Psychometric testing has been in the news recently, and not in a good way. According to recent reports, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has required unemployed people to take "bogus" psychometric tests, and threatened to take their benefits away if they refused to do so.
A Guardian report, and an accompanying video, go on to say that the test is a "sham" and will produce the same results no matter what answers are given. Some websites and blogs go further, saying, for example, that "this 'test' is a tool for abuse and psychological torture".
It seems this particular questionnaire was developed as part of a pilot project put together by the Cabinet Office's behavioural insight team, otherwise known as the "nudge unit". This group uses two approaches that are surprisingly novel in governmental decision making. First, come up with ideas for small interventions to "nudge" individuals' behaviour in a direction that both works well for them and saves the Government money. Second, carry out randomised controlled trials to see if these interventions actually work.
One trial was in job centres, where 2,000 jobseekers were randomly assigned to one of two groups - half went through the existing system and half went through a new process. For the second group, their first visit included a conversation about getting back to work; on every subsequent visit they were encouraged to make clear plans for the next two weeks, and if they were still unemployed after eight weeks they were given further help. The results showed that after 13 weeks, the second group were 15%-20% less likely to be signing on than the first group. The project has now been expanded to larger trials.
So, a success story? Not quite. The psychometric test that has come in for criticism was part of this project, used at the eight-week stage to help jobseekers identify their strengths, thereby making them more able to put their best foot forward in applying for jobs. It is short (just 48 questions), is completed online and outputs a report with the respondent's five key strengths - what's not to like? Plenty, unfortunately, as the implementation of this idea is less than perfect. There are a numbe