Insider Effects: Empathy in Needs Assessment Practice

Insider Effects: Empathy in Needs Assessment Practice

Kim Pinckney-Lewis, John Baaki
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0054-5.ch008
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Needs assessment generally refers to the identification of some need or problem to be addressed. The authors aim to demonstrate how empathy, when shaped by authentic affinity or involvement with an organization, can serve the needs assessment experience in a positive way. As part of the chapter, the authors describe their approach and highlight pertinent findings from the needs assessment, which focused on proactive opportunities to enhance outcomes in parent efficacy. The authors also detail accounts of participant experiences within the process, including their interactions with the practitioner and overall experience. Finally, the authors share practitioner reflections on the overall process.
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Organization Background

Human performance technology is the “study and ethical practice of improving productivity in organizations by designing and developing effective interventions that are results-oriented, comprehensive, and systemic” (Pershing, 2006), p. 6). While there are many salient phrases within this definition that ground the work of performance improvement consultants, “in organizations” is a key prepositional phrase because it demonstrates an awareness that performance is relative to and situated within a specific context as defined by whatever organization is the focus of inquiry. When working in this capacity, it is imperative to first understand how that organization functions. The work presented in this case was performed in collaboration with and on behalf of one organization, the Coalition for Neurodiverse Learners (pseudonym).

Organizational Mission

Currently, there are a growing number of learners with developmental delays, learning related disabilities, and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (Abnett, 2013; VanderPaelt, Warreyn, & Roeyers, 2014). According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in every 59 children has been diagnosed with ASD (“CDC increases the estimate of autism's prevalence by 15 percent, to 1 in 59 children,” 2018). While the diagnoses are more frequent, the journey for parents to come to terms with the diagnosis, discover how best to care for their children, and arm themselves with the knowledge required to properly advocate for their children is a long and winding one. Luckily, there are several organizations that exist to assist parents on that journey. One such organization can be found within the Washington, D.C. metro area. Incorporated under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, the Coalition for Neurodiverse Learners boasts a mission to improve the educational outcomes and experiences of students on the autism spectrum within a large county outside of the city. The non-profit both collaborates with and serves families, educators, local county public school policymakers, professional service providers, self-advocates, and students with ASD.

Organizational Services

The Coalition for Neurodiverse Learners leverages fundraising, paid memberships, and optional one-time event fees to provide a number of educational events for students with ASD, parents of students with ASD, and educators who serve students with ASD. Some of the events they offer for students include workshops to practice self-advocacy skills, safe practices in interacting with law enforcement, and opportunities to socialize with peers. Events specifically serving parents and caretakers comprise the majority of the Coalition for Neurodiverse Learners’ services. Each month, they provide speaker events covering a variety of topics, including understanding an ASD diagnosis, therapeutic service options, strategies to promote educational success, and special needs-related financial planning. They also offer workshops specific to the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process, where educational consultants address pressing questions regarding specific student IEPs. Finally, educators are offered memberships free of charge, which provide them with access to the monthly speaker events. The Coalition for Neurodiverse Learners also provides grants for teachers in the county to either purchase curricular materials or participate in training that enables them to better serve students on the Autism spectrum.

Organizational Leadership

With the exception of its recently created Executive Director position, the Coalition for Neurodiverse Learners has no other paid staff members. The rest of the leadership board consists of parent volunteers that serve in the capacity of President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Board Members at Large. All of the organizational leaders have at least one child on the Autism spectrum and are committed to the organization's goals. Because the organizational structure is relatively small, they depend on the additional support of parent volunteers, contributions from therapeutic professionals, and collaborations with the local public-school administration to provide services in accordance with its mission.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Primary Service Recipients: The primary audience and recipients of an organization’s services.

Efficacy: The perceptions of one’s own ability to produce a desired or intended result.

Needs Assessment: The data-driven search for opportunities to maximize individual, team, or organizational performance by contributing to the effectiveness, efficiency, and/or ease of supporting organizational goals.

Stakeholders: Individuals or entities with a vested interest in the organization for which a needs assessment is being conducted. They may be partners, supporters, or otherwise, have a vested interest in the organization.

Clients: Leaders or points of contact within the organization for which a needs assessment practitioner is conducting a needs assessment.

Parent Efficacy: The extent to which a parent or caretaker of a child on the autism spectrum perceives their ability to advocate for, address the needs of, and assist their children in achieving desired outcomes.

Empathy: The ability to feel what another person is feeling.

Isolation Technique: Means of determining what portion of outcomes can be attributed to an intended intervention alone, and not some other cause.

Discrepancy Analysis: Process of determining the gap between desired and current states of performance or other outcomes.

Autism: A spectrum disorder often characterized by challenges with communication, social skills, and repetitive behaviors.

Barriers: Those individuals, organizational, and/or external deterrents or obstacles that may hinder the organization from achieving success in parent efficacy.

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