offer tickets for? and How can we improve the ticket buying process?

Some of the answers were about what I expected (Have more tickets? Budgetwise, we can’t. Sell them at night or on weekends? Difficult without consent of purchasing.), but others were thoughtful and have some utility. In an office that is aware of its shortcomings as far as innovation, I sometimes forget that the assessment I was brought here to do can answer to the question. Thanks to the framework Tim came up with, I was able to find a way to use my resources to fix something broken.

(1) Assess first.
Or, as The Happiness Project’s Gretchen Rubin put it in her book, “Identify the Problem.” What is the problem? Too many students want tickets, and the present system isn’t the most efficient way to help them to obtain them.

(2) Think thrift shopping.
Here, I’d prefer to think of it as thrift of effort and/or time, rather than money. Does it make sense to put a survey out on the portal, reaching lots of students to whom the questions don’t apply, and may not reach those to whom they do? Or should I reach students who are taking advantage of the system but recognize that it’s not working at optimum capacity? And while responses like “more advertising” don’t always make sense when you consider that it was given by someone who came (and therefore, was effectively advertised to), it doesn’t mean it’s not a legitimate point of improvement. The answers that we need can come from thinking a little smaller, as long as we’re being smart about it.

(3) Think small.
Ticketed events, presently, serve about 30 people when we sell out. That doesn’t mean that the impact of this program is equally small. If properly managed, this program could reach hundreds of students a year; on a campus this small, that means something. Further, each student who answered the questions listed got their survey from me by hand. When thinking big, that approach sounds primitive. But it fits the personality of our institution, and it fits my personality. I got real answers because I asked. In this case, small thinking got results.

(4) Brainstorming: Groups or Individuals? Both!
This one speaks for itself. Could I have come up with an alternative to the present system? Sure. But is it best for me to come up with a solution to a problem, when I’m not the only one that will benefit from a solution? Not when I can ask. I’m glad that I have student input moving forward. When they see they were listened to, that (a) helps them to buy in to the new process; and (b) will keep them open to responding to future assessment, knowing their voices don’t just stay in a binder or file folder. How can you show students that their voices are being heard?

(5) Be flexible and adaptable.
The feedback that I received from these students would never have been committed to paper if I had done what I typically do- let the line form, and address it once ticket sales start. Not to say I don’t interact with students while they wait, but I haven’t previously given them the chance to comment on a process in which they’re taking part. I’m glad I did, it’ll allow us to all have a better experience moving forward.

Thanks for challenging me to work better and smarter, Tim! Much appreciated!

Has inefficiency taught you anything lately? How have you reframed inefficiency as an opportunity to make life better for students?

2 thoughts on “Assessment on the Fly: Opportunity from Inefficiency

  1. This is awesome Amma! Back when we had huge lines/waits for events at Ohio State, this was always our key chance to poll the student mind about potential acts/events/opportunities to improve our offerings and how we offered them. Also, can you hook me up with a Bruin ticket? Kthx.

  2. I’d love to hear more about the resolution OSU came up with, Joel- we don’t have a box office, and that’s part of the problem. But I’m hoping that as many of the constructive suggestions as possible can be addressed.
    And, as my mother used to say all the time… “we’ll see.” Or, as parents now would say, “If you get a million Facebook likes” 😉

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