Conceptual DACUMs: They Really Work

What is a Conceptual DACUM?

One way to define a conceptual DACUM is to simply say you are conducting a DACUM workshop with a facilitator and recorder but without any actual expert workers who perform the job. Oh, you still need a panel of “experts”, but they will be conceptualizing, predicting, or forecasting the future situation based on what is currently known by persons who have the greatest knowledge and perhaps some experience with the job or occupational area of concern. It is a process for investigating, contemplating, and planning for the future by brainstorming and gaining group consensus about what should be or needs to be done using the best expertise available. The resulting analysis must be considered tentative and subject to revision as experience dictates.

Why Conduct a Conceptual DACUM?

There are situations when an analysis of a proposed new job or position is needed but for which there are no expert workers. There are also situations where jobs need to be restructured, given a futuristic look, or otherwise re-envisioned due to new legal requirements, company reorganization or other societal changes or concerns. Companies often create new work situations because of changing technology or new customer requirements. Many state departments of education, ministries of education, secondary schools, community colleges, universities, and companies want to conceptualize or investigate the possibility of new positions or offering new training programs or course curricula. In the last 25 years, the CETE/OSU DACUM staff has successfully conducted over 50 “conceptual” DACUMs to meet this need. And, the number of requests to facilitate the conceptualization of new positions has been definitely on the increase the last few years.

How is a Conceptual DACUM Different?

There are two major differences between a regular DACUM and a conceptual DACUM: 1) the make-up of the panel, and 2) the questions asked by the facilitator. Depending on the situation, the panel may be comprised of some of all of the following:

  • Job innovators
  • Managers and supervisors
  • Engineers
  • Consultants and specialists
  • Representatives of concerned groups
  • Customers

The facilitator will need to (most of the time) switch from asking “what do you do” to “what should be done” or “what needs to be done.” If you have some early innovators on the panel (assuming such persons are available), you still may need to ask them “what do you do.”

Assembling the correct panel for a conceptual DACUM can be especially challenging. You must determine who is likely to possess the best available information. It could mean a small panel of only two or three persons or a dozen or more. Be careful to recruit the thinkers, early innovators, and others willing and able to think “outside the box.”

You need to allow more time for brainstorming and discussion, as thoughts need to be formulated, duties and tasks proposed, and a consensus reached. You still need to orient the panel and abide by the criteria for good duty and task statements. You should also identify the three lists of enablers, but probably will not need to address future trends as the whole analysis should be addressing the future. Our experience has shown that most analyses can still be done in two days time.

How are the Results Different?

The resulting DACUM research chart will look almost exactly the same as a regular chart. It may well have between 6-12 duties and 75-125 tasks. The panel members may have come from very different positions and could look considerably different than the usual panel. You should still have the three lists of enablers, but probably won’t need a list of future trends. You may want to footnote somewhere that it is the result of a conceptual DACUM and subject to change as the real situation indicates. Because there are no actual job experts to review the panel’s work, a task verification is usually not done.

What are Some Examples of DACUM Conceptual Analyses?

Four examples are briefly explained and a list of many others conducted is provided.

University of Central Florida

One of the first conceptual DACUMs conducted by CETE staff in the 1980s was for the University of Central Florida. Staff there had received federal funding to identify what educators should do to implement sex-fair vocational programs in response to the new federal legislation. There were no real experts because the special emphasis on sex equity was new. The project director asked if the DACUM process could help identify what needed to be done to have sex-fair programs, and after some thought, we told him yes if he could assemble 8-12 of the most knowledgeable people in this area for two or three days. We also told him that we would need to label the result a “conceptual” DACUM because it certainly would not be the usual DACUM process.

During the workshop, we asked the conceptual experts to tell us exactly what they felt educators should be doing to implement sex-fair programs. Once all of the duties and tasks had been identified, the facilitator asked the experts to identify whether an administrator, a counselor, a teacher, or some combination of the three should be responsible for performing each task. The results of the workshop were excellent. The project director was very pleased and each member of the panel wanted a copy.

Arkansas Power & Light Company

Another conceptual DACUM occurred in the mid 1980s when the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) told the Arkansas Power and Light Company they must identify the special duties and tasks that their employees must undertake in the event of any nuclear problems or disaster. Since the company had not had any serious problems, they had no expert workers in this area. Again, a conceptualization approach was in order.

The company identified two or three of their most knowledgeable nuclear engineers and with the facilitator’s guidance and probing, they were able to specify several duties and tasks. Again, the sponsor was very pleased that the special tasks could be identified so quickly and so comprehensively.


