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Certificate Program Standard: Status Update

I've gotten several e-mails from readers who've joined ASTM's effort.  Excellent!!  Also received a few questions. 

Once you join ASTM, within 24 hours you will receive your online username and password.  Use this to login and view the standard online.  Let me know if you have any problems.  As I understand it, you must have been a member of the subcommittee before the ballot was released to cast an official vote at this point.  However, if the site allows you to (and I believe it will), vote anyway, especially if you have comments because we will consider ALL comments in the upcoming revision.

As far as process goes...both ASTM International and NOCA have submitted a project initiation notice to the American National Standards Institute --ANSI (the accreditor of standard setting bodies) to develop a standard for certificate programs. A governmental agency has since filed a complaint that the two standards are potentially duplicative /confusing to stakeholders. This complaint sets in motion a mandated joint effort to identify and resolve U.S. stakeholder concerns. Will the two groups ultimately unite? Will two independent standards get approved in the end? Or will one prevail. Your guess is as good as mine.

As I've suggested, the ideal is certainly to have one American National Standard.  But I'm also pretty comfortable with getting them both out there and letting the market decide which is of more value.


Standard for Certificate Programs

As I've referenced in a few earlier posts, both ASTM International and The National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA) were discussing collaboration on a standard for certificate programs.  Collaboration is now off the table and both groups are proceeding independently.  This has presented me with a professional and personal dilemma.  I'm a NOCA member, actually an active volunteer -- this year alone I'm chairing the seminars committee, serving as a reviewer for NOCA's certification handbook, I've helped formulate a knowledge strategy for the organization, and am in the process of co-designing the certification 101 and 201 workshops for the annual conference in November. I'll also be blogging the NOCA Leadership Forum on Sept. 10th.  It is not a stretch to say I am a NOCA supporter and advocate, and I will continue to be.

However, I am not in support of NOCA's standard for assessment-based certificates for several reasons. First, I believe there should be ONE national standard for certificate programs.  I believe it will be confusing to all stakeholders to have two independent American National Standards covering the same scope.  Having the two groups collaborate to develop one standard would have been the best scenario, but despite ASTM's numerous attempts at a collaborative arrangement, NOCA declined to partner, instead pursuing development of its own standard. 

Now, I should mention that years ago I encouraged NOCA to develop criteria for quality certificate programs.  My suggestion was to create a document for internal use with members to help distinguish between certification programs and certificate programs.  I still believe that education on certificate programs is very much needed in the certification community, and if the document were being created for this purpose, I would fully support it.  However, in the current situation we have U.S. stakeholders calling for standards and a third-party accreditation for certificate programs to help them distinguish quality programs from Internet sites churning out "certificates".  It is anticipated that stakeholders, including governmental agencies, will use accreditation to identify which certificates qualify personnel for its paid and volunteer workforces. 

This brings me to my second point.  I do not believe NOCA is the appropriate organization to develop a standard for certificates that will be used by U.S. governmental agencies, community colleges, associations and other non-profits, and the training community.  NOCA's core membership is made up of certifying bodies.  One of the key roles of a certificate standard is to distinguish certificate programs from certification.  I think having the standard generated from a certification professional society muddies the water.  To most, NOCA = certification.  ASTM, on the other hand, is a content-neutral third party (and a veteran setter of American National Standards) that has brought together the key stakeholders to develop the standard.

Third, I do not agree with NOCA's overall stance on certificates. A while back I had a conversation with a then NOCA board member who called certificate programs the "step-child" of certification, and said "Why would we ever want to encourage members to develop certificate programs?"  This, to me, illustrates the overall lack of understanding and appreciation of the role certificate programs can and do have.  I believe this second-class attitude towards certificate programs is so pervasive within the certification community that despite NOCA's attempt to develop a quality standard for certificates, I just don't think it can reasonably be achieved.  Too much effort is being expended on trying to ensure certificates are not "on par" with certification.  This, in my opinion, is an exercise in futility.  They are equals; each accomplishing unique purposes. Of course this second-class attitude is not an official NOCA position and it's certainly not shared by everyone; but it's a vibe clearly felt in conversations within the community.

In contrast, I attended an ASTM International meeting and immediately felt at ease with the conversation (with primarily training professionals) about what the quality attributes of a certificate program are.  The whole conversation just seemed different, upbeat, and felt right.  Following the meeting, I was asked to create the first draft of the standard document.  I agreed and had the opportunity to meet with several stakeholders in DC, including key representatives from several governmental agencies, community colleges, associations, and the training community.  The feedback I got affirmed my beliefs in what a quality certificate should be, and those are reflected in the current draft of the ASTM standard.  The current draft is only the starting point; however, and there are several key issues we must discuss to create a standard that works for all stakeholders.

