October 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 5 // Tools of the Trade // 5TOT1

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DOTS: A Visual Assessment Technique for Groups

The DOTS (Delta Over Time System) technique provides a quick visual means for groups to assess pre- and post-meeting knowledge and attitudes of individual participants. Because the technique is interactive rather than extractive, the group rather than the meeting organizers owns the results. This information can be used to shape the meeting agenda, discussion, and action plans. The DOTS technique improves communication during meetings and assessment afterwards.

Larry S. Lev
Extension Economist
Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics
Internet address: levl@ccmail.orst.edu

Fred Smith
Extension Economist
Department of Agricultural Economics
Internet address: smithfr@ccmail.orst.edu

Ray William
Extension Horticulturalist
Department of Horticulture
Internet address: williamr@ccmail.orst.edu

Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon

Many meetings and workshops ask participants to fill-out questionnaires at the beginning and/or the end. In most instances, the results are shared many weeks later in a proceedings report or not at all. We developed the DOTS (Delta Over Time System) technique to help groups gain quick visual access to:

  • Pre-meeting knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes of individual participants;

  • Selected meeting themes or topics;

  • Post-conference knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes of individual participants and closure.

The DOTS technique improves on the traditional questionnaire approach by speeding up the tabulation process and thereby making it practical to report back and discuss results with the group. As a result, this information can be used to shape the meeting agenda, discussion, and action plans.

Using DOTS is simple. The organizers design and post a series of poster sheets, each containing a single question (Table 1). Under each question is a line that displays in words the range of potential responses. As individuals arrive, they receive one set of red dots to mark their responses to the questions before the meeting begins and a second set of blue dots that they will use later to reply to the same questions near the end of the meeting. All dots for each individual are coded with a single common number.

Table 1
Example of Questions Used at a Public Policy Workshop
1. Your understanding of public issues in your subject area:
out of it casually informed on top of it
2. Your motivation to help people become better at resolving their public policy issues.
not motivated sort of motivated all fired up
3. Your knowledge/comfort level with the tools and methods for working with public issues.
uncomfortable sort of comfortable really comfortable
4. Your expectation regarding your success in helping people improve their public policy resolution.
forget it some success great success

Advantages of DOTS

A subtle but important initial advantage of the DOTS technique is that the organizers must distill and focus their approach to the meeting so that they can accomplish the initial task of selecting the questions to be posted. This is a useful exercise.

Second, as participants walk around the room and respond to the questions, the organizers have the opportunity to communicate the important themes or topics of the meeting (and the individual participant has a chance to reflect on these themes). In our experience, there is a significant difference between the extractive process of handing in a questionnaire and the interactive process of responding as one of a group of people to a posted question. The questionnaires belong to the organizers while the poster is owned by the group and can be used throughout the meeting to focus discussion.

Third, the results of the poster are visual and therefore can be quickly summarized and discussed. Thus, everyone knows the range and frequency of responses for the group. This transfer of information is difficult to achieve with written individual questionnaires.

Fourth, at the end of the meeting or workshop the new round of scoring is also quickly accomplished and once again the results can be visually assessed. Using the DOTS techniques, everyone can make their own judgments as to where the group was and where it is now.

Lastly, because each individual has a unique coded number, more detailed paired before and after information can be evaluated. This information would be lost without the use of code numbers. Using poster paper with squares makes it easier to quickly assign the appropriate numeric answer to each response.

Overall, the DOTS technique is a quick and easy addition to a workshop or meeting. It improves communication during the meeting and assessment afterwards.

Additional Issues That May Require Consideration

First, although the DOTS technique preserves the anonymity of individual, there is the possibility that respondents will be influenced by prior voters. Second, the technique described above suggests that responses are limited to voting with dots. It is quite feasible to allow participants to also add written responses on the poster themselves. Third, the group--rather than the meeting organizers--can design the questions and range of responses as an initial group activity.