How to Use Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method in Workplace Learning

There are a lot of different frameworks that organisations use to evaluate the impact of their workplace learning initiatives. The Kirkpatrick model and the Philips ROI model may be the most common ones. While the Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method is perhaps a less known one, it can too provide value when used correctly. In this post, we’ve compiled a quick overview of the method and how to use it to support L&D decisions in your organisations.

What’s the Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method?

The method is the brainchild of Dr. Robert Brinkerhoff. While many of its original applications relate to organisational learning and human resources development, the method is applicable to a variety of business situations. The aim is to understand impact by answering the following four questions:

  • What’s really happening?
  • What results, if any, is the program helping to produce?
  • What is the value of the results?
  • How could the initiative be improved?

As you may guess from the questions, the Success Case Method’s focus is on qualitative analysis and learning from both successes and failures on a program level to improve for the future. On one hand, you’ll be answering what enabled the successful to succeed and on the other hand, what barred the worst performers from being successful.

How to use the Brinkerhoff Method in L&D?

As mentioned, the focus of the method is on qualitative analysis. Therefore, instead of using large scale analytics, the process involves surveys and individual learner interviews. By design, the method is not concerned with measuring “averages” either. Rather the aim is to learn from the most resound successes and the worst performances and then either replicate or redesign based on that information.

So ideally, you’ll want to find just a handful of individuals from both ends of the spectrum. Well-designed assessment or learning analytics can naturally help you in identifying those individuals. When interviewing people, you’ll want to make sure that their view on what’s really happening can be backed with evidence. It’s important to keep in mind that not every interview will produce a “success case”, one reason being the lack of evidence. After all, you are going to be using the information derived with this method to support your decision making, so you’ll want to get good information.

Once you’ve established the evidence, you can start looking at results. How are people applying the newly learnt? What kind of results are they seeing? This phase requires great openness. Every kind of outcome and result is a valuable one for the sake of analysis, and they are not always the outcomes that you expected when creating the program. Often training activities may have unintended application opportunities that only the people on the job can see.

When should you consider using Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method?

It’s important to acknowledge that while the method doesn’t work on everything, there are still probably more potential use cases than we can list. But these few situations are ones that in our experience benefit from such qualitative analysis.

  • When introducing a new learning initiative or a pilot. It’s always good to understand early on where a particular learning activity might be successful and where not. This lets you make changes, improvements and even pivots early on.
  • When time is of the essence. More quantitative data and insights takes time to compile (assuming you have the necessary infrastructure already in place). Sometimes we need to prove impact fast. In such cases, using the Brinkerhoff method to extract stories from real learners helps to communicate impact.
  • Whenever you want to understand the impact of existing programs on a deeper level. You may already be collecting a lot of data. Perhaps you’re already using statistical methods and tools to illustrate impact on a larger scale. However, for the simple fact that correlation doesn’t mean causation, it’s sometimes important to engage in qualitative analysis.

Final thoughts

Overall, Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method is a good addition to any L&D professional’s toolbox. It’s a great tool for extracting stories of impact, telling them forward and learning from past successes and failures. But naturally, there should be other things in the toolbox should too. Quantitative analysis is equally important, and should be “played” in unison with the qualitative. Especially nowadays, when the L&D function is getting increased access to powerful analytics, it’s important to keep on exploring beyond the surface level to make the as informed decisions as possible to support the business.

If you are struggling to capture or demonstrate the impact of your learning initiatives, or if you’d like start doing L&D in a bit more agile manner, let us know. We can help you in implementing agile learning design methods as well as analytical tools and processes to support the business.

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