FAQs > Questions About Spiral Dynamics Assessment Tools

Are there assessments available?

Yes, in addition to interviews and structured observations, there are several approaches to helping with assessment of people by applying this theory. Although Dr. Graves did not create a written test with which he was satisfied himself, we have built several instruments that attempt to do this and which reflect both the levels and the change states. These are available on paper and online versions.

We only make these tools available to people who have completed Spiral Dynamics certification training because we believe it’s important to understand the underlying models and theiry fully before attempting to interpret the results. The theory is complex, and it's easy to misrepresent what the data suggests or worse, to misuse the findings. These tools should not be used for employee selection or retention decisions; they are learning/teaching tools, not psychological measures. That said, they provide the knowledgeable user excellent information to enhance coaching, education, management, motivation, and marketing.

We should note that Dr. Graves was never convinced that simple pencil-and-paper profiling was feasible for a theory like his that allows for both multiple systems and change. He said:

"Those who have tried to develop instruments have based them on what people think, do or believe, which is not the proper base for assessment devices. They should be based not on what the person thinks but how s/he thinks, not on what people do or what they believe but how they do what they do, and how they believe that which they do believe."

Although effort is under way to refine the methodology, including replicating some of Dr. Graves's original approach, most current "tests" involve allocating points among statements, making choices among options, checking a position on a scale, etc. These actions all miss a key piece: why did the person make the choice he/she did? What was their intent? What about the semantics of the pre-constructed statements they were fed to chose among? Preferences and rankings are only suggestions of what might lie beneath. While that can be useful data as a starting point for discussion or entry in a management situation, it's better to let the person state what their world is like and then to analyze that data in conjunction with other measures such as these.

Second, the spiral model suggests ways of thinking about a thing, not overall types for personalities. Efforts to categorize people based on this work require inclusion of multiple subsystems into a profile. Thus, statements like "37 percent of humans are Blues" based on a few simple questions asked to a sample are largely nonsense. People shift into the Blue within them; they are not Blue. Finally, the model is a process in change, not a static portrait. Most assessments are snap-shots of a moment, of a person in particular circumstances. Although commentary and refined questioning are possible, valid assessment of frame from a moving picture is difficult. While there are projects and research under way to improve the Spiral Dynamics assessments, it should be made clear that current instruments are works in progress and only learning tools and indicators, not tests.

Colleagues and competitors have also built tools for exploring how people think about things in Gravesian terms. To review some of these, you can visit the Sources page of the Graves site—www.claregraves.com. While there are now several so-called "Graves" and even "Spiral Dynamics" assessments purporting to test for these levels, we remain highly skeptical since much of the research is weak, sometimes rooted in illicit borrowings from our old materials, or else predicated on semantic and linguistic sortings that have very questionable links to levels of existence theory. Testing for literacy in pop psychology and familiarity with buzz words and, as Graves said, "existential jargon," is still not getting at how people actually think, how they conceptualize what they sense, or how they process their perceptions into action. 

Measuring opinions and attitudes is relatively easy; determining levels of psychological existence is hard. There's a lot of work to be done in this area, and we'll be announcing a means to coordinate some of that soon. We welcome new research methodologies and suggestions for improving the difficult process of measuring a moving picture.

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