One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain: “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.”  How can we construct a better innovation kaleidoscope for assessment?

We all attend conferences to get ideas from our colleagues in the assessment community on how to manage challenges. But ideas from across industries have been the source for some of the most radical innovations. Did you know that the inspiration for fast food drive-throughs was race car pit stops? Or that the idea for wine packaging came from egg cartons?

Most of the assessment conferences we have attended recently have been filled with sessions about artificial intelligence. AI is one of the most exciting developments to come along in our industry – as well as in other industries – in a long time. But many small- or moderate-sized organizations may feel it is out of reach for their organizations. Or they may be reluctant to adopt it for security or other concerns.

There are other worthwhile ideas that can be borrowed from other industries and adapted for use by small and moderate-sized assessment organizations. For instance, concepts from product development, design thinking, and lean manufacturing can be beneficial to assessment processes.

Agile Software Development

Many organizations use agile product methodologies for software development. While strict adherence to an agile methodology may not be appropriate for item development activities, there are pieces of the agile philosophy that might be helpful for item development processes. For instance, in the agile methodology, user stories are used to describe the end goal of a software feature from the standpoint of a customer or end user. In the same way, the user story concept could be used to delineate the intended construct responsibilities items must meet or how items are intended to be scored. This can help ensure that everyone involved in test development has a clear understanding of the measurement intent of the item from the onset.item review kanban

Another feature of agile development is the use of acceptance criteria. Acceptance criteria are predefined standards used to determine if user stories have been completed. In item development processes, acceptance criteria can be developed to set and communicate common standards to all involved in the item authoring process.

Agile development also uses a tool known as a Kanban Board to manage the process of software development by assigning tasks and moving development requests through various stages such as new, awaiting specs, in development, in QA, and user review. This approach can be applied the management of item development in assessment, as you see here from our platform.

Design Thinking and Innovation

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation. At its core is empathy for customers and users. A key design thinking tool is the journey map, which is a visual representation of a process that individuals (e.g., customers or users) go through to achieve a goal. The purpose of creating a journey map is to identify pain points in the user experience and create better user experiences. Journey maps could potentially be used by assessment organizations to diagram the volunteer SME experience and identify potential improvements. Likewise, it could be used in the candidate application and registration process.

Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing is a methodology aimed at reducing production times. A key technique within the lean methodology is value stream mapping (VSM). VSM is a way of visualizing both the flow of information and materials through a process as a means of identifying waste. Admittedly, I do not know a great deal about the intricacies of the technique, but it is most helpful to understand the underlying philosophy and intentions:

· To develop a mutual understanding between all stakeholders involved in the process;

· To eliminate process steps and tasks which do not add value to the process but may contribute to user frustration and to error.

The big question for innovation: Why?

A key question to ask when examining a process is ‘why.’ So often we proceed with processes year in and year out, keeping them the same, because ‘it’s the way we’ve always done them’ without ever questioning why, for so long that we have forgotten what the original answer to the question was. ‘Why’ is an immensely powerful and helpful question.

In addition to asking the ‘why’ question, a takeaway from value stream mapping and from journey mapping is visual representation. Being able to diagram or display the process is a fantastic way to develop a mutual understanding from all stakeholders involved in the process. So often we also concentrate on pursuing shiny new tools like AI that we neglect potential efficiencies in the underlying processes. Visually displaying processes can be extremely helpful in process improvement.

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Belinda Brunner

Belinda Brunner has more than two decades of experience in assessment, including three healthcare certification boards and two international testing companies. Her expertise lies in the development and management of high-quality exams, especially personnel certification.
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