Direct observation of practice is an evaluation tool where participants are exposed to a real or simulated situation and must interact with it in real-time.
Participants have limited information about the situation they are to face and little time to prepare. It is a way to assess how the participant communicates with other people, makes decisions under pressure and adapts to changes on-the-fly.
Using this mode
Role plays can be integrated into an interview process or coaching session. Practitioners can also be shadowed, on a field visit or in an office, to assess them in real situations.
These evaluations can serve as a hiring tool, or as a means to give focused feedback to existing staff.
Guidance for assessors
- Determine specifically what dimensions you are assessing and what you are looking for. For example the ability to ask questions, manage a conflict / tension, etc.
- For a role play provide the actor(s) with enough background and guidance that they can play the role convincingly and respond appropriately. Do not attempt to overdesign the situation such that there is only ‘one way’ of succeeding. Allow for dynamism based on what the practitioner does.
- Due to the subjective nature of this evaluation method, multiple evaluators, and/or multiple scenarios, can improve the objectivity of the assessment.
Example competencies for direct observation of practice
Innovative thinking: competency A7
Pay attention to how practitioners develop alternative possibilities when designing an intervention or developing an offer to present to a partner. Do they consider a range of options? Are they able to work through the likely outcomes/responses for each option? When observing team meetings look for whether there are explicit sections of time allocated to brainstorm a range of ideas - for example free-for-all idea generation or small group alternative development.
Decision making: competency B1
Present practitioners with a proposed intervention. Give them one minute to think and make decision about what the programme should do and ask them to justify their decision.
Relationship building: competency C1
Provide a prompt for a situation where practitioners have to interact with a person whose behaviours are easy to judge negatively. For example predatory business behaviour or spending family money on drinking. Get them to role play that interaction. Observe how much they are able to empathise and inquire as opposed to being judgmental and jumping to conclusions.
Facilitation: comptetency C2
Provide some time for the practitioner to develop a facilitation plan or strategy for a given scenario or situation with a specific objective. In a simulated setting, with role-playing actors, ask the practitioner to implement their plan. Assess their ability to include all group members, manage conflict, shepherd the conversation, adapt as necessary and work within time limits to achieve the objective.
Communication: competency C3
Look for evidence of planning before writing a report or developing a presentation. Observe for clarity, use of appropriate visuals and ability to answer questions about the content. Observe for how audience-specific the practitioner is in their choice of language, tone and messaging.
Influence: competency C4
Pay attention to how well practitioners build trust and rapport. Also how they adjust their language and framing to match the person they are trying to influence. Watch for examples of practitioners directly applying the six principles of influence - reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, liking and consensus. Debrief these specific points to see how they are learning when to apply different principles.
Self-learning: competency C5
There is a wide range of possible behaviours to observe for this competency: Do practitioners engage in online networks and reading and do they bring this back to the team? How often do they ask for feedback from peers or managers? To what extent are they seen to be actively helping their teammates on difficult challenges?
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