Ultimate Guide to the Intercultural Development Inventory

The intercultural development inventory (IDI) is a tool that can be used to investigate intercultural awareness. Individuals and organizations interested in diversity and inclusion programming as well as developing intercultural competence frequently use it.

What is the Intercultural Development Inventory?

The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) is a simple assessment that helps people understand how they experience cultural differences.  The IDI assessment is based on the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS). The DMIS proposes various ways in which people encounter and engage with cultural difference. The DMIS is at the heart of the IDI and is worth studying on its own.

​​The assessment is done online and takes about 30 minutes to finish. Individuals and businesses must work with a certified IDI Qualified Administrator (QA) who provides a code to take the online assessment. Afterwards, the QA will meet with people one-on-one to share their score and explain what the score means. This IDI debrief usually lasts an hour.

What is the Intercultural Development Inventory based on?

The IDI is based on the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS). The DMIS is a developmental model that proposes six different ways people experience and engage with cultural difference. The IDI will generate a “score” that corresponds to one of the DMIS’s five positions (the IDI doesn’t measure for Integration- the DMIS’ 6th position).

From the Intercultural Development Research Institute:

The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) was created by Dr. Milton Bennett (1986, 1993, 2004, 2013) as a framework to explain how people experience and engage cultural difference. The DMIS is grounded theory; it is based on observations he made in both academic and corporate settings about how people become more competent intercultural communicators. Using concepts from constructivist psychology and communication theory, he organized these observations into positions along a continuum of increasing sensitivity to cultural difference.

https://www.idrinstitute.org/dmis/

The DMIS Model

There are six primary ways people experience and engage with cultural difference, as shown in the diagram above. From Denial to Adaptation, the IDI assessment is designed to place you in one of five DMIS positions.

While it is beyond the scope of this article to describe each of the positions, there are a few things you should be aware of.

Some things to know about the IDI

First and foremost, the IDI can only provide you with information about your “predominant experience” of dealing with cultural differences. At different times, most people will employ various strategies. For instance, a person may feel at ease using an Adaptation strategy when speaking with a grandparent. In a different situation, such as dealing with an irate client, defense might be their most common approach. While everyone has a primary strategy, depending on the situation, people will move up and down the continuum.

Second, we feel that the fundamental benefit of taking IDI for clients is the knowledge received of the DMIS. The DMIS is at the heart of the IDI; without it, there would be no IDI.

This is why we spent over a hundred hours studying directly with Milton Bennett, the founder of the DMIS. We put up a lot of effort in all of our intercultural coaching services to help clients develop cultural self-awareness and discover new ways for engaging cultural difference in coherent and validated ways.

What can the Intercultural Development Inventory tell you about an individual or organization?

The IDI can tell you about how a person experiences and interacts with “otherness”, often framed as different cultures. Beyond the individual, IDI group scores show the distribution of scores within an organization. The IDI is useful for businesses to get a snapshot of how people in the company deal with cultural differences.

How is the IDI useful for Diversity and Inclusion efforts?

With the right consultant, the IDI assessment can be an important part of establishing DEI initiatives and meeting goals within organizations.  

Clients have the opportunity to explore and apply all of the DMIS positions in depth during our coaching sessions. Our goal is to help them develop their intercultural competence. Interculturally competent persons within an organization create the conditions for the emergence of an overall climate of respect for diversity. This is the goal.

It’s worth noting that “diversity” in the context of intercultural communication doesn’t just refer to ethnic differences or “race”. Rather, “diversity” refers to all of the various groups that exist within an organization or society.

Every team, when you think about it, is made up of people from various cultural backgrounds and affiliations. And every interaction is potentially a cross-cultural interaction.

Here are some examples of group boundaries: professional roles (engineer or salesperson), age cohorts, levels of wealth, political stances, sports interests, and office locations, for example, all describe “cultures” within an organization.

When individuals are competent interacting with others who are culturally different from themselves, there are fewer misunderstandings and conflict is addressed more quickly.

It’s vital to highlight that the IDI can’t identify if you’re racist, sexist, ableist, or have any other biased orientation. Rather, the IDI indicates how you may be experiencing and relating to groups other than your own.

While a person may interact with other groups (such as ethnic groups) in a “racist” manner, the IDI cannot specifically detect that.  Rather, it would indicate the person experiences the “other” in a polarized, ethnocentric way.

How is the IDI used by Individuals and Organizations?

