Analysing responsiveness

First, a warning, this post isn’t about games. Not even slightly.

I’m currently working as Internal Evaluator on a JISC Curriculum Design project called Supporting Responsive Curricula, which is looking at ways in which the institution can develop processes and systems for enhancing responsiveness in order to support student employability. I’ve been struggling with the whole abstract notion of ‘responsiveness’, what it means, and how one might go about evaluating it.

The following model is my attempt to make sense of some of the complexity surrounding ‘responsiveness’, in the context of a ‘course’, to provide a coherent and holistic framework for evaluation. The elements of this model were identified in a series of interviews carried out last year with key university stakeholders. In order to test and evaluate this model, I would really appreciate any feedback that anyone can give me.

 I started by trying to produce a definition of responsiveness. Essentially, there are two components:

  1. identify that a change is needed;
  2. make that change in an appropriate time scale.

So, for the purposes of this model, responsiveness is defined as:

The ability to recognise change drivers, and to make changes, in a timely manner.

 The figure below shows the interaction of three components of the model: the drivers (things that bring about the need for change); the course elements (things that can be changed); and the course team (the agents that mediate change). The notion of ‘course’ is used intentionally so that the model can be applied at different levels of granularity (e.g. programmes or modules).

Model of responsiveness

Change drivers

In this model there are four drivers for change:

  • The external environment, including economic factors and changes in regulation and Government policy.
  • The internal environment, including changes in policy and systems, and other university departments, for example quality assurance.
  • The learners.
  • Employers and regulatory bodies

Course elements

In this model, the course contains five areas that can be subject to change:

  • The content of the course (what is being taught?)
  • The design of the course, including elements such as pedagogic design, delivery and support (how is the course taught?)
  • Assessment.
  • Technology.
  • Administration, including systems and procedures.

Change agents

The course team (including academic, support, technical and administrative staff) is responsible both for identifying the need for change (component 1 described above, through interaction with the drivers) and effecting change (component 2, through interaction with the course).

Evaluating responsiveness

This model provides a framework for evaluating course responsiveness by producing a matrix of 20 questions (4 drivers x 5 elements). For example:

  • How responsive is course content to the external environment?
  • How responsive is assessment to the learners?

When considering each question, both the ability to identify the driver and the ability to implement change in a timely way need to be considered. I realise that some of these questions will be more relevant and practical than others, but this framework facilitates a holistic approach to analysis. The next stage will be to identify possible indicators, or ways of measuring responsiveness, for each of these questions.


  1. Delysia

    Hi there Nicole
    Interesting model…. however what about the human element in this change- is it all about change of things ? who is being changed? what about the impact of the change on the individual human being in the process? who is doing the changing?

    surely the responsiveness which has to be measured must include the human element.

  2. nicola (Post author)

    Hi Delysia

    Thanks for the feedback. I suppose the human element is implicit in 1) employers, 2) learners, and 3) course teams, and it is the interaction of these three things that causes change. The evaluation is taking place with these three groups, but perhaps the human element needs to be more explicit in the model. I need to think some more… thanks :o)


  3. Mark

    Hi Nic
    Like the idea of distinguishing between capacity to recognise a need to change, and capacity to change. Also agree with Delysia’s point about the human element, and suspect there may be a challenge in measuring appreciative and effective capacities for change for the whole course team, not just respondents.

    I guess the piloting phase of the research instrument will tell us whether course team respondents perceive employers as dominating their external environment or whether your two categories encourages consideration of wider external factors such as age-ing population, climate change…

    Looking forward to seeing this develop


  4. Stephen Powell

    Hi All. To pick up on Marc’s point, I suggest that capaity (amount of resource available) is only part of the story and more import is the capability of an institution/team to respond to changes in the environment in which they are tryng to develop and sell their products.

    Secondly, I agree with the other two comments in that group and individula’s identity are key factors when trying to understand responsiveness.

  5. Rachel Forsyth

    I like this model and as Mark says, the distinction between knowing that change is needed and actually being able to do it will be important. The capability (thank you, Stephen) to change may be affected by a number of variables as well, or at least this may appear to be the case (it’s always someone else’s fault if change doesn’t happen…)so I suspect that this may give rise to some other areas for evaluation.

    Do you think that there are elements of the external environment which may also be change agents? Do employers know that they may be able to effect change? Or, conversely, might they be frustrated at their inability to do so?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *