Last week the Daily Telegraph published an article about the "truth behind British politeness" which revisited the phrases which we British often use, the real meaning, and what (as the Telegraph charmingly puts it) "foreigners" understand. I've seen it printed off and pinned on the walls of several offices over the years - usually within easy view of the telephone. It's a great (and humourous) way to help create understanding, enhance conversations and prevent people talking past each other. I'd even to so far as to say that it's not bad!
The idea of a common language - a frame of reference to support better understanding and more focused conversations is what lies at the heart of the creation and use of self-assessment models. Whilst they are similar in concept to maturity models, the purpose is less to track and measure - and more to create a shared vocabulary to enable more targeted knowledge sharing. I've seen them used to great effect in a wide range of organisations and topics: Engineering, Energy, Operations Maintenance, Safety, Environmental Performance, Supply Chain Management, Collaboration and Health... There are some health-related examples here which grew out of work with the UNAIDS programme, and has been reapplied by the Constellation intoself-assessments for Malaria and Diabetes as well as HIV. (please check the advice page for usage guidance)
I like to think of them as scaffolding for knowledge sharing. It's scaffolding which enables people to climb higher and faster to have richer conversations with deeper understanding.
In each case the self-assessment tool was created by the group who would ultimately use it. That's an important principle. They can recognise their own words - and the results of their discussions - in the practices chosen and the levels and language used to represent each practice. Creating a model together ia a tremendous way to have a group make explicit some of their knowledge, stories, assumptions and unarticulated rules of thumb. It gives a great sense of achievement - having rigourously discussed something they care about and understand deeply - and created an artefact which they can then use. We talk a lot about Communities of Practice - but sometimes communities never work the detail together on what their practice really is, and what good might look like. What a missed opportunity! Building a self-assessment model with members of a community forces a lot of helpful discussion, gives the group a product to be proud of and provides a very easy way for members to self-assess and then share their relative strengths and weaknesses in a knowledge marketplace. it also gives them a framework against which they can store share artefacts and examples (see the AIDS Competence knowledge asset example). Tools like the River Diagram and Stairs Diagram and reciprocal sharing techiques like Offers and Requests help to map out the dimensions of the marketplace ready for knowledge exchange. All of this sounds a lot more purposeful than hoping that needs and responses will serendipitously collide whilst we're talking past each other... So with the greatest of respect, do you hear what I say?