As one of the most popular methods of evaluating interventions, the Brinkerhoff Model deserves to be considered when assessing the impact of training, coaching and other organisational interventions.

A Brief Background to Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method

In 2003, Robert O. Brinkerhoff introduced his “Success Case Method“ (SCM) of evaluating training effectiveness stating that traditional evaluation models and methods were wrong to focus on simply “assessing the scope of training’s effect”. While other training evaluation models tend to focus more on effective human resource development (HRD) operations, Brinkerhoff’s SCM aims to “inquire more broadly into the performance management context.” 

As the SCM focuses on qualitative analysis, it can also be used to analyse any major business change including the implementation of a new process, policy or even new equipment. It is also a useful approach for documenting the factors that can affect, enhance or impede a variety of situations or events.

What Exactly Is The Success Case Method?

It is a methodology for understanding how a training or coaching programme works well, or why it is not working. Unlike other training evaluation models, it doesn’t focus on finding the average performance of training participants, but rather, it studies the extreme cases, i.e. the most and least successful participants.

The two most important questions asked by the SCM are:

  • “How well does a programme work in a best-case scenario?”
  • “When a programme doesn’t work, what’s the reason for this?”

According to Brinkerhoff, an SCM evaluation can answer the following questions:

  • What is really happening?
  • What results, if any, is the programme helping to produce?
  • What is the value of the results?
  • How could the initiative be improved?
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Understanding The Success Case Methodology (SCM)

The five key steps of the SCM are:  

  1. Planning a Success Case study. 
  2. Defining what success should look like and drafting an “Impact Model”. 
  3. Writing a survey that identifies best-case and worst-case scenarios, then implementing this survey.  
  4. Documenting success cases and conducting interviews.  
  5. Drawing conclusions, writing recommendations and communicating findings to stakeholders.

As mentioned, the “ultimate goal” of the SCM is to examine the performance of the ‘outlier’ participants of the training in order to learn what to change to make it more successful. Brinkerhoff’s view was that, while some training programmes are successful, and some are total flops, the vast majority fall somewhere in between. The goal is to identify and interview these participants and then compare the differences between them.   

This “ultimate goal” can be broken down into “mini goals”: 

  • Identify what success looks like 
  • Use surveys to identify the most and least successful participants 
  • Study these participants in detail 
  • Compare the successes to failures 
  • Make recommendations for what to change in the future 
  • Write and publicise success stories to show the value of the program

Key Features Of The SCM Methodology

Brinkerhoff’s SCM can be quite useful when designing learning experiences and is a worthy alternative to other training evaluation models such as the Kirkpatrick’s model and Kaufman’s five levels of evaluation.

The key features of the model are:

Its Focus on Performance 

This main feature makes it more manageable than most other training evaluation models because, while other focus on the human resource development (HRD) of training, the SCM focuses on the performance of the participants, making it simpler to implement.


Its Focus on Systems

Some major training evaluation models are criticised for not measuring the other factors besides training that can produce results. Brinkerhoff wrote that as training alone cannot produce results, “training should not be the object of evaluation” (Brinkerhoff, 2005). He designed his SCM to focus on systems because he recognized that multiple factors could impact the outcome of a learning opportunity, including performance support, training, or resources.


Its Focus on Improvements

It focuses on continuous improvement of both the training and the organisation by using clear, purposeful sampling while collecting data that other training evaluation models may miss if they only look at averages. By deliberately searching for outliers, the SCM flags up emerging success factors which an organisation may not have included in their impact model.


Steps to Applying the Brinkerhoff SCM Model

  1. Develop an impact model 
  2. Identify the best and worst cases
  3. Obtain evidence
  4. Analyse the data
  5. Communicate your findings and make recommendations 


Brinkerhoff’s SCM provides a useful way of working out why a training programme was successful, or not successful. Its main advantage is its application ease and cost effectiveness when compared to other models such as the Kirkpatrick Model. If your organisation would prefer to focus more on the evaluation results and leave the evaluation to experienced experts, then do not hesitate to contact Smart Consult; we would be happy to assist.

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Reference Links:

  1. Brinkerhoff, R. O. (2003). The success case method: Find out quickly what’s working and what’s not. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
  2. Brinkerhoff, R. O. (2006). Telling training’s story: Evaluation made simple, credible, and effective. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
  3. Brinkerhoff, R. O., & Apking, A. M. (2001). High impact learning: Strategies for leveraging business results from training. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
  4. The Brinkerhoff Certification Program for High Impact Learning and Performance.
  5. Kirkpatrick Partners. (n.d.). Brinkerhoff Certification Program.

Table of Contents

Post Excerpt

The Brinkerhoff Model is one of many learning evaluation methods. Read on to find out how to apply this methodology to identify success or failure in a training programme

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