Evaluating Advicenow's Guides
Advicenow undertook an independent evaluation of its downloadable internet guides during the summer and autumn of 2005. The research set out to evaluate the effectiveness of these guides by talking to users, advice workers and to informal advisers - those intermediaries like Connexions advisers or mediators who are approached for rights information even though it isn't necessarily their job to provide it.
The research findings are generally very positive. The evaluation shows that the success of the guides depends on a combination of three elements: the high quality well-focused content; the information techniques used, and the design techniques employed.
Guides work best when they provided an overview of a specific user situation. The most successful guides offered a clear focus on an identified 'life situation' of relevance to a clearly specified user. A successful overview consists of information that combines legal rights and guidance, personal issues and guidance, decision-making and steps to take across a range of aspects of the situation.
The use of attractive presentation techniques is also important. Techniques include the use of illustrative and realistic case studies, question and answer explorations of issues, checklists and prompts about key factors and key decisions, quotes from real-life experiences, route maps, glossaries and other explanations of jargon. Presenting information in such a variety of ways also accommodates the different learning styles of different users.
The range of design techniques also contributes to the success of the guides. By leading with images of people, and illustrating points with cartoons, diagrams, varied uses of colour etc., the reader’s attention can be grabbed and held with greater certainty, opening up the text and making the guide much more interesting.
The report recommends the Advicenow’s material guides would be improved by the further development of a set of quality standards that are closely linked to careful identification of target users and their life situations.
Advicenow should engage end-users and advisers intensively during the production of material. It should develop support materials to assist advisers and informal advisers to use the guides with their own clients and should undertake further pre-planned evaluations with partners as part of a unified approach to the production of material.
The research was undertaken by Daniel Taghioff with editorial support from John Seargeant.