Using rubrics to assess complex tasks and behaviors

Developing rubrics - involve people in brainstorming criteria to be assessed
Developing rubrics – involve people in brainstorming criteria to be assessed

A rubric is an easily applicable form of assessment. They are most commonly used in education, and offer a process for defining and describing the important components of work being assessed. They can help us assess complex tasks (e.g. essays or projects) or behaviors (e.g. collaboration, team work). Increasingly rubrics are being used to help develop assessments in other areas such as community development and natural resource management.

In a recent paper we describe how rubrics are being used to help collaboration in an integrated research programme – Bridging disciplines, knowledge systems and cultures in pest management.

Although the format of a rubric can vary, they all have two key components:

  • A list of criteria – or what counts in an activity or task
  • Graduations of quality – to provide an evaluative range or scale.

Developing rubrics helps clarify the expectations that people have for different aspects of task or behavior performance by providing detailed descriptions of collectively agreed upon expectations. Well designed rubrics used for assessment increase the reliability and validity and ensure that the information gathered can be used to help people assess their management efforts, and improve them. It is different than a simple checklist since it also describes the gradations of quality (levels) for each dimension of the performance to be evaluated. It is important to involve program participants in developing rubrics and helping define and agree on the criteria and assessment. This broad involvement increase the likelihood that different evaluation efforts can provide comparable ratings. As a result, the assessments based on these rubrics will be more effective and efficient.

Involving people in developing rubrics involves a number of steps.

  • Defining the task to be rated. This can include consideration of both outputs (things completed) and processes (level of participation, required behaviors, etc.).
  • Defining criteria to be assessed. These should represent the component elements that are required for successful achievement of the task to be rated. The different parts of the task need to be set out simply and completely. This can often be started by asking participants to brainstorm what they might expect to see where/when the task is done very well … and very poorly.
  • Developing scales which describe how well any given task or process has been performed. This usually involves selecting 3-5 levels. Scales can use different language such as:
    –   Advanced, intermediate, fair, poor
    –   Exemplary, proficient, marginal, unacceptable
    –   Well-developed, developing, under-developed

More resources on rubrics can be found from the main Learning for Sustainability indicators page. Other related PM&E resources can be found from the Theory of Change and Logic Modelling pages.

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An independent systems scientist, action research practitioner and evaluator, with 30 years of experience in sustainable development and natural resource management.
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