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NA TIG Week: Ingrid Guerra-Lopez on Design-Oriented Needs Assessment: Transitioning from Problem Definition to Solution Design

I’m Ingrid Guerra-Lopez, Professor at Wayne State University and CEO of the Institute for Needs Assessment & Evaluation, and I want to help you through the transition from problem identification to solution design. Needs assessment give us an excellent process to identify the critical gaps in results (what), analyze contributing root causes or factors (why), and then make suggestions on (how) to address the problems and opportunities. A useful needs assessment includes recommendations that address problems and opportunities from a systemic perspective.   However, the level of detail with which those recommended solutions should be delivered to stakeholders can vary greatly, and this in turn impacts the focus and scope of work.

A design-oriented needs assessment is focused on analysis for the purposes producing specifications for designing, developing, and implementing solutions effectively. For example, needs assessment with a knowledge and learning design orientation may be triggered by the desire to develop a learning program for a particular target group. The assumption is that the learning program is a solution to a given problem, hopefully identified through a previous and rigorous needs assessment. The focus in this case, is primarily to investigate what the solution should look like, how it should be implemented, and what will enable it to achieve useful results.

Hot Tip: Collaborate with those who will be designing, developing, and implementing solutions to understand their decision-making and information requirements. Clarifying the specific questions that must be answered for solution designers and implementers will ensure you focus on concrete and ‘actionable’ information.

Hot Tip: Ensure that you gather information from a cross-section of stakeholders to understand the specific requirements of the solution. For example, in order to define what a particular educational program should look like, include potential participants, employers of program completers, subject matter experts, instructors, administrators, etc.

Hot Tip: Balance perspectives of “must have” and “nice to have.” Our process must help us understand in concrete terms what the solution must help participants/users do and achieve, not only what they may want as solution features, characteristics, or content.

Hot Tip: Agree ahead of time on a process and criteria for integrating, and potentially weighing, the solutions requirements of the various stakeholders. At the very least, this will help you make recommendations about implementing phases in light of utility, readiness, feasibility, acceptability, resources, and other agreed upon criteria.

Rad Resources:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Needs Assessment (NA) TIG Week with our colleagues in the Needs Assessment Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our NA TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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