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April 28, 2008

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.

August 14, 2006

Prepare for the beginning chaos of group design!

Yes, group design is messy, it’s crazy, and it’s sometimes chaotic. I was reminded of this recently as I worked with a group of school librarians charged with designing a 2 hour in-service to teachers in their district about new technologies they needed to know about. Our first challenge was to figure out exactly what we were trying to do in the 2 hours alloted for workshop delivery. The organizer who had brought me in to facilitate the beginning of the process had a loose idea, but wasn’t really too sure. This was really for the group to figure out.

This is where that first step in the process – Needs Assessment – is so vital. I encouraged the group to figure out just who their client is and if this client was mandating anything in particular. Thankfully, a district level administrator was on hand and brought up on the web a high level document that that identified about 8 key areas of technology that teachers should know about. There was some of the direction that the design group needed to focus their thoughts.

Identifying a client and getting a specific as possible about what they need and expect is so often gives much needed direction to a seemingly wide-open workshop. I really encourage you to push to identify a client.

In the Needs Assessment step we also worked long and hard to find an over-arching goal for the workshop. What’s the workshop’s overall goal and purpose? The group began thinking of this as the title for the workshop.

These two things- 1) identifying what the client wants out of the workshop and 2) identifying a succinct over-arching goal for the workshop, takes a lot of time and energy. And – be prepared – it can be a total mess!

Since I was only there for the first morning of a week design process, the school district organizer I worked with emailed me to tell me that the first couple of days were “extremely chaotic? but about mid-way through the process everything seemed to crystallize. The group is now designing a “Tech Quest? for teachers to work through at their own speed. “Everyone will be on a computer and we’re going to introduce a topic, give them 10 minutes to do the Tech Quest, and then move on to the next topic.?

So have faith! Expect the chaos in the beginning but look forward to the “click? when everything seems to fall into place and the design process finally picks up steam.

Remember -- it all hinges on the Needs Assessment step so please give it the time and energy it deserves!