The IDI can be used to inform a coaching or leadership development plan for an individual. Once an individual’s predominant experience of dealing with cultural difference is revealed, a knowledgeable coach or consultant can use developmentally appropriate means to assist their intercultural development. If interventions are not developmentally appropriate—that is, they are not tailored to the client’s unique perspective and reality—the engagement is more likely to end in frustration and with little value for the client. 

At the organizational level, the IDI group score may be used to benchmark existing scores, organize developmentally appropriate training and interventions, and assess effect.

One should mention that Intercultural coaching, inclusive leadership coaching, and intercultural training are not the most typical DEI approaches in our experience. More often than not, bias (psychological) and “anti-racist” (Critical) approaches are the norm.

But Intercultural approaches are often a perfect option for businesses and individuals that are hesitant to participate in these kind of programs. They are likely the least controversial, as well.

On the other hand, working with an interculturally grounded consultant or coach could be an useful next step for organizations already embracing anti-racist and Critical approaches, but are ready for new kinds of learning and skill-development.

Can I receive my IDI score without a debrief? 

Individual scores cannot be given out without the accompanying debrief, according to the rules of the certifying organization, IDI, LLC.  Because if someone didn’t understand the development model that the assessment was based on, it would be hard for them to understand the score.

It is worth noting that some organizations may choose to skip providing (paying for) individual IDI scores and IDI debriefs in favor of only receiving the group score. These group scores can serve as a baseline for where the organization collectively ranks on the DMIS. This information is useful for planning trainings as well as measuring their effectiveness over time.

QAs typically present group IDI results to upper management, HR, and/or diversity and inclusion teams. In an ideal world, the findings would inform future training, strategy, and policy. 

IDI assessment sample questions

Each IDI question is a multiple choice question that gauges how strongly you agree or disagree with a statement. A question might ask something like “In general, people all want the same things in life” and your answer should reflect how much you agree or disagree with the statement.  The results are algorithmically prepared and an average is calculated for the individual.  For group results,  the mean is calculated.

It is difficult to find IDI assessment sample questions online. The assessment is kept private for all but those who are taking the test. It is protected intellectual property of IDI, LLC who limit who can reproduce questions to phD students writing dissertations that use the IDI for research.

Intercultural development inventory criticism

The IDI is just a tool in that it is useful but shouldn’t be treated as a “truth machine”.  Most times,  people feel like the assessment profiled them pretty accurately.  And from the perspective of a qualified IDI administrator and DMIS expert,  I would say the IDI is very accurate. 

However, for some people, in our experience, the assessment results do not appear to reflect their position on the DMIS. This is why working with qualified and knowledgeable consultants who can provide context when necessary is critical.

Limitations in group IDI assessments

In our experience, the IDI can only tell you so much about a group’s relationship to cultural difference. This is due to the fact that the IDI group score is only an average of all individuals who took the test.

This average does not necessarily represent the most common dynamic within an organization; rather, the IDI score indicates the distribution of approaches within the organization.

Limitations in Individual IDI Assessments

While the IDI is a highly efficient quantitative measuring method, it may not correctly capture each individual’s actual position along the model. This is why our approach to IDI debriefs and consultations balances quantitative (IDI) and qualitative (consultations) analysis.

For example,  I’ve been in debriefs when the IDI assessment indicates one thing but my personal evaluation of the person’s remarks suggests another. In circumstances like this, I’ll talk with my client about what I’m seeing and contextualize the IDI score in relation to my own qualitative evaluation. I am confident in my abilities to place someone along the DMIS continuum because I have spent over 100 hours in training with the original founder of the DMIS (in addition to my IDI, LLC training).

Having said that, I find quantitative assessments to be a great place to start in my consultations and coaching programs. The IDI assessment is still a useful instrument on which I rely.

Is a free IDI assessment available?

There are no free IDI assessments accessible, and none may be taken without the assistance of a Qualified Administrator. However, there is a technique to measure your own or someone else’s intercultural competency in a qualitative manner. The response to the question “What is your philosophy or strategy for dealing with cultural differences?” can reveal a lot about a person’s experience and approach to cross-cultural communication. As a free IDI assessment option, the question can be beneficial when used by a knowledgeable person.

However, working with a qualified IDI consultant or intercultural coach will be much more useful because they can confirm your interpretations, and help you apply it to your life.

Conclusion

The IDI assessment is a useful tool for discovering your predominant way of experiencing cultural differences.  For organizations,  it can be used to inform DEI strategy and evaluate program’s success.  Entercultural is focused on providing IDI assessment through bespoke coaching programs. Our Inclusive Leadership program goes deep into the DMIS and help you apply gained insights to problems and goals in your organization and personal life.