Goal Attainment Scaling: WHY?


  Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS) is not a panacea for evaluation, but it is an effective evaluative tool that can be employed under two conditions.

            First, the focus of the presenting problem must be relative in nature or operationally defined on a continuum.    Some examples include:

The above six examples are issues that I have seen or have personally used on GAS.    All of these issues are operationally defined on ordinal, interval or ratio scales.  Other example can be found on the "Examples" section of this web page.
            Second, GAS assessments must include a time series element.    That is, a client's issue (i.e., Level of Depression) is assessed over time.   Thus, GAS assumes that the relative nature of the phenomena address varies over time.    In more practical terms, clients get better or worse.  GAS has proven to be an impressive methodology to assess change over time.

            GAS does not require a baseline, which is the central problem with Single System Designs.   In addition, a great deal of research has been completed on reliability and validity issues for GAS [see this web page's "Bibliography" for more information].   Academically, GAS is a simple idea that complies with some rigorous research standards.

            GAS has three impressive elements: a) assessment of the relative nature of the human experience; b) assessment of change over time; and c) impressive research support.    The normal human service practitioner will reply with "SO WHAT!!!!   GAS means nothing more except more paper work and less time with clients."    Just the opposite.   When GAS is used properly and in an earnest manner, it cuts back on paper work and facilitates greater focused interaction with clients.

            GAS works best within the concept of mutuality.   Mutuality is a social work concept which suggests that the central focus of intervention should be the practitioner and client working mutually to achieve the goal.   In this manner, the practitioner and the client construct the GAS scales together.  The mutual goal construction process leads to empowering clients.   GAS shepherds clients into understanding that they are the key element of change.   The psychological benefit of involving the client in GAS is very powerful and well documented in the literature.  The heart of human services includes that notion that the practitioner does DO something to the client -- like a physician does to a patient.   The human service practitioner and the client work together.

            In this context, GAS has two major benefits to the service provider.   First, after one learns how to use it, paper work is cut down.   During each session, the progress of each GAS issue is evaluated and progress notes are used to elaborate.   Second, when used properly, the client is included in the process.   In the reality of everyday practice this translates into more meaningful and focused interaction between the client and the practitioner.

            GAS includes a secondary benefit.  If the sponsoring agency addresses a single issue (i.e., all clients are suffering from depression; all clients are heroin addicts; all clients have trouble pregnancies), the agency could establish a policy that at least one GAS scale must be shared by all clients.   Such a policy enables an evaluator or departmental head to conduct a program evaluation with requiring practitioners to collect or do additional work.
            NOW... GAS is not a panacea for evaluation.  It is an evaluate tool that has limitation.  There are two different arenas for criticisms.   First, some say, "GAS is not workable within the context of what I must evaluate."   This statement may, in fact, be true!   However, sometimes professionals who make such statements may not have taken the time necessary to employ GAS to meet the specific evaluative needs.   Sometimes it takes more than 10 minutes to construct an adequate scale.   In other words, sometimes it takes patience.  Patience is the prerequisite when one first begins to use GAS.   Experienced professionals have learned that once one gets into the rhythm, the process of constructing GAS scales becomes second nature.  Second, some (usually academicians) address the technical issues of reliability and validity.   These statistical issues might be problematic, but one question remains: What evaluative alternatives provide better reliability and validity coefficient than GAS?   At this juncture, we usually find NO evaluative protocol is used.   Making NO effort to systematically evaluate a process is NOT better than using GAS.  Food for thought.