Using systems thinking approaches to evaluate organisational training programmes.

Bryan Hopkins
14 October 2019

Training is an investment, much like introducing new technologies or processes, that organisations make in order to improve their performance. However, it is harder to evaluate the success of training than of 'hard' changes like technology or process. Since the 1970s the training profession has largely drawn on variants of the so-called 'Kirkpatrick framework' to evaluate training, even though there is a general agreement in the profession that it does not really produce reliable or even particularly useful data.

Debate about training evaluation largely takes place within a boundary which limits discussion to ways of implementing Kirkpatrick. Although the original idea with my Ph.D. research was to see how systems thinking tools such as Viable System Model and Critical System Heuristics might work in this context, my emergent interest is in changing the boundaries for debate, and I am currently reviewing such issues as the lack of systemic thinking used in the whole training design process which makes evaluation problematic, boundary decisions about what constitutes a measure of training effectiveness and what role training plays in broader organisational learning.

I am hoping that my presentation will provoke ideas and discussion that will help me to further expand the boundaries of my thinking.


About Bryan Hopkins

Bryan Hopkins has worked in education and training since 1977, both internationally with governmental and inter-governmental agencies and NGOs, and in the United Kingdom private sector. He has worked with a number of United Nations agencies, including UNICEF, WHO, UNDP, ILO and UNAIDS amongst others, and for three years was Senior Learning Solutions Officer at the then newly-established UNHCR Global Learning Centre in Budapest, being responsible for internal development in training skills and monitoring the quality of training designed and delivered.

He specialises in identifying and training needs, designing and delivering bespoke training programmes and evaluating training initiatives. He has written a number of books about different aspects of training and learning, the two most recent looking at cultural aspects affecting workplace performance and using systems thinking approaches to identifying training needs and evaluate training.

Bryan has Master's degrees in development studies and systems thinking, and is currently working towards a PhD with the Open University, looking at using systems thinking approaches to the evaluation of organisational training programmes.