Migchiel Van Diggelen: Defining quality in mentoring, supporting the practitioners’ perspective

by Juhair Mahtab

How do mentoring practitioners and researchers define quality in mentoring? When it comes to the mentoring field, there is no doubt that quality and evaluation is important. Defining quality is instrumental in setting quality guidelines, identifying the impacts of these mentoring programmes and improving these mentoring services. Subsequently, this can determine if these mentoring projects can receive funding based on their ability to meet these quality standards. What if there was a new way of looking at quality from a practitioners’ perspective? 

Migchiel Van Diggelen is quite familiar with the topics of evaluation, assessment and coaching in education.  Quality assurance has always been a part of his work,“I have particular beliefs on how we should deal with it and it seems to deviate from colleague researchers in the mentoring field”. He is a researcher and teacher at the Open University of the Netherlands. Migchiel has been supervising a study conducted by Marriet Compaijen, a master’s student in educational sciences. Seeking to answer just one question, ‘what is good mentoring?’. This study investigated what quality mentoring means at three Dutch mentoring programmes at vocational training institutions (VET Mondriaan, VET Midden Nederland and MentorProgramma Friesland). According to Migchiel, quality in mentoring is a very contested and complex concept. Migchiel noticed from existing research that many studies look at quality from a scientific researchers’ perspective, which is not always the same as the practitioners’ perspective on quality. And that quality is very context-specific, what is seen as good in one mentoring programme can be quite different than what is good in another one.
The study investigated how mentors and mentees define quality. The participating programmes operate with different goals, with one targeted at migrants, another one on peer mentoring and the third one aimed at professional mentoring. Using the methodology of “group concept mapping”, 48 mentors and 42 mentees participated in this study. 95 statements to answer the question, ‘What is good mentoring?’ were collected and grouped. And how does that work? Group concept mapping can be used to organize the ideas of a group on a topic, this being the case of quality in mentoring. This allows for effective visualization of the ideas of the group and identifying which ideas are the most relevant, important and feasible. In practice, a prompt was formulated and participants started to brainstorm based on this prompt, how mentors and mentees view good mentoring. The resulting statements are then grouped and scored by the participants, depending on how relevant and feasible they are. This also provides insight into the frame of reference of the participants and how it differs. In other words, this method includes the opinions of all the participants together. 

Some of these statements were: Listen well to each othershow empathyfeeling understoodagree on expectationsget new insightsbuild consciousness, etc. The study identified groups of clusters based on these statements which were interpersonal communications, basic manners, reciprocal expectations (from both mentors and mentees), and conditional aspects and so on.  The results of this study were quite similar to research and confirmed what the science states. What differed was in its ability to gain a fine insight into what the mentors and mentees found relevant and irrelevant. Though the results come from a heterogeneous group, the study was explorative and this should be taken into consideration when interpreting the results of the study. Migchiel further adds, “Such a study could be performed focused on a certain target area of mentoring. In that way, it is perhaps most informative.”

And what are the implications of this study for mentoring programmes? The methodology of this study is very useful and can be used as an example for gaining insight into what mentors and mentees see as good mentoring. The framework used in this study can serve as a starting point for evaluation. He believes that with further research, evaluation questionnaires can also be derived.

In the future, Migchiel will likely put his focus on the issues regarding quality in mentoring and in particular with a focus on theories of change and a professional identity development perspective on mentoring. Migchiel believes that evaluation of, for example,a mentoring programme asks for a theory of change that explains why which changes are supposed to take place. Ideally, evaluation findings are related to such a theory to give proper meaning to the findings. Such a theory could well be related to the personal and or professional development of a mentee or phrased differently, the professional identity development of a student. Hence, each mentoring programme, in the end, aims to invest in the development of a mentee. In that way, important quality issues might be resolved. The issue is that the quality of mentoring is very context-specific, depending on the objective of the programmes and the stakeholder involved. However, these ideas need to be refined and put to the test.

About Migchiel Van Diggelen
Besides being a researcher and teacher at the Open University of the Netherlands, he is also involved with Design-Based Education (DBE) at NHL Stenden University. There he is working on redesigning the school curricula based on research. His skills and expertise are in the fields of educational evaluation, formative assessment, coaching and professional development amongst others. He is also a member of the researchers’ committee of the European Center for Evidence-Based Mentoring and has been a part of many studies related to the topic of mentoring. Migchiel is interested in mentoring as he considers it as a part of the “developmental strategy, which can contribute to the personal and professional development of the students or people, whatever the context is”. 

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