The excitement is palpable, we're on the cusp of a paradigm shift, and it's all thanks to technology. This is a pretty common start to blogs, articles, and comments on a whole number of topics. In fact, a Google search of the term "technology is revolutionising" returns 434,000 hits, ranging from advertising and train design, to healthcare and cash flow management. Assessment is firmly on the bandwagon. Technology may offer great potential changes in assessment, but with our excitement about what we can now do, is there a risk we reduce our capability to provide great insight?
Technology is impacting the types of data we have access to. In this connected world, our digital fingerprint reveals more about us than we like to admit. New analytic techniques gather data on every tweet, click, like, and share we make. Currently this information is used to target advertisements at us, but the next generation of assessments could use it too. Cambridge University has been working for a number of years on a tool that predicts personal characteristics from your digital footprint. It trawls Facebook likes, statuses, tweets, and browsing data to predict factors like your personality, intelligence, and even sexuality and life satisfaction.
Should we be worried about Big Brother? A recent survey by Hogan showed most respondents found it acceptable to capture personality from natural language (tweets, email, group chat, etc), social connections (LinkedIn), facial and vocal analysis, and games. However, shared social data like Facebook likes was less acceptable for data collection. It may be that that feels a bit too intrusive.
Although this trend is exciting and fashionable, a person's on-line persona and work persona may be different. Much work needs to be done on validity to make sure correct decisions are being made using these new data sources. Understanding how to select and pull together alternative types of assessment to provide a rounded perspective is critical.
Technology is also changing how assessments are delivered. Our penchant for running life from the comfort of a smartphone opens up huge potential in places where no assessment has gone before. For example, in Africa, which has traditionally been behind the global digital divide, there are around 1 billion subscriptions for mobile phones, with a rapidly increasing proportion of those being smartphones.
Smartphones open up extensive possibilities for assessment related apps. For example, apps are being developed to make it easier to distribute interview questions, gather feedback, and collate information. These can help busy executives, who can now provide interview feedback from the back of a cab on the way to the airport.
However, as electronic access to assessments is often unsupervised, cheating becomes a major concern. Statistics on this vary, though some studies report that 50% of students admit to some kind of cheating on tests and exams, including having someone else take online tests for them.
Finally, technology provides different platforms. Gamification is the word on everyone's lips, with realistic job previews, which mix assessment and insight into the role, now being used at the beginning of assessment processes, integrating candidate attraction and selection.
The logic of creating immersive experiences is understandable—it sounds much more fun and more appealing to participants. As the best way to assess someone for a role is to have them actually do it, these "games" may actually improve assessment validity. We have yet to find out.
While big data, gamification, and apps are, let's face it, pretty cool, it's important to remember that not all assessments are created equal. The HR software market is worth more than USD$14 billion. That's an attractive big prize for start-ups and venture capitalists. Some of these are building fantastic solutions with really innovative thinking, some…not so much.
Technology is not changing the need for valid, reliable, high-quality assessments and trained assessors. There's no point having a user friendly way to deliver feedback if that feedback is low quality, or to be able to visualise data if that data is fundamentally flawed.
The ability to translate a business need into tools that provide true insight, look under the hood to differentiate quality, and put an effective organisational supporting structure in place continue to be the secret sauce to getting the recipe right. This is where working with qualified psychologists can provide peace of mind, while you take advantage of all the possibilities unleashed by our ability to harness binary code.