Yes, individual “success stories” are valuable sources of information on your outcomes. They are particularly important if several criteria are met:
- Stories are collected and reported in a systematic manner
- Stories attribute improvement or change to something your program provided to the client
- Stories are combined (in both collection and in reporting) with more quantitative data that can be tracked over time
- Stories demonstrate clear examples of change that are connected to the mission and key goals of your organization
Evaluation specialists with particular training in “qualitative” methods can help you think through how to meet these criteria. I have extensive experience in training people to conduct evaluations using methods such as interviews, focus groups, and systematic reviews of documents (such as testimonial letters from clients).
But however valuable such information is, it should not be used alone. Outcome indicators that can be quantified more effectively (such as assessing the percentage of people achieving a particular level of knowledge or life condition) can be tracked over time. The strongest approach to evaluating your program almost always includes a robust and carefully thought out intertwining of quantitative measures and qualitative stories and examples of how your program made a difference. Tools such as surveys and interviews can be designed to collect both types of information, making your evaluation strategy much more efficient.