Measuring the Impact of Our Important Work

Music conductors shape the sound of their ensembles by setting the tempo, guiding phrases, and unifying performers. Doing these things well, however, does not guarantee the music sounds good. A strong performance, I believe, requires a conductor that is acutely aware of music’s potential to impact an audience. Such awareness influences how the conductor listens—her ear more in tune with the possibilities of the music.

One year ago, IIE added “Impact” to the name of its research center: the IIE Center for Academic Mobility Research and Impact. This change reflects a growing awareness within the field of international education about the importance of assessing and documenting the profound influence that international education exchange can have on individuals and societies. To expand this awareness, we have devoted the entire issue of the newly released IIENetworker to an exploration of impact and relevance. Articles look beyond what is happening and how toward a deeper exploration of whether international education matters and why.

We define “impact” as the contribution that international educational exchange and leadership programs make to develop core knowledge and skills, networks, and international cooperation among students and institutions throughout the world. The theory of change that underlies IIE’s vision and mission, however, extends beyond academia. It posits that effective educational interventions provide individuals with value-added opportunities to impact human and economic development in the long-term. Thus, each article analyzes a distinct aspect of this individual and collective impact, with expert authors looking closely at outcomes such as skill and leadership development, economic development, diplomacy, peacebuilding, and civic engagement.

We hear from UN Senior Advisor Colleen Thouez, who describes the growing role of higher education in the international development agenda. IIE’s Southeast Asia director Jonathan Lembright articulates the role of the university and international exchange in imparting civic values that support democracy.

To calibrate our approaches and measures of success, we need systematic and rigorous monitoring and evaluation to document the actual effect of our interventions. This issue, therefore, also includes critical examinations of current approaches and shortcomings, such as an article by Chris R. Glass and Cheryl Matherly emphasizing the need for evaluations that build trust and an essay by AIEA’s Darla Deardorff arguing for a holistic approach to assessment that moves the focus away from the program and toward the learner.

Measuring impact not only informs each intervention that follows, it contributes to a growing field of exploration, with an ear to the potential to improve lives and communities worldwide. We hope that this issue will inspire ‘conductors’ of international education around the world to heed the broader relevance of each intervention and to help uncover new possibilities by documenting—and publishing widely—the processes, outputs, outcomes, and impact of our important work.