Hello! My name is Cherie Avent, and I am a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. As a member of an external evaluation team, I recently helped facilitate a SWOT analysis for program managers of a National Science Foundation project to aid them in understanding their strengths, areas of improvement, and potential issues impacting the overall success of the project. In this blog, I will share what a SWOT analysis is, how it can benefit evaluations, and how to conduct one.
What is a SWOT Analysis?
The acronym “SWOT” stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. A SWOT analysis examines the current performance and the potential future of a program or project. Strengths and weaknesses are controllable factors internal to a program, while opportunities and threats are uncontrollable external factors potentially impacting the circumstances of the project (Chermack & Kasshanna, 2007). More specifically, a SWOT analysis is used to achieve more effective decision making, assessing how strengths can be utilized for new opportunities and how weaknesses can hinder programmatic progress or highlight threats (Helms & Nixon, 2010). The goal is to take advantage of strengths, address weaknesses, maximize opportunities, and limit the impact of threats (Chermack & Kasshanna, 2007).
How can a SWOT be useful?
As evaluators, we can facilitate SWOT analyses with program managers to assist them in 1) understanding current project actions that are working well or need improving, 2) identifying opportunities for leveraging, 3) limiting areas of challenge, and 4) refining decision making for the overall success of the program. Many of the projects we serve involve various objectives and actions for achieving the overarching program goal. Therefore, a SWOT analysis provides an opportunity for program managers to assess why specific strategies or plans work and others do not.
How does one conduct a SWOT analysis?
There are multiple ways to conduct a SWOT analysis. Here are a few steps we found useful (Chermack & Kasshanna, 2007):
- Define the objective of the SWOT analysis with participants. What do program managers or participants want to gain by conducting the SWOT analysis?
- Provide an explanation of SWOT analysis procedures to participants.
- Using the two-by-two matrix below, ask each participant to consider and write strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the project. Included are questions they may think about for each area.
- Combine the individual worksheets into a single chart or spreadsheet. You can use a Google document or a large wall chart so everyone can participate.
- Engage participants in a dialogue about their responses for each category, discussing why they chose those responses and how they see the descriptions impacting the project. Differing perspectives will likely emerge. Ask participants how weaknesses can become strengths and how opportunities can become threats.
- Lastly, develop an action plan for moving forward. It should consist of concrete and achievable steps program managers can take concerning the programmatic goals.
Chermack, T. J., & Kasshanna, B. K. (2007). The use and misuse of SWOT analysis and implications for HRD professionals. Human Resource Development International, 10(4), 383–399. doi:10.1080/13678860701718760
Helms, M. M., & Nixon, J. (2010). Exploring SWOT analysis—where are we now? A review of academic research from the last decade. Journal of Strategy and Management, 3(3), 215–251. doi:10.1108/17554251011064837
Keywords: evaluators, programmatic performance, SWOT analysis