Keeping Committee Work Focused and Fresh

If your school is planning to implement a one-to-one computer or tablet initiative, chances are a committee has been formed to plan, refine and ultimately kick off the initiative. Sometimes teacher-led committees get stuck. Here are two techniques members of a committee can use: one to help focus the discussion on goals and another to ensure everyone is able to see the issues at hand with new eyes.  These are adapted from the HCD Field Guide, the Educators’ Design Toolkit, and This is Service Design Thinking.


Maintaining Focus on Goals: Use the 5 Whys

What is it?

The 5 Whys are just those – a chain of questions used to dig below the outward symptoms of a student’s experience in order to uncover the what’s at the root cause of a problem. 

How do you do it?

Here’s a simple example from a school lunchroom:

Why does it take so long to serve a student?

Because we are so busy! There’s always a line of students waiting to be served at lunchtime.

Why is there always a line of people at lunchtime?

It’s the busiest time of the day, and we don’t have enough staff to serve all the students fast.

Why don’t we have enough staff to cope with the busy period?

We don’t have enough room to accommodate more staff – they would probably just get in the way

Why is there not enough room for more staff?

The service area is too cluttered, as the food storage area we use is very large.

Why is there so much equipment around?

We purchase our food in bulk to save money. This usually results in a lot of stuff sitting around that we have to navigate around.

Why is it used?

The 5 Whys is a simple way to establish the link between a root cause of a problem and what is appearing on the surface. It’s ideal for interviewing students or teachers when you want to confirm whether your concept is going to solve a real problem or not.  

In schools contemplating a one-to-one computing policy, the 5 Whys technique would be a useful exercise to test the question Why do we want our students to have their own device?

Seeing Issues with New Eyes: Go on a Shadow Safari

Committees are, by design, supposed to be effective because their membership is ideally comprised of individuals representing different interests in the school.  But even the best committees run out of steam.  Eventually the members will feel the need to obtain more information about the issue under the committee’s charge.

What is it?

During a shadow safari, committee members are asked to go out “into the wild” and shadow the students, teachers, or other people who will be impacted by the committee’s work. In doing so members observe behavior and experiences.

How do you do it?

During the shadow safari a “researcher” from the committee stays with a target person for a period of time (say half a day or more), remaining as unobtrusive as possible, and documenting what they see with text, video, photos or audio notes. You can use the safari to understand what a person does throughout the day in situations where your new ideas will be implemented. 

Why is it used?

You can find potential pitfalls in your plans. Shadow safaris allow you to spot the moments at which problems could occur with the committee’s ideas. By observing people first-hand, you can document problems that the school staff may not even recognize as problems. Shadowing is a useful technique for identifying those moments where people may say one thing, and yet do another.

In schools contemplating a one-to-one computing policy, the Shadow Safari can be used to better understand the conditions in which laptops or tablets would be most effective. And for schools that have already issued their students laptops, Shadow Safaris yield excellent information on how and why the devices are being used (sometimes with surprising results).

Photo credit (cc) Flickr user flickingerbrad.

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