I’m Lost: Performance Evaluation as Wayfinding

  • Author: Carol Kochhar-Bryant
  • Date: February 25, 2020
"Canoe in Marshes." by Mo.Alsoufi is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Recently, the term ‘wayfinding’ has shown up in all kinds of arenas. Historically, wayfinding refers to the techniques used by ancient travelers over land and sea to find relatively unmarked routes.  

For example, it can refer to the traditional navigation methods used by indigenous peoples of Polynesia, who mastered the way of wayfinding to explore the islands of the Pacific.  More recently, wayfinding has been interpreted for a social activity and cognitive process of finding our way through routes in buildings, communities, and cities.  For example, in hospitals, there is a trend to integrate the wayfinding systems and traditional signage to help visitors more easily find their way in the environment, and to reduce the burden on employees who frequently need to help visitors to get to their destinations.  Wayfinding is also used in the field of leadership development, suggesting that leaders in any endeavor are on a journey that requires stepping into the unknown, developing sharper powers of observation, being comfortable with uncertainty, and finding new ways to tackle problems and find solutions (Spiller, Barclay-Kerr, & Panoho, 2015).

The basic processes of wayfinding involve four stages:

  1. Orientation is the attempt to determine one’s location, in relation to objects that may be nearby and the desired destination.2.
  2. Route decision is the selection of a course of direction to the destination.
  3. Route monitoring is checking to make sure that the selected route is heading towards the destination.
  4. Destination recognition is when the destination is recognized (Lidwell, et al, 2010).

So what does all this about wayfinding have to do with ‘performance measurement’ and evaluation? Wayfinding – and the four steps above – provide a useful metaphor for thinking about evaluation and performance measurement. 

Performance Measurement as Wayfinding

When programs or agencies decide they need to evaluate their programs, they may feel as though they have not visited here before and they have no map for exploring the landscape. They may feel lost and begin by trying to orient themselves toward their desired destination or outcome.  Next, they gather key stakeholders in order to select a course of direction, or route decision, toward their destination. Next, they set up a tracking or monitoring system to make sure they are heading toward their destination (outcome).  Finally, they try to reach consensus about when they will be able to recognize that they have reached their destination (outcome).  Evaluation and performance measurement is a process, but it is also, invariably, a journey of discovery.

The Maricopa Association of Governments, Phoenix, AZ, recently hosted an online evaluation workshop by this author, for volunteer driver agencies and mobility managers who serve clients who need specialized transportation services. The workshop introduced the many purposes of evaluation, including the following: (1) find a way to define and measure ‘success’ – what is working and getting results for our riders/customers (meaningful evidence); (2) evaluate the results of volunteer driver services or make improvements in their services; (3) assess results or effects of an operational change in volunteer driver services or mobility management; (4) decide how best to expand services in a new area; and (5) convince decision makers and funders that volunteer driver services, accessible community transportation, and mobility management are a vital part of a thriving community.

Key Take-Aways from the Presentation

  • Keep your performance evaluation client or rider-centered. Your clients/riders’ experiences and perspectives provide the true measure of the quality of what you provide. This means that you give priority to the collection of data that focuses on riders – who is riding? Are the number of riders increasing? Are the services working for them? What can we learn from them? Their voices should take center stage.
  • Determine your priorities. We can measure a lot of different things and collect a lot of data – but it’s not always meaningful.  Measure what matters most (seek “meaningful evidence”). Decide what you want to find out most about your program. Do you want to know about how effective the program is? How cost-efficient? The quality of the services? The results and impact on riders and their needs?  Answers to these questions will point you toward your data collection priorities.
  • Use powerful performance measures. Choose measures that are trackable over time, meaningful for addressing rider/client concerns, have storytelling potential, rely on available data, and are SMART (written in terms that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely or time-bound). Create ‘actionable measures’ that show both what is changing, and why, so that decisions and actions can be taken about what to do next.
  • Use data strategically to appeal to potential funders. You are always interested in the long-term sustainability of your services and programs. Use quantitative and qualitative data to explain your story, how your services change the quality of life for members of the community, and why you need to expand services, and what you’ve learned about how to more effectively deliver services.
  • Use both quantitative and qualitative measures. Use both types of measures to measure your progress. Use numbers to show magnitude (increases and decreases) in selected measures. But use powerful qualitative data to explain how your services impact riders and the community, and to tell your story about your role in that journey and destination.
  • Use multiple measures. High quality evaluations include a variety of meaningful measures. Combinations of input (resources invested), process (how you operate), outcome (results), efficiency (costs), and quality (satisfaction) indicators draw upon different aspects of the services that are being delivered and provide a more robust description of the result.

Evaluation for wayfinding is about the journey of a group of people on a mission, who have an important story to tell about their contribution to the community and the people in it. Performance measures capture that story and powerful data provides the compass.


Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler. Universal principles of design. (Rockport Publishers, Beverly, MA, 2010) p. 260.

Spiller, C., Barclay-Kerr, H., & Panoho, J. (2015). Wayfinding Leadership: Ground-breaking wisdom for developing leaders. Huia Publishers.


Carol Kochhar-Bryant is an Evaluation Consultant with the National Center for Mobility Management, and Professor Emeritus at the George Washington University, Washington D.C. She lives in Reston, Virginia.


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