The DACUM method of occupational analysis has been around since the 1970’s, and it is tried, trusted and proven effective in rapidly profiling the competencies required in an occupation – that is, the things that people DO.
Briefly, DACUM involves bringing together a group of 8-15 skilled and experienced practitioners who, under the guidance of a trained DACUM facilitator, go through a structured process to detail the array of things that people do in the context of their occupation.
DACUM works – thousands of occupational analyses have been completed using the process. One of the limitations of DACUM, particularly for national occupational standards, is the need to bring together a national group of subject matter experts/practitioners to hold the DACUM session. The travel and accommodation cost for the SME team can often exceed the professional fees to facilitate the session and develop the final documents. In a digital age, can we use collaborative tools to make reduce or even eliminate the overhead costs associated with DACUM?
Web Conferencing for Virtual DACUM
Some have proposed using web conferencing/virtual meetings to develop occupational analysis. At first glance, the idea is attractive: there are a number of inexpensive technologies that allow individuals to attend meetings in realtime from anywhere they can get an internet connection. In theory, this technology could allow a DACUM session to be conducted remotely. On closer examination however, there are some significant limitations.
The hallmark of the traditional DACUM approach to OS development is the interaction between the participants and the facilitator, and the volume of information (GACs/Blocks, Tasks, Subtasks, etc) posted for general perusal in the room. These two factors help to stimulate some excellent discussions, and therein lies the Achilles heel of web conferencing. In order to be effective, the web conference would need audio links robust enough to allow all participants to hear and interact as though they were in the same physical space, and the video/graphic portion of the conference needs to be capable of real-time presentation of the same sorts of information that would be posted in the conference room for a classic DACUM workshop. To date, we haven’t encountered a web meeting solution that will allow this, and so using them to run a virtual DACUM session is impractical. (I’m quite willing to be proven wrong – if you’ve used web conferencing to to do DACUM, please let me know!).
Maybe we’re looking at it all wrong. The DACUM method demands skilled and experienced practitioners occupy the same physical time and space. Doing a DACUM via Web conferencing eliminates the need to be physically in the same space, but the participants must still occupy the same time. Is there a way to eliminate both the time and physical space requirements?
Wiki software was developed in the mid-90’s to enable online collaboration. Wikipedia is probably the best-known example of collaboration using this technology: content can be rapidly created by anyone, published to the web in real time, viewed by anyone, and then just as rapidly modified and improved (usually) by anyone.
To use wiki for OS updating, the existing OS could be posted online, and subject matter experts from the industry (a much larger group than you could assemble for a DACUM) could be invited to view and modify the content; everything from the scope of the occupation and emerging trends, to the addition (or elimination) of GACs, tasks, subtasks. Comments would be disseminated to all participants, who would be able to respond to the changes in their own time and build toward a consensus for an updated OS.
Using wiki, an OS could be updated more often and at far less cost than traditional face-to-face DACUM sessions. Validation of the new OS is similarly expedited, since the new content has been developed by a significantly larger slice of the population than would be possible with DACUM. All comments, modifications, etc would be archived to form a permanent record of the evolution of the most current standard.
Ideally, the two technologies would be combined: SMEs would attend a learning sessions via web conference to instruct them on their role and how to take part in the real-time standards update, and how to access and use the wiki software. The wiki would then be open for a period of time to gather industry modifications, and a revised standard could be delivered in short order.
Depending on the complexity of the occupation, the process could be broken into steps that mirror the DACUM process: first delve into the scope of the occupation and emerging trends. Next, look at the existing GACs, and modify/add/subtract as appropriate. Next, develop/modify tasks and subtasks for the GACs, and finally have the entire standard available for final review.
The SME group could be as large as the industry desired; certainly more than the dozen or so participants in a traditional DACUM. More participation means greater buy in, as well as greater validity. Rapid and inexpensive development will allow changes to be made far more frequently than is currently the case. This new paradigm moves us toward “open source” occupational standards… and that’s a very positive step indeed!