An Instructional Designer’s Checklist for Working with SMEs

(Updated 3/26/2016)

As an instructional designer, I always hope I’ll be given/granted access to SMEs who know the ins and outs of the topic of my content. Over the years, I’ve been lucky to be blessed with amazing SMEs who have kindly donated their time to providing their insights. Here is a checklist of a few things I’ve learned over the years about working with SMEs successfully.

Do Don’t
Find SMEs who are active practitioners Rely on fulltime instructors (or others whose practical experience might be outdated) as SMEs
Ask for volunteers. Force or coerce a SME to participate.
Work with many SMEs to get many perspectives and build in some redundancy. Rely on a single SME.
Plan a SME kickoff meeting or slide deck that lays out the overall goals for the curriculum and your expectations of the SME, especially about the amount of you expect SMEs to contribute. Assume that your SME knows what your ID project is about or what is expected of them.
Have synchronous meetings with your SME so you can direct the feedback session and ensure you’re getting the feedback you need. Send formal invitations for the meetings, if you can. Ask them to participate asynchronously (i.e. forms, surveys, etc).
Prepare open-ended questions to ask your SMEs during meetings and consult with them. They should talk more than you. Ask them about their experiences and what they would want someone to know about the topic. Ask Yes/No questions and talk over your SME. Ask them to tell you HOW to write your content (that’s your job).
Recognize, appreciate, and honor their participation publicly and to their managers. Forget to acknowledge their time, effort, and knowledge.
Be sure to send them the end product, if you can. If you can print them a copy of the your ID project or invite them to a live review of it, they will love it. Everyone wants to see the end product of something positive they contributed to. Forget to show them what they helped build.
Ask for their feedback on what worked or could be improved about the SME process. Assume they had a completely good SME experience.
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