Allison Titcomb ALTA Consulting LLC

Meaning First, Method Second

by Allison Titcomb on December 23, 2011

Sunset at Saguaro National Park West during BioBlitz 2011

A topic I frequently discuss with clients revolves around the phrase “matching method to purpose.”

I’m a firm believer that it’s important to know first WHY you want to gather data or conduct an evaluation and THEN figure out the best WAY to accomplish it.  Somwhat akin to form follows function.

When I encounter similar notions in personal/professional development books, I reconnect with the idea that evaluation is a critical part of planning and not an end in itself.

The example that led to the title of this blog post comes from Success Built to Last: Creating a Life That Matters[1] which emphasizes integrating meaning and what matters most as keys to redefining success.

Some of the main messages in the book echo other evaluation-related topics:

  • Don’t confuse “Direction” with a “Roadmap” (i.e., where you’re headed and how you’re going to get there)
  • Leaders give us what is needed, not what is expected (e.g., being clear on the difference between “need to know” and “nice to know” when planning data collection strategies)
  • Bold risks measured in small steps—measuring what matters and keeping score (e.g., focus on validity AND reliability of your measures)
  • Letting go of what doesn’t work (e.g., using results to make effective decisions that ultimately strengthen your efforts)

The book speaks of “integrity to meaning— integrity to what matters to you.”  This notion can be applied to evaluation design just as much as personal growth.

Integrity can mean a number of things:

° Honesty

° Truth

° Veracity

° Reliability

° Honor

The point here is to connect in a very intentional and meaningful way the methods you choose to use with the reason or purpose for your work.

What matters most to you?

What key ideas add meaning to your endeavor? 

What might be some integral areas of knowledge, growth or learning that can help you make useful decisions along the way?

Where have you encountered the connection between meaning and method in other areas of your life? 


[1] Jerry Porras, Stewart Emory  & Mark Thompson (2007).  Success Built to Last:  Creating A Life That Matters.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

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