The Friday Funny: The “dead horse” evaluation

According to the wisdom of the unattributed traditional saying, passed on from website to website,

When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

We have been studying a particular species of evaluation report that has been known to take a quite different approach to the evaluation of dead horses:

  1. Declaring that, as the dead horse does not have to be fed, is less costly, carries lower overhead, it therefore yields a substantially greater return on investment for the economy than do some other horses.
  2. Rewriting the expected performance requirements on all horses.
  3. Undertaking a cost analysis to see if it is cheaper for outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

Like many related species of evaluation report (including the ones mentioned by Tererai Trent in one of yesterday’s posts),  these dead horse evaluations often make astounding logical leaps, skipping over irritating pieces of data that mess up the analysis, such as the minor detail of the horse having no heartbeat.

Recommendations to the client include such sage advice as:

  1. Buy a stronger whip.
  2. Change riders.
  3. Threaten the horse with termination.
  4. Appoint a committee to study the horse.
  5. Arrange to visit other countries to see how others ride dead horses.
  6. Harness several dead horses together to increase the speed.
  7. Provide additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.
  8. Do a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance.
  9. Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position.

13 comments to The Friday Funny: The “dead horse” evaluation

  • Salaam

    I think evaluation and transparency have the same story! Now I read a transparency story under title: Transparency is Dead. Long Live Transparency.

    Please read this article for problem solving in both.



  • Patricia Rogers

    Thanks for that link, Moein. I thought these comments distinguishing between transparency and accountability were particularly interesting:

    “I love transparency and completely agree that it is a necessity for open government. But transparency alone is not enough.

    I say it’s a false god because the real goal is accountability. Transparency is only the lens through which accountability can be determined. Once data is verified, or a transgression is uncovered in the data, what do we do? Well today, we announce it publicly and expect the appropriate agency to respond out of fear and embarrassment.

    There has to be a better way!

    Enter participation and collaboration. How nice would it be if every time a transgression was discovered, there was a reliable way to not only ensure that the information could get to the people within government that could fix it (participation); but in addition, if the various offices and individuals that were responsible had the ability to work together to actually solve the problem (collaboration).”

    I like the focus on going beyond the “What” of reporting, to “So what” and “Now what”. Still pondering whether participation and collaboration are always going to be involved in the consequential processes.

  • Salaam All,

    It is not as if the sky is falling, but why this horse poops?
    Who is accountable? Who is transparent? Who don’t? What is transparency in evaluation directing?



  • Carolyn Sullins

    Don’t forget:

    Recommendation #10: Hire a team of graphic artists to design eye-catching brochures celebrating the wondrous value of the dead horse.

    Recommendation #11: Classify your entire organization as “community driven” and “culturally competent” because you got a focus group of 5 diverse community members to give you feedback on your brochure.

    And recommendation #12: Announce that you have met your outcome goals because you have printed and distributed 10,000 copies of the brochures throughout the community.

  • #6a: Don’t just harness several dead horses together – while you’re at it, give them a greater load to haul, over a longer distance, at a higher speed, and reduce the amount of hay in their trough. This is especially effective if one of the horses is *only mostly dead* as it provides a competitive environment and will motivate the fully-dead ones to try harder.

  • Patricia Rogers

    Recommendation #12 Require the rider to continue riding the horse as research has shown that horses increase the speed of travel.

  • david earle

    Recommendation #13 (because there has to be a 13 in every good horror story) come up with a set of arbitrary performance measures that focus on inputs and process; and for heavens sake don’t ask about the race outcomes.

  • #15 Stuff the dead horse, display it prominently, and establish it up as an exemplar (look at the beautiful coat! that flowing mane and tail!)

  • Salaam

    Susan Kistler as more formal dispenser for our ill horse wrote:

    #15 Stuff the dead horse, display it prominently, and establish it up as an exemplar (look at the beautiful coat! that flowing mane and tail!)

    Ok one may say she watch the full part of a water glass! And I say: it is not a good treatment for ill horse! It is only histrionics.



  • the following are recommendations that will likely not be given to the client by the consultant or researcher who concluded that the horse is dead, but then, they are all the more worthwhile trying if the organisation likes dead-horse-riding:

    #16 attack and deny the statement that the horse is dead and provide one of the following reasons:
    #a the consultant has brought in his own bias
    #b the consultant did not know the context and local customs of horse-riding well enough
    #c the consultant has based his ideas too much on the perceptions of ordinary people who do not have enough knowledge about horses, since they only watch the horse races
    #d the consultant has not done the debriefing to your organisation in the proper way and therefore the report cannot be accepted in any way
    #e since your horse must by definition be the best horse around, it follows that all other horses are even more dead, and therefore your dead horse should still continue to serve as a good example for others

  • Makarand Sahasrabuddhe

    Recommendation # 16

    Establish a study circle involving a wide range of stakeholders so that they can learn from the deadhorse and take those learning to ‘scale’ through replication and advocacy interventions.

  • Geoff Howse

    Do not forget that the Trojan Horse was a dead horse! (not alive)

  • Rita McPhail

    I love this! You would think that when an evaluation, especially a participatory eval, determines there is a dead horse in the room that the smell would get to people after a few months and certainly after a few years!