Friday, October 22, 2010

Concept for IDEAS Research Initiative


Human Performance Technology (HPT), a systematic approach to improving productivity and competence, uses a set of methods and procedures -- and a strategy for solving problems -- for realizing opportunities related to the performance of people. More specific, it is a process of selection, analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation of programs to most cost-effectively influence human behavior and accomplishment. It is a systematic combination of three fundamental processes: performance analysis, cause analysis, and intervention selection, and can be applied to individuals, small groups, and large organizations.

How Does HPT Work?

Human performance technology is a set of methods and procedures, and a strategy for solving problems, for realizing opportunities related to the performance of people. It can be applied to individuals, small groups, and large organizations. It is, in reality, a systematic combination of three fundamental processes: performance analysis, cause analysis, and intervention selection. 

HPT uses a wide range of interventions that are drawn from many other disciplines including, behavioral psychology, instructional systems design, organizational development, and human resources management. As such, it stresses a rigorous analysis of present and desired levels of performance, identifies the causes for the performance gap, offers a wide range of interventions with which to improve performance, guides the change management process, and evaluates the results. Taken one word at a time, a description of this performance improvement strategy emerges.

Why HPT and International Development

A donor/aid agency’s goals are usually multiple, general, and with both self and altruistic interests. ISPI’s Human Performance Technology (HPT) practitioners can improve the level, amount, and duration of improvements and progress. This is because its approaches are scaleable in 3 ways:

  • Direct project assessment and technical assistance (specific clients)
  • Catalyst/stimulus (when coupled with technical assistance) to embed change
  • General systems / organizational tool to facilitate improved program results

IDEAS Research Parameters

Goal: To demonstrate the value of HPT to the Donor Development Community through its application in development programs/projects and institutions.

Just as with all development-focused activities, the goal of the IDEAS committee research is complex on many levels. This complexity, while making the planning for research challenging, also affords the committee an opportunity to illustrate how HPT is an ideal framework to understand and address the complex challenges of all development work. HPT is, after all, a systematic, holistic, and inter-disciplinary approach to improving results; offering a unique perspective on how to improve performance within complex contexts.

Nevertheless, there are number of parameters (i.e., complexities) that must be considered within the context of demonstrating, through research, the value of HPT to development efforts. A number of these are included below, along with recommendations for how they are to be addressed within the research project.

Recommendations for Direction of Research

1. Dimensions of the Development Arena 

Include development activities from all technical sectors, including work that is internal (improvement within the development institution itself) as well as external (improvement within client/beneficiary organizations). It may also be fruitful to compile activities led by the private sector in developing countries as this can further illustrate the impact of the application of HPT.

2. Phases of Research

a. Research activities can be rolled out in phases. Initially, the Committee can focus efforts on easily accessible activities - such as compiling existing research from recognized sources (for instance, research journals, professional publications, and institutional reports).

b. As the committee’s linkages grow to include universities offering HPT-focused courses, the research can incorporate student-led original research on the application of HPT in a development setting.

c. This can be complemented with an effort to work with donors and implementing organizations to document and share their evaluative research on the application of HPT in their project activities.

d. As a final step, the committee can work with donor agencies to integrate evaluation and research activities into their project designs. In Year One the focus will be on successful applications of HPT (and HPT related interventions), with the focus expanding in Year Two to include what we can learn from projects that did not meet their objectives.

3. Geographic Focus

At the outset, the team should focus its efforts on gaining access to existing research and initiating research that capitalizes on existing opportunities (e.g. donor funded projects, student-led research). This will facilitate research opportunities in all regions. At the same time, if due to other issues (such as language) this limits the initial research review to just a few regions of the world, that is an acceptable starting place.

4. Sources of Information

Research sources should include donors (USAID, World Bank, etc.) as well as implementing organizations (World Learning, AED, etc.). As the donor community continues examining mechanisms to improve the impact of their activities, the Committee should gain buy-in in two key ways:

a. support for research through their funded program activities;

b. readily share evidence of impact with donors at multiple levels (program managers, portfolio managers, bureau managers, administrators).

Concerning the implementing organizations, the Committee should focus efforts on encouraging these organizations to document the impact of their HPT-based activities. This can be accomplished initially through organizations that participate in the Committee, through organizations affiliated with ISPI, or those identified through preliminary research outlined below.

5. Theoretic Discipline Scope

HPT draws upon many disciplines as a basis for methods. These cannot all be addressed simultaneously. At the start, our review of research should be limited to just 3 or 4 primary disciplines that feed HPT, in addition to the research on HPT itself. In later years, these can expanded upon.

6. Languages

Research on HPT and its related disciplines within the donor environment may be done in multiple languages. Given the make-up of the committee and the depth of donor information available in English, this will be the Initial focus. As we move forward, we can look to expand the committee research scope with professionals (or volunteers) that can provide access to publications in other languages.

7. Glossary and Definitions

Compile and vet a list of commonly used definitions and explanations for the critical terms, concepts and ideas underlying both the development donor context and HPT. Use collaborative concept-map tools (such as the free CMAP tools) to better understand the relationships among terms.

8. Research Resources

The IDEAS committee should take the primary role to direct and disseminate results of research. The committee should work closely with the ISPI Research Committee and other ISPI members affiliated with universities (including GWU, Boise State, Capella) to identify faculty, student or internship projects that may be used to complete aspects of this work. Likewise, the committee should seek to aggregate independent research done from within either the donor or HPT community in support of committee goals.

An important element of this will be identifying a central portal for access to research results. This will include operating within the restraints of copyright restrictions.

9. Dissemination of Findings

Periodic dissemination of research findings should be accomplished. This should be done through a combination of written publications in professional journals, community newsletters and media, websites and blogs. As well, findings may be presented in seminars and workshops or as subjects as specialized conferences.

--  concept developed by research task team Ryan Watkins, Matthew Bond, Samantha Spilka, and Steven Kelly

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