Most of our clients and end-users are highly specialised within their area of knowledge. Designing games and tools that work with such end-users makes it crucial for us to be able to bridge the knowledge gab.
In some cases, we have a colleague who already have expert-level background knowledge, but often, we start more or less from scratch. In both cases we need to acquire new specialised knowledge for the particular project.
In many organisations, the internal complexity may be a barrier to getting help from external designers or consultants in the first place. They may worry that they spend too much time and too much money before the consultant starts creating value. Respectively, as a consultant, you must also ask yourself whether you are the right person to help, or the organisation would benefit more from hiring another specialised external resource.
In Workz it is our experience that you can get very far in bridging potential knowledge gaps if you use the right process.
Quite often, a consultant who takes a good approach will start creating value more or less from the get-go. Here are five process steps that will help you bridge the knowledge gap in a resource effective way.
Step 1: Scoping
Before clients and consultants get buried in research, they should ask themselves what the consultants actually need to know.
In some workshop designs, the consultant will only need to master the process, as the participants themselves will make the context specific contributions. If the process takes a more comprehensive design such as a serious game or simulation, our designers need to have a better understanding of the subject matter.
However, it is important to acknowledge that workshop participants can only take in a certain amount of information in one session of for instance 1-3 hours. Sometimes it can make sense to compare the session to an optimal conversation with a subject matter expert: If you were able to ask all the right questions, what could you learn from a 1-3-hour conversation with an experienced expert?
If the consultant has the necessary background knowledge, he or she does not need to acquire more specific knowledge than what can be exchanged through such a conversation. This makes the research task a lot easier to manage. A good tool for this is to create a prioritised list of learning objectives (see the previous post on defining goals and objectives).
Step 2: Initial research
After scoping the task, or as part of it, we recommend doing initial research that does not require a big effort from the client organisation.
Often this will include reading existing materials. This may be articles, cases and slide decks used in similar training programmes or at similar meetings in the client organisation. It may also include internal tools such as sales processes, stakeholder mapping/engagement frameworks, product information/detail aids, positioning papers for external affairs, objection handlers for market access, or basic internal project management tools.
In some specialised areas, it also makes sense to share background articles, e.g. in a pharmaceutical context it makes sense to read general articles about the disease area.
This goal of this initial research is to give the consultant an overview of the subject and a shared language with the client. This makes it possible to have a conversation on a effective level; and is the basis for the nest steps.
Step 3: Expert interviews
Before starting on the design work, we recommend conducting a few explorative interviews with subject matter experts. In these interviews it is our job to not be afraid of asking the dump questions. We are not there to seem like experts, but to getvas much valuable information as possible.
We do not only look at facts; we also focus a great deal on identifying storylines that can make learning points stick. This could be about identifying the dilemmas that inherently lie in working with the subject (e.g. compliance vs. flexibility, local vs. global, customer needs vs. organisational setup, long-term vs. short-term).
If we are researching for a simulation/game design, we also want the expert’s opinion about possible performance indicators and, in general, what makes someone do well in a specific function vs. which traps a rookie may fall into. The stories, dilemmas and performance indicators inform us about what the participants should talk about during the particular process. Also, if we are making a game, we will be able to make a fair and realistic scoring system.
Make sure that the experts have relevant real-world experience. Ideally they should not only understand the perspective of the organisers but also of the participants.
You should also try to frame the interviews in a way that leaves room for maneuvering afterwards. Do not promise the experts that everything they say will end up in the game. Make it clear that perspectives might be cut due to simplicity or scoping.
Step 4: Template
When we have done some of the initial design work and know what specific content is needed, we often make a template with a list of basic questions for collecting knowledge.
This works particularly well if we need to gather knowledge from many experts from around the world or if we are making a design with many different cases and/or possible outcomes. In a situation where we already know what we are looking for, the template is a time-effective way of collecting very specific information.
Templates are also a good way of steering the input in a direction that suits the concept. At the later states of development feedback that falls outside the scope and concept of the solution is of little value. It can sometimes even have a negative effect on important stakeholders if they offer inout that you do not use afterwards. Designing a good template will minimise this risk.
Step 5: Expert review
Even though the subject matters experts may do not play a central role in the client’s project it is a good idea to involve these in ensuring the quality of the final materials.
This can be done through inviting them to participate in tests even though they are not part of the target audience. Also, it is a good idea to get them to commit to reviewing a close-to-final version of the materials.
We recommend sending relevant materials along with a few key questions and review guidelines, and then let them have 3-5 work days to provide their input.
When seeking this kind of review it can be very time consuming to get uncoordinated feedback from several sources. It is often a good idea to have the client offer consolidated feedback.