A third conceptual DACUM was conducted in 1993 when AT&T needed to establish as quickly as possible a training program for technicians who were to operate a newly developed CDRP (Call Detail Recording Platform). It was designed to record automatically all of the necessary details (length, time of day, etc.) needed so AT&T could accurately bill its customers. This machine was so different from the old ones that again, there were no expert workers.

We assembled, in spite of considerable initial resistance, a team of about 10 persons who were still working on the design and testing of the machine. The two training program developers were extremely pleased and the development team became very supportive once they had a chance through their detailed discussions, to really learn what each other was doing. The training program developers felt it had saved them at least two months of time for which they were very grateful.

Philippines TESDA

A fourth example of using the DACUM process to conceptualize a new position occurred as the DACUM Program Director worked for the Philippine Technical Education and Skill Development Authority (TESDA) in the summer of 1997. TESDA managers wanted to establish cooperative education-type programs between their training centers and cooperating businesses. The problem seemed to be one of confusion on the part of both the educators and the business leaders as to who should be doing what. TESDA wanted to train people for their respective roles, but first they had to be clearly defined. Again, no expert workers were available.

A conceptual DACUM panel was assembled with representatives from training and education, business and industry, and TESDA. The TESDA manager was very pleased and planned to use the outcomes in designing their cooperative training programs.

When carefully planned and well conducted, a conceptual DACUM can provide excellent results. It is certainly not appropriate in every situation, but it can be powerful and beneficial in appropriate circumstances.

More recently, a few of the many conceptual DACUMs that have been conducted include:

Conceptual DACUMs

  • Bachelor of Technology Graduate (Cobleskill College, NY)
  • CDRP Technician (AT&T)
  • Career Planning Specialist (OH Dept. of Education)
  • Colab Facilitator (Ohio State)
  • Community Health Care Worker (Florida)
  • Construction Industry Skills Profile (California)
  • Coop Education Teacher/Trainer (Philippines)
  • Curriculum Coordinator (Hungary)
  • Curriculum Development & Evaluation
  • Office (Ohio Police Officers)
  • Economic Education Advocate (Ohio State)
  • Entrepreneur (Columbus State CC)
  • Family Health Care Worker (Georgia)
  • Financial Administrator in an Emergency (Georgia)
  • G.P.S.-Based Precision Ag Technician (OH Secondary School)
  • International Trade Specialist (Columbus State CC)
  • Mechatronics Technician (Oregon)
  • Non-Profit Organization Manager (Columbus State CC)
  • Ohio CTE Leader (OH Dept. of Education)
  • Organizational Effectiveness Consultant (American Electric Power)
  • Production Coach (Liebert)
  • Public Health Nurse in an Emergency Preparedness (Georgia)
  • Reading Coach (Sex Fair Educator)
  • Regional Curriculum Coordinator (Hungary)
  • Shelter Medicine Specialist (Association)
  • Small Scale Sustainable Farmer (USDA)
  • Software Development Coach (Carnegie Mellon)
  • Sports Manager (Columbus State CC)
  • Sustainable Architectural Designer (Association)
  • Talent Management Consultant (Ohio State)
  • Teacher Leaders (Temple University)
  • Web Site Developer (FL Dept. of Education)

For more information about conceptual DACUM workshops contact us.

What is the DACUM Process?

The DACUM process for occupational analysis involves local men and women with reputations for being the “top performers” at their jobs, working on a short-term committee assignment with a qualified DACUM facilitator.  Workers are recruited directly from business and industry.  These workers become the Panel of Experts who collectively and cooperatively describe the occupation in the language of the occupation.

Its use with many companies, community colleges, and government agencies has shown the process to be very effective, quickly accomplished, and low cost.

The Panel works under the guidance of a trained facilitator for two days to develop the DACUM Research Chart.  The chart contains a list of general areas of competence called DUTIES and the TASKS that define that duty.  Brainstorming techniques are used to obtain the collective expertise and consensus of the Panel.  As the Panel determines each task, it is written on a card.  The cards are attached to the wall in front of the Panel.  The completed chart is a graphic profile of the duties and tasks performed by successful workers in the occupation.

The Panel also identifies the general knowledge and skills required of successful workers, the tools, equipment, supplies, and materials used, the important worker behaviors essential for success, and the future trends and concerns likely to cause job changes.  The process produces superior results for all levels – skilled, technical, supervisory, managerial, companies, community colleges, and professional organizations.

DACUM has multiple and subordinate uses such as Management Decision-Making, Human Resources/Organizational Development, Career Planning/Advising, Learner Assessment, certification and licensure.  The process can be used for job analysis, occupational analysis, process analysis, functional analysis, and conceptual analysis.