Gap Analysis and Head Start
- Krystal Heinzen and J. Christopher Watkins
- Friday, June 5th, 2015
In the management literature, gap analysis is the comparison of actual performance with desired performance. If a Head Start program does not make the best use of current resources, it may produce or perform below its potential. This calls into question the effectiveness and/or efficiency of program operations. Effectiveness and efficiency are crucial elements in the role that Governing Bodies play in evaluating our progress in the five-year plans.
According to the Houston Chronical*, gap analysis may be processed in four steps.
Step 1: Construct organizational goals. Effective goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely, or SMART. This is directly tied to the five-year grant application and the accompanying instructions. Rather than do this overall, it is best to start with one aspect of operations, so as to remain focused. One thought is that school readiness efforts would be an ideal starting point.
Step 2: Benchmark the program’s current state. Use historical data if possible, as it will span a longer period and require less effort to compile. This is where we have to be careful. We have to carefully define what our goal is from part one since this drives our activities here. Collecting data on a less concrete metric, like parent satisfaction, would require you to create statistically valid surveys for feedback.
Step 3: Analyze the gap data. The challenging question is not how far actual performance fell below target, but why the gap exists. Brainstorm possible causes of performance and then narrow them down using tools like the five whys.
Some of you have had exposure to the five whys when you received training on self-assessment years ago from T/TAS. To get everyone caught up: Five whys is an iterative question-asking technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. An example from Wikipedia** demonstrates this succinctly...
Example: The vehicle will not start. (The problem)
Why? The battery is dead. (First why)
Why? The alternator is not functioning. (Second why)
Why? The alternator belt has broken. (Third why)
Why? The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (Fourth why)
Why? The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (Fifth why, a root cause)
The questioning for this example could be taken further to a sixth, seventh, or higher level, but five iterations of asking why is generally sufficient to get to a root cause. The key is to encourage the trouble-shooter to avoid assumptions and logic traps and instead trace the chain of causality in direct increments from the effect through any layers of abstraction to a root cause that still has some connection to the original problem.
Two items to be mindful of when conducting this analysis: There is a tendency for investigators to stop at symptoms rather than going on to lower-level root causes. Also, programs may run into an inability to go beyond the investigator's current knowledge (cannot find causes that they do not already know).
Step 4: Compile the report. Begin with an executive summary that quickly gives the observed versus desired results for each goal category and then briefly addresses the reasons believed to be responsible for those gaps. Each goal should then be addressed fully in its own section, followed by a conclusion that summarizes the report and calls for action, usually in the form of a call to create an improvement plan to address the gaps. This is very similar to the required efforts of self-assessment.
So let’s call these activities what they really are and be cognizant of the fact that we do many of these activities already but when it comes time to report what we have done with data and how we have analyzed information, we often sell ourselves short and fail to show that our techniques are planned and purposeful.
* Taylor, Elliott. “How to Write a Gap Analysis Report.” Houston Chronicle. http://smallbusiness.chron.com/write-gap-analysis-report-55720.html
** “5 Whys.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_Whys