How do you measure a mindset?

How do you measure a mindset? March 13, 2015


While these thoughts were originally addressed to members of the Oikonomia Network, there are implications for many other folks as well about what we measure and how we measure it.  The assessment system profiled in this article was selected by the Oikonomia Network Advisory Committee as a “helpful model” for network faculty to consider.  The rest of us can look at the available resources about integrating faith, work, and economics too by checking out their page.

TPC_GregForster_bioDoes the faith and work movement matter? It has generated a lot of activity, but are we cultivating new mindsets, affecting people’s daily behavior, and changing lives? How we answer this question is a matter of critical importance. Measuring success in an oversimplified way can lead to disaster. Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and other Oikonomia Network leaders are already developing superior solutions to this problem. In the years to come, this is an area where our community will be of enormous service to the larger movement.

When interacting with leaders in the faith and work movement, I have always heard concerns expressed about whether we can know if we’re making a difference. I’m hearing this even more today than I used to. It’s a good problem to have! This increased concern about how to measure success is a product of the movement finally having enough success to be worth measuring.

However, it is a problem fraught with difficulties and even dangers. In the business world, companies often go wrong because their boards pay attention to nothing but the quarterly earnings statement. The wrong measurements of success, or (perhaps an even greater danger) the wrong use of good measurements, can do a lot of damage.

As a social scientist, I know this better than most. When I was in graduate school, the best teachers were the ones who pounded into our heads the danger of misusing our measurements. I had some professors who were skeptical of the use of statistics in social science at all, but surprisingly it was not those teachers who really emphasized this point with a special sense of urgency. It was the teachers who specialized in statistics who most clearly recognized that because their tools were powerful, they were also dangerous.

There is a need for leadership on this issue, because the metrics and assessment instruments now available to the faith and work movement are not generally very good. David Miller and Timothy Ewest, in a 2013 article in the Journal of Religious and Theological Information titled “The Present State of Workplace Spirituality,” reviewed the available assessment tools. My assessment of Miller and Ewest’s assessment of the movement’s assessment is that we have a crying need for better assessment.

Take the Faith at Work Scale, an instrument published in the Journal of Business Ethics by three co-authors in 2009. One of the categories measured by the scale is labeled “called to the community,” but not a single one of the measurements in this category actually measures the impact of our work on the community. They measure whether we are nice to our coworkers and make time for family. The concept of community has been completely disconnected from the work itself; apparently, “community” is what we do when we’re not working! Meanwhile, a measurement of whether we “contribute to the common good through work” is (inexplicably) classified not under “called to community” but “called to giving.” Concern about injustice is likewise not under “called to community” but “called to holiness.” Serving the common good and promoting justice have been individualized – removed from the public square and reduced to merely personal virtues.

Yet the faith and work movement is going to have assessments. It cannot maintain support for its activities without showing that those activities are meaningful. That’s why I’m so pleased at the excellent work being done by Oikonomia Network leaders and others in developing sound, well-rounded instruments for assessment. This work will be critical in helping the faith and work movement achieve long-term success and sustainability.

The first major assessment project from an ON school is the Discipleship Dynamics Assessment (DDA), produced by Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. DDA measures 40 discipleship growth outcomes in five categories, including “vocational clarity” and “economics and work” alongside more traditional discipleship topics. In addition to measuring the typical vocational concerns of the faith and work movement, such as a sense of God’s calling and ethical integrity, the assessment measures economic wisdom. For example: Can you articulate the contribution your sector of the economy makes to the common good of society? Well-formed disciples of Jesus ought to be able to do that! DDA was selected by the ON Advisory Committee as a “helpful model.”

DDA is not the only assessment project in the Oikonomia Network. Seattle Pacific University has had notable success with its Communities of Practice experience, and is now expanding that program to conduct it in local churches as well as on campus. SPU is also developing an assessment instrument to measure how these small group experiences are impacting the participants. Like DDA, developing this assessment is a multi-year project, but I’m very excited about its prospects. (I’m grateful to John Terrill, who is leading up the project, for bringing to my attention the two articles on assessment mentioned above.)

Of course, the Oikonomia Network is not alone in developing new and better assessments. Miller, head of the Faith and Work Initiative at Princeton University, is working on an instrument called The Integration Profile (TIP) Faith and Work Integration Scale. Given Miller’s previous work, when development of the instrument (expected to take a couple of years) is complete, it will no doubt draw considerable attention in the movement. The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture is also working on a somewhat smaller assessment project. Under the leadership of William Fullilove, assistant professor of Old Testament at the Atlanta campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, the project will develop a faith and work assessment designed for a variety of uses.

When freedom of speech issues are being debated, it is sometimes said that the only real cure for bad speech is better speech. The same principle applies to assessment – the only real cure for bad measurements is better measurements. The Oikonomia Network and other leaders are well poised to provide just that sort of cure in the years to come.


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