Five Ways to Use the IDI in Higher Education

May 09, 2023

This blog post is written for higher education institutions and educators interested in the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) and curious how they might use this popular tool to meet their intercultural and/or diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals. More specifically, I want to discuss several different ways the IDI can be used in higher education.

The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) is a cross-culturally valid and reliable psychometric assessment tool. The IDI assesses intercultural competence, which it defines as “the capability to shift cultural perspective and appropriately adapt behavior to cultural differences and commonalities.”1 For more information about the Intercultural Development Continuum—the model on which the IDI is based—click here.

I am on the instructional team for the IDI Qualifying Seminars, the training individuals must complete in order to be able to administer the IDI. In those seminars, we discuss five “tracks,” which are essentially five different ways the IDI can be used. However, I think this information can be very useful to people who are not yet Qualified Administrators, as they consider whether the IDI is a good fit for their needs. Below I provide an overview of the five different tracks and what each might look like in higher education. Note that oftentimes several of these are used in tandem, which I’ll discuss after outlining each track.

1. Individual Development

The first way the IDI can be used is for individual intercultural development. An individual completes the IDI assessment and participates in a 1:1 debrief of their results with a Qualified Administrator. The debrief is essentially a conversation meant to help the individual understand and put into context their IDI results—their strengths and challenges when navigating cultural differences—and identify what to focus on if they want to develop their intercultural competence further. Individuals receive a detailed report of their results, as well as an Intercultural Development Plan (IDP). The IDP is essentially a self-guided workbook—tailored to that individual’s IDI results—they can use to help them develop their intercultural competence.

One important thing to understand is that individuals can only receive their results (the individual profile report and IDP) if they complete a 1:1 debrief with a Qualified Administrator. The one exception is for students, who can receive their individual results if they complete the Student Online IDI Debrief Program (in lieu of a personal debrief).

One example of using the IDI in higher education for individual development would be to have students in a particular course take the IDI, get an individual debrief (or participate in the IDI Online Debrief Program), and then perhaps complete assignments related to their IDP. Or, as part of its employee onboarding process, a university might invite new staff members to take the IDI and participate in an individual debrief. In addition to receiving their profile report and IDP, new staff might also get a list of training opportunities the institutions offers that would be developmentally-appropriate next steps for them.

2. Group/Team Development

The IDI can also be used for group development. A group or team of people completes the IDI, a Group Profile report is generated (which includes their aggregate scores), and a Qualified Administrator facilitates a group debrief. This typically includes a conversation in which the team explores their intercultural goals, strengths, and challenges. This process can be particularly useful for in-tact teams that need to navigate cultural differences together—such as a leadership team, academic department, office, or committee.

The IDI Group Profile can also be used to tailor training efforts to be developmentally appropriate—and therefore more likely to be effective—for that particular group. Oftentimes, organizational DEI efforts are approached as “one size fits all” and not necessarily tailored to the developmental needs of the group. IDI-guided development means we consider the developmental strengths and challenges of a particular group and choose training or coaching efforts that will help them develop most effectively.

3. Organizational Development

A third way the IDI can be used is for organizational development. In this case, the IDI provides a snapshot—or baseline assessment—of the degree of intercultural competence within the institution (or a large unit/division). Results could be used to provide guidance for creating new training programs, updating policies and practices, making curricular changes, etc. The focus is not on individual or group development, but on creating more interculturally competent policies and practices. Using the IDI in this way might be done as part of an organizational climate assessment, accreditation process, or similar.

4. Program Assessment

Another way the IDI can be used—and often is in higher education—is for program assessment. The IDI is administered at least twice—before and after some type of programmatic intervention. The point is to assess how effective the program is in helping participants develop their intercultural competence.

For example, the IDI may be used to assess the effectiveness of an international education experience, professional development program, or even an entire degree program. How successful (or not) was that program in helping participants develop their intercultural competence?

Using the IDI for program assessment can help educators redesign courses, professional development programs, DEI initiatives, degree programs, and more.

5. Research

Finally, IDI data can be analyzed to explore various research questions, and the results shared at conferences, published, or submitted for dissertations. Much research has been conducted in higher education using the IDI. For example, check out the book Student Learning Abroad: What Our Students Are Learning, What They’re Not, and What We Can Do About It.

Multiple Tracks

Most projects involving the IDI utilize more than one of these tracks. One common combination is using the IDI for both individual and group development. A group takes the IDI—maybe students in a course or faculty in a specific department. A Qualified Administer facilitates a group debrief, which is then followed by individual debriefs as well. The debriefs could then be followed by developmentally-appropriate training, coaching, or similar at the group and/or individual levels.

Another typical combination in higher education involves using the IDI for individual and/or group development, as well as program assessment. For example, imagine a course or program where students take the IDI and participate in an individual debrief toward the beginning of the program. The educators leading the program use what they know about the group and individual IDI results to tailor their teaching or facilitation to the students’ developmental needs. They then administer the IDI again at the end of the program to assess how effective their efforts were at helping students develop their intercultural competence. They could use that information to improve the program the next time they run it. Potentially, they might also use the data for research, sharing their learning with others at a conference or through a journal article.

Important Note

As I discussed in a previous blog post, it’s important to understand what the IDI is as well as what it isn’t. It is an assessment tool that can help an individual, group, or organization better understand how they tend to navigate cultural differences and similarity. This awareness can be incredibly useful for then designing and engaging in developmental work.

However, simply taking the IDI does not necessarily help an individual, group, or organization develop their intercultural competence. Whether and how much development occurs depends on how the information provided by the IDI is used.


As you can see, the IDI can be used in a number of different ways, and many of these may be combined. When considering the IDI—or any tool—it’s important to get clear about what it is you are trying to accomplish and choose the tool that best fits your needs. I hope this post has helped you understand some of the different ways the IDI can be used so that you can better assess whether it’s the right tool for your needs.

Related Resources

More information about the IDI:

Blog post, "Common Misconceptions about the IDI"

Videos showcasing case studies of how the IDI has been used in various organizations:


Photo credit: Nikola Đuza, Unsplash  

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