Can testimonials be considered as evidence?


(Stacey McDonald) #1

Again and again the question about testimonials and evidence comes up. Does OTF consider testimonials as evidence? The answer is no.

And yet, how can something that is so powerful - someone’s a story about a profound impact that a program has had for their life - not be considered evidence?

The thing about testimonials is that while it might be a powerful story, we don’t know if what’s shared is true simply for a handful of people, or for most. Would we hear similar stories from only certain types of participants? We also don’t know the cause of the positive change. Was it the support from a specific staff member, or the program, or both? If we don’t know that, then we don’t know what specific aspects need to be recreated for that same experience to happen again.

I don’t want to discount the testimonial itself and what’s being said, it is important, and we want to value the experiences shared. However, one story isn’t evidence that a similar positive experience or change is likely to happen again. It doesn’t give enough information to replicate and grow a program. What is needed is a more systematic approach to learning and evaluation that examines what is happening for more than a few people.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to write a series of posts that look at how to use stories to learn about what’s going on. I’m going to explore different ways to capture people’s stories, so please come back over the coming weeks and join the conversation!