If your organization plans to or currently offers certificate programs, or if you in any way would rely on a standard or accreditation program for certificate programs, I encourage you to join ASTM's subcommittee to provide feedback on the draft.  The more feedback we get, the better the standard will be. Of course, you can contact me to inquire about the standard and/or provide feedback.  And I'll be soliciting feedback on this blog over the next several weeks.  However, to have your voice and vote official, I encourage you to join the subcommittee.  It is open to everyone and you can join here.  The cost to join is $75.  Join the main committee E36 and the subcommittee E36.30.  Don't let the names of the committees distract you; these are the RIGHT committees.   

This is all my opinion and you should form your own. Perhaps follow both organization's efforts and judge for yourself which you'll support.   Having received a lot of questions, I felt I should make a public statement about why I have chosen to support ASTM International on this initiative.  While I do not support NOCA on this one particular initiative, I remain overall a supporter of and advocate for the organization.


Knowledge Strategies

Last week I facilitated a session at the ASAE & The Center conference on "Knowledge Strategies for Better Meetings."  We talked about how to move from simply pushing out content to our attendees to really facilitating knowledge creation.  We focused on four strategies: filtering, feedback, context, and connections.

Filtering:  Extracting from the information masses only the relevant information for a particular audience.  Filtering adds value because you save your members time by filtering out the inaccurate, irrelevant or excess for them or providing them a way to filter for themselves.

Here are a few examples of ways to filter:

  • Identify the level of learner targeted for the event or in a multi-session event, each session (e.g., novice, expert)
  • Use conference tracks, tags, or other labeling system to enable learners to easily find what’s likely to be relevant to them
  • Encourage all content leaders to provide recommended resource/reading lists
  • Host unconferences or unsessions that let the learners choose what they want to talk about (filters out the rest)
  • Host a conference blog and have speakers/content leaders post/converse about their session content (giving more information and helping learners better judge the appropriateness of the sessions for them)

Feedback: Offering a constructive and informative response to the results of an activity.  Feedback adds value because members don’t always know what they don’t know; and you are helping them to discover it.  Feedback during learning ensures accurate learning occurs.

Here are some examples of how to use feedback to enhance the learning at conferences:

  • Offer self-assessment following the event that assesses the extent to which learners grasped the intended learning objectives and then provide recommended resources
  • Extend the meeting with online communities (or discussion lists, wikis, blogs) for each session in which presenters participate and answer questions participants thought of once they got back to their workplaces (and participants exchange ideas)
  • At the end of each day have roundtable discussions with each of the content leaders at tables brainstorming with attendees how to apply the concepts/ideas from the sessions
  • Encourage content leaders to include in their session opportunities for learners to interact and provide feedback on each other’s ideas

Context:  Adding meaning to content by relating it to specific circumstances.  The value of context is that it helps to makes content relevant and helps learners to convert that content into knowledge. 

Here are ways to add contect to you events.

  • Have more issues discussions, less formal presentations
  • Offer open discussion / Q&A sessions with content leaders following their presentations (if the presentations are planned to be more formal)
  • Plan comprehensive cumulative programming rather than independent chunks (e.g., for social media – what are the social media options, what technology do you need, what are successful models, etc.)
  • Encourage content leaders to use case studies and to build in time for learners to discuss their with each other how they might apply the session ideas to their organizations

Connections:  Bringing together individuals with common interests, issues or expertise.  The value connections add is that members that are connected can share information, ideas and solutions.

Here are ways to connect your conference attendees. 

  • Via registration process, query registrants on issues of importance and identify comment threads and plan networking events around
  • Enable opportunities to network pre-conference via social media (blogs, wikis, Twitter, discussion lists, ASAE & The Center's directory)
  • Set up peer groups of conference attendees (learning teams) and schedule time during the event where they can get together and discuss what they have learned so far and build upon each other’s ideas
  • Design an environment conducive to communities (comfortable conversation areas, brown-bag or provided lunches so members don’t need to run out to restaurants, as examples)
  • Schedule  informal issues discussion sessions as part of conferences and meetings
  • Embed peer-to-peer discussions into educational session through cases and problem-solving activities

Here's a video ASAE staff captured after the event.  Keep in mind that I'd been at the conference for five days and my brain was, well, done.  Seriously, just shortly before the take, someone had asked me what hotel I was staying at....and I totally blanked.  So, I'm pretty surprised I could even make a point.  You may argue that I didn't. :-)

We covered a lot more during the session.  Look for the next issue of ASAE & The Center's M&E section newsletter for more comprehensive coverage.


Going Global?

Going global with certification is a topic of interest to many, but few resources exist to guide efforts.  Here's an article that's not new, but provides timeless advice.  Don't forget to click on the links at the end too - one covers legal issues to consider.  (Caveat:  you may need to be an ASAE & The Center member to view.)

Also important to realize, there is an important distinction between a U.S. association offering a credential to an international audience and one offering global credentialing.  The former occurs much more often.  In this case, a U.S.-based association creates a credentialing program based on U.S. practice and standards and allows individuals in other countries to apply.  In this case, those individuals will be required to know the U.S.-based terminology and standards even if they do not apply to them.  In addition, the program likely won’t cover some terminology and standards important to practice in their country.

In contrast, a truly global credentialing system studies the practice in every country where the certification will be offered, identifies the universal standards that apply to all, and creates the program based on these universal standards.  This, as you can imagine, is usually not an easy task for most professions since terminology, practice standards, and regulations often differ significantly by country.
The differences often lead associations to hybrid approach, including 1) creating the U.S.-based program first and later adopting other versions of it for use in other countries and 2) working with several nations to identify the universal set of standards, but then allowing individual countries to add standards to accommodate their local practice requirements. 

It can be helpful to distinguish the program types using the following terminology:

  • A national program is one that is based on standards that were developed and adopted by one country, yet individuals from other countries are allowed to apply for the credential.
  • An international program is one that is based on standards that were developed and adopted by one country and applied to other countries.
  • A global program is one that is based on universal standards collectively identified by all the countries involved.
  • A multinational program is one that is based on a combination of universal and local standards.  Representatives from different nations collectively define a universal set of standards, but they reserve the right to supplement those standards with ones that reflect their local conditions

National certification programs that allow international applicants are fairly common.  However, how they handle international applicants can vary.  Reciprocity and equivalency are forms to be familiar with:

  • Reciprocity is mutual recognition by two countries of each others standards and/or requirements.
  • Equivalency is the determination that a country’s standards and/or requirements are of equal content and quality of those of another country.

Designation Acronym it is...

I've gotten some interesting feedback on my last post suggesting use of the term "acronym designation" - some through comments and some by direct e-mail.  Some felt the term works.  Some felt it was repetitive.  Some other suggestions were:

  • designation acronym
  • certification abbreviation

Still others noted that "designation" or "credential" are the terms used in their fields.  Regarding the latter two, I struggle with these because to me they don't distinguish the actual designation/credential from the acronym that stands for it.  "Certified Association Executive" (ASAE & The Center) is a designation or credential so that doesn't solve how to address the "CAE".

Of interest, here's how the current Wikipedia entry defines credential:

"A credential is an attestation of qualification, competence, or authority issued to an individual by a third party with a relevant de jure or de facto authority or assumed competence to do so." 

It cites among its examples, degrees and certifications.

So, why do we need a term to describe the intials/acronym anyway?  Well, the world at large probably doesn't really care, BUT in our certification corner of the world, it does matter.  It matters because we need to communicate to individuals we certify what are / are not appropriate uses of the designations and associated acronyms that they are granted use of. 

In the end, of the ideas brainstormed, I actually like the reverse of what I originally suggested.  I think "designation acronym" works better.  You have the designation (e.g., Certified Association Executive) and its designation acroynym (CAE).  That's what I'm going with for now so thanks to Ben for the suggestion.  And, thanks to everyone for the ideas and discussion! 

By the way, the terminology works for all of credentialing.  You can have the certification designation and its designation acronym, the licensure designation and its designation acronym, etc.


New Term: Does it Work?

Lately I've noticed a variety of attempts to describe the initials following a certified person's name (e.g. "CAE" for "Certified Association Executive").

I've been trying to come up with a term that's descriptive because it gets old really fast having to refer to them as "the initials following a certified person's name that designates that an individual holds that certification!!" :-}

I used to call them the "initial designation" but realized a new term was in order when a few colleagues misinterpreted that term, thinking "initial" was somehow referring to "first."  Hmmmm, hadn't thought of that. 

I have decided upon the term "acronym designation" since it is the acronym that stands for the designation.  You'll be seeing the term in several documents and publications I'm working on.  So, if you see problems with it, give me a shout ASAP!  If you like, use it.