Bennett’s hierarchy: a simple yet powerful evaluation framework

Evaluation shouldn’t be just the add-on at the end of a project – it’s a core skill for enablers of change like ourselves! So let’s explore one framework for evaluation that’s been around for sometime – Bennett’s Hierarchy. 

In this blog post we’re going to explore what Bennett’s Hierarchy is and give you a few pointers for using it. 

To set the scene for this we head back to the 1970s when Claude Bennett worked as a specialist in evaluation with the extension service in the US Department of Agriculture. He wanted to make sure that extension was collecting information that was able to illustrate the effectiveness of extension, and help extension improve its services to clients. So he developed seven categories of criteria for evaluating extension programmes based on what he called a ‘seven link chain of events’. He put these into a hierarchy – literally in his article describing this – as a diagram of seven steps.

So let’s go through each of these seven levels.

Starting at the bottom we have level 1 and this is inputs. This is resources that are required to run extension programmes, usually things like time, money and extension personnel.

Next up is level 2 and this is the activities – the extension activities – these could be workshops, field days, or resources produced.

Then for level 3 we have participation. This is a common thing for extension programmes to monitor – we count how many people turn up to our workshops or field days or how many saw our work on Twitter or other social media. This is what people like reporting and it’s generally easy to do so!

Level 4 is reactions – that is – the response of the participants to the activities. It may be that they get more interested in finding out about something, that they learn how to do something – it’s the immediate response.

Next we have level 5 – and this is where it starts to get really interesting! This is KASA level change; Knowledge, Attitude, Skills and Aspirational change. This is getting towards the heart of extension – we want people to be able to change and these are the precursors to practice change which is the next level.

Yes! Level 6 is practice change. This is the nitty gritty of extension – it’s why we do what we do. This is the adoption of a new practice, technology, or skill. 

And finally we get to level 7 which is the end results. This is the big picture outcomes, the social, economic, environmental or cultural change driven by the practice change. 

So there you have the seven levels of Bennett’s Hierarchy – what do we do with them? Well Claude had some pretty good tips for thinking about evaluation using the hierarchy. He pointed out that when you’re thinking about evaluation of extension, the higher up the steps you can gather evidence, the stronger the evidence of impact. So the hierarchy forces you to ask questions about what level will you aim to get to. How high in the hierarchy can you gather evidence? 

Bennett was also a realist too though, because he also pointed out that the higher in the hierarchy you go, the greater the difficulty and cost of obtaining the evaluation data, especially hard data. So what’s your budget like and what is realistic to try and gather data on?

These questions are often overlooked when it comes to evaluation, so it’s good practice as an enabler of change to have the chance to work this through and decide what is possible, and why, when evaluating a change programme. This means you can be clear about the change you can track and the amount of time and effort required.

In fact Claude went on to use his Hierarchy as a programme development tool and a programme evaluation tool. Essentially you can use the hierarchy as a way of workshopping the ultimate aims of a programme, and work down the levels to figure out what is needed at each level. Then you can use the hierarchy to figure out what data you can gather to determine how well the programme is going. There’s a few resources that cover this process that we’ll put links below.

So there you have it – one useful framework for evaluation! There are others, but this one has been around for a while and used extensively in agriculture. We’ll be looking at others down the track.

So you’ve read our thoughts, now we’d like to hear yours! Add a comment below and tell us your thoughts about the evolution of extension. We don’t want this to be just a one-way conversation – join in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us! 


References and links

Claude Bennett (1975), Up the hierarchy 
Or click here for the higher quality scanned document

Rockwell and Bennett (2004), Targeting Outcomes of Programs: A Hierarchy for Targeting Outcomes and Evaluating Their Achievement 

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Jane Graham
Jane Graham
7 months ago

Really useful info John. I use a slightly different model for evaluations but there are some elements in this blog article I can apply to improve the method I use. Thanks!

Roy Murray-Prior
Roy Murray-Prior
7 months ago

Hi John. Yes very useful for designing and evaluating. The keys are considering what practice changes are required to achieve the end results and working back to what KASA changes will lead to that and in turn what how many people to attend the activities will lead to the required KASA changes. We can then evaluate the # of people and their reactions to activities to help improve the activities and assess their changes in KASA before and after their involvement in the activities. Then assess the short-term and longer-term KASA changes and practice changes leading to the end results… Read more »

Noel Ainsworth
Noel Ainsworth
7 months ago

Thanks, I have been using Bennett’s Hierarchy since the 1990’s and it has been an indispensable part of effective project management since then. I think success is about first accepting that level 5 KASA achievements are the most useful for planning and delivering project achievements, and secondly winding that effectively into organisational systems like MERI, program logic and others to clearly communicate what teams plan and deliver.

Dr Ashwini
Dr Ashwini
7 months ago

Very useful, we use Log Frame in M&E where in Activity, Output, Goal and Impact are measured.
Thanks for sharing this.

Graham HArris
Graham HArris
7 months ago

Thanks John and Denise – yes I’ve been using the Bennett’s Hierarchy in my extension activities since the 1980’s – it is a great framework which underpins program development and evaluation. And yes, I have a copy of the original paper as well – worthwhile going back to from time to time.

Ian Gould
5 months ago

Thanks for this article, a refresher for me from when I worked with the Dept Agr Victoria.

Now in semi-retirement I’m using Bennett’s as a way to plan and evaluate a program in social change philanthropy. The similarities with agr extension are that we are wanting people to change attitudes and behaviors, on an evidence based rationale.

Is anyone aware of Bennetts being used in Social Change philanthropy?