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August 2008
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October 2008

Why before How

I got a disturbing, but unfortunately not unusual, call last week.  An association president who read Considering Certification? Your Guide to Making the Decision called expressing the realization and concern that his organization has been focusing all their efforts on HOW to develop a certification but hadn't really thoroughly considered WHY!!! 

This happens all too often, in my opinion. Boards assume certification is wanted, needed and/or valued.  Boards assume certification will do great things for their industry or profession.  Boards assume they will make big revenue on certification.  ALL RISKY ASSUMPTIONS.  Hopefully I'll be able to help the board more thoroughly consider IF certification is a path they should pursue.  Now, someone tell me why the consultant they've been working with for months hasn't raised this "minor" question?   In fairness, the individual was hired to guide creation of a program, not to assess the feasibility for developing a program.  This begs the question, however: Isn't it the job of a consultant to ask the questions that our clients don't know to ask?

The WHY should always precede the HOW.

Appeals vs Complaints

Twice this week I've been in discussions about what is the difference between an appeal and complaint.

An appeal is a written request for reconsideration of a determination made by a credentialing body. For example, an applicant may appeal the denying of his eligibility status or a certificant may appeal the determination to revoke her credential.

In contrast, a complaint is a request, other than an appeal, made to a credentialing body, for corrective action relating to the activities of that body or regarding those it credentials.  For example, an individual may file a complaint that a certificant is acting in a manner that violates the profession's code of conduct.  These types of ethics-related complaints typically must follow a formal complaints policy and procedures.  However, also keep in mind that it's important to have a process to consider, resolve and track all complaints.  For example, a candidate may complain that he didn't get his eligibility letter in the published time-frame.    Do you have a system to track and resolve these types of complaints?  I've found many organizations don't!

So, even though the two are often lumped together, as in "you need to have policies and procedures for appeals and complaints" keep in mind that they are, in fact, separate processes.

New to Certification?

ASAE & The Center are hosting a virtual Credentialing Symposium October 27-30th.  The program is targeted to those considering developing a certification program or have a new or immature program.

It will be held online over four days via webinars, pre-recorded content and online chats, and you will have the opportunity to connect with fellow executives and get your questions answered by a group of experts in certification.  Some of the topics will include: the credentialing options (by yours truly), minimizing legal risk, marketing, industry quality standards, psychometrics in plain english, and trends in certification.

For more information and to register, click here.

Impact of Growth on Quality

Next panel up at the NOCA Credentialing Leadership Forum: Denise Fandel, Board of Certification; Lenora Knapp, Knapp Associates International; Chris Smith, LERN

They suggested the following as influences on the growth of credentialing (disclaimer:  more were discussed than listed here, but, hey, I just can't type that fast.)

  • Rapid pace of change in the workplace. Scope of knowledge and skills is more broad and the lifespan is shorter.
  • Greater recognition of certification by the public. 
  • Shift of the purpose of credentialing from just protection of the public to advancing the profession.  (I'm not sure I agree with this one.  This isn't a new shift.  Yes, healthcare credentialing has traditionally been focused on public protection, yet many other segments have had industry/profession-focused certification programs for decades.)
  • Greater need for skilled labor in other parts of the world, and the need for ways to identify them.
  • Technology is making it easier to develop certification programs, to market them, and for individuals to apply for them.
  • We are on the cusp of a strong demograhic shift.  Boomers leaving the workforce, and leaving a shortage of qualified workers.

Some implications of the growth of credentialing discussed were:

  • Prevalence of certification has made braindumps lucrative...and this is impacting the perceived value of certification.
  • Environment is becoming more competitive - from legitimate or non-legitimate (diploma mills) and outside of U.S. borders (other countries certifying U.S. individuals).
  • More informed consumers are asking more questions of us. They have more options.  They are demanding more. 
  • More competition plus more informed consumers means they are going to be asking for proof of what we are promising.
  • Perishable just-in-time credentials (developed quickly and disposed of when no longer needed) are being developed.

Chris focused on the impact of generational transitions and the fact that the Boomers are retiring and questioned whether we are prepared for this to happen.  What do the new generations look like?  What will they value?  He thinks ROI.  Chris stressed that we've got to start paying attention to the young population (Les Wallace indicated earlier that >1/2 of the population is <25 years old). So, Chris suggests we all get the younger generations involved.  I take a look around the room.  Some Gen Xers present (myself included) but I don't believe any Millenials were.  This has to change.  We can't keep talking about them; we need to include them in the discussions.

International Discussion

Here at the NOCA Credentialing Leadership Forum, Robert Pedigo from Castle Worldwide and Paul Grace from the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy make the following points about the challenges of international credentialing:

America has a testing culture that differs from other parts of the world.  Europe, for example, has an established guild system and in general Europeans are not very trusting of a test's ability to verify knowledge and skills. 

Data privacy laws are very different elsewhere than in U.S. so operationalizing an international certifying system is challenging. 

Differing culture norms create additional challenges.  In some parts of the world it is not unethical to share test questions, for example.

Certification marks are challenging to control internationally. 

It's difficult to establish foreign equivalency of educational experiences.

Their key advice was to do your homework.  Talk with others who have navigated international credentialing with the same geographical region as you are investigating.  Also, be sure to get legal counsel experienced in international affairs. 

Interestingly, there was little to no discussion of the opportunities in international credentialing.  Assumed, perhaps?  

The Value of Certification...or not

There's a lot of talk at the NOCA Credentialing Leadership Forum about identifying and communicating the value of certification to regulators and other stakeholders.  But let's be honest, there is little to no value to some certification programs.  I'm not being disrespectful to the many quality and meaningful programs out there!  But, the reality is that some certification programs were developed without a thorough examination of the environment and stakeholders needs, and the role certification has (or doesn't have).  As a result, some are only marginally addressing any real issue or have value to only a very small segment.  The brutal reality is that while all organizations can develop certification, not all should. 

So, while I agree that we should work to identify and communicate the value of certification, I feel we should devote an equal