Virtual Assessment Centres

Creative Commons (CC) resources are continuing to increase, from web pages to graphics, to audio and video media. Creative Commons Licensing was started by a Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig to deal with creative works protected by copyright law, including text, audio, pictures and video of any subject, in any format. The words ‘Commons’ derives from those elements of the environment we all share, seas, rivers, land and air. Today there are also cultural commons including art and historical landmarks, and scientific commons that enable the sharing of critical research, i.e. open access to research critical to advance progress against cancer. And, the EU has called for full open access to scientific research by 2020.

A CC provides licenses that authors can use to state how other people are allowed to copy or redistribute those works, use them for derivative works, and make money from them without asking permission or paying royalties to the author. It can rapidly drive collaboration, where every commons client can use, copy, remix and redistribute everything, thanks to copyright terms that are much more liberal than those pursued by most organisations who ‘own’ material.

The rights granted through CC licensing can only be in addition to those already present in copyright law, like fair use or fair dealing, and you can only apply CC licensing to your own, original work; in other words, you can’t legally incorporate somebody else’s copyrighted work into your own because you want to distribute the result under a CC license.

My work to date has focused on applying this approach to assessment and development business simulation material in order to support virtual assessment centre strategy.

The present economic downturn has had a significant impact on the management consultancy marketplace. Most sources of business analysis and reporting reveal a need to drive efficiencies in business infrastructure. Human Resources (HR) and recruitment processes are not immune to this need for streamlining, and the continuing development of virtual people development and assessment processes reflect this.

When we examine the recruitment landscape, technological solutions are ever prevalent and growing. E – recruitment is the norm and has been for some time and it’s arguably rare to see a paper and pencil psychometric, most tools have gravitated on-line. The Internet has allowed companies to access large talent pools of jobseekers and potential talent quicker and cheaper than ever before, making it a more cost effective option than the traditional newspaper or publication advert and reducing the need for using agencies. Further, it’s more cost effective to test multiple participants remotely than in a live setting.

However, while E-Recruitment and on-line psychometric testing is well established, translating assessment/development centre processes into a virtual environment is more involved. There are systems out there but there is still plenty of opportunity for further development.

A powerful strategic response to the development of the virtual assessment/development centre is to ensure that business simulation tools (i.e. group exercises, role play exercises, in-tray etc.) are allowed to evolve, and this evolution is placed in the hands of recruiters and HR practitioners that use such advanced processes on the front line. Such flexibility reduces cost by allowing new versions of materials to be designed to reflect changes in assessment/development requirement.

Applying a CC license to A&D business simulation materials leads to the following terms and conditions in law:

Clients are free to:

  • Share – copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
  • Adapt – remix, transform, and build upon the material

Consequently, clients can not only purchase business simulation templates that they can edit in relation to requirement; if they have the software capability in-house the absence of copyright restriction enables practitioners to put the materials on-line, developing their own virtual assessment centre capability. This is not possible with current ‘off the shelf’ exercises under copyright, as professionals cannot adapt and share (in any medium or format).

For those organisations that currently publish assessment and development business simulation materials, the idea represents a very clear mindset transition many will be unwilling to make. This leaves a choice between purchasing static materials, which can only be used once for a single unit fee or designing bespoke material in-house, which is massively time consuming.

My strategy is a creative middle ground, achieved by creating business simulation materials that are free from the bonds of copyright. This not only creates a sustainable people assessment and development practice; sustainable in terms of allowing materials to be changed in relation to the needs of the user. It is also a true sharing of knowledge and best practice within which a self-managed and viral learning agenda can evolve, whilst potentially reducing costs associated with the bespoke design of materials.

So, it’s relatively easy to release copyright under the CC umbrella, the key question is: as people practitioners in assessment and development, should we? Putting a new materials ownership philosophy within the key strategic shifts in identifying and assessing talent creates its own complexity. Material could be diluted and/or misused. A lack of expert knowledge could lead to best practice being compromised or equality legislation breached which in turn could lead to legal challenges and damage to corporate reputation.

Furthermore, a virtual assessment environment in itself raises certain problems: older or less IT-savvy candidates could be deterred, and the inconsistent Internet access in some – mainly rural – parts of the UK could also inadvertently discriminate against some people. Then there’s the fear that candidates will simply try and manipulate any system, either by asking someone else to work with them, or by responding tactically in terms of what they understand about the employers expectations. There’s also a risk that candidates could feel disengaged due to the perceived barrier between them and the employer.

Despite these potential issues companies can ill-afford to make the wrong hiring decisions, so it’s perhaps not surprising that online assessment has become more appealing to employers. Assessment centre methodology still provides the highest selection validity out of all recruitment methodologies, and a virtual solution makes this high validity method more accessible and cost effective. Online assessment systems allow companies to attract applications from all over the world and filter them in a time- and cost-effective way. More importantly, they offer a tangible way of assessing an individual’s skills for a particular role and how they would fit within an organisation. For potential employees, meanwhile, online assessment can be done at a time and location that suits them and can give them a better idea of what the job is likely to involve before deciding whether to proceed with the application.

Given these arguments virtual assessment centres are a very likely high growth medium. However, there is also the possibility that businesses’ may have the technology but lack the materials. Consequently, I have created a set of current event business simulation ‘events‘ and ‘exercises.’ My fully editable assessment event templates (including up to four exercises attached to the same backdrop theme) would attract a fixed fee of £240. This can be changed by internal management or professionals to reflect the specific circumstances, modified to produce parallel forms and used indefinitely, all within the fixed fee. This contrasts with an ‘off the shelf’ unit cost approach (i.e. fee per exercise per person). Typically, 4 ‘off the shelf’, single use exercises are used in an assessment centre. At a cost of £75 per exercise, (or £300 per person assessed) an assessment centre of 12 people has a materials cost of £3,600. Further consultancy fees are likely to be charged when materials require editing or re-designing to reflect a new context.

The editable business simulation material is managed under Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial Licensing, and not controlled by copyright. This is the largest amount of A&D materials released in this way in the UK to date. Any person, who completes the application stage, can download a full A&D event portfolio or choose from the range of exercises. All materials can be used indefinitely. More importantly, if they don’t fit the business culture or corporate standards exactly they can be edited without restriction, and or placed within virtual assessment environments. This allows people assessment practitioners to create a common currency and language for talent leading to a development legacy that they will own.

Join us in the A&D business simulation materials revolution!