« Getting Feedback on Your Pilot Workshops | Main | Training is About Creating CHANGE »

Getting to the Real Need

As I've said before in this blog (and over and over the workshops I give), the needs assessment step in the design process is absolutely critical. One of the most challenging parts of this step is uncovering what the real need is under the request. Those of you who work at the reference desk know what I'm talking about. How many times have you had patrons come up to the desk and ask for something that they didn't really mean to ask for? After a deft reference interview you uncover the actual question and the patron leaves satisfied. Same thing with the initial request that we sometimes get for a workshop.

One way to conduct an effective "instructional interview" (similar to a reference interview) is to use a technique called IWWMW that I'm borrowing from the business industry.

IWWMW stands for "In what ways might we" which is the core of the technique.

The process uses these 3 questions or statements:

Question - Why do we want to ….?
Answer – So that….
Redefinition – In what ways might we ….?

You would run through these 3 questions until you were satisfied that you had identified the crux of the problem that you will be addressing.

So, let's say you're talking to your client (the person who wants you to do a workshop). In this case they're a professor. What they ask you is to teach their students a particular database - let's say Pubmed.

Your job is to ask "Why do you want your students to learn Pubmed?"
Perhaps they respond, "So that my students learn to use peer-reviewed articles in their research."
Next you ask yourself if that answer really satisfies you (and them)? Is that the real problem that you will be "solving" in your workshop: "In what ways might students learn to use peer-reviewed articles in their research?"
Or do you want to go deeper?

Try another round:
"Why do you want your students to use peer-reviewed articles in their research?"
They respond, "So that...."
Does that satisfy you? If not, try for another round.

What might happen is that during this process both you and your client realize that you need to overhaul the whole assignment, or maybe even the syllabus. Maybe you need to have a pre or post-workshop assignment to address your bigger "problem." In other words, this discussion could open up enormous opportunities for you and your client to truly tackle some big stuff. And in the least, it can help you really focus on what's essential in the workshop.

Give it a try the next time you conduct a needs assessment!


Continue process until you’re satisfied you’ve identified the real problem.

Post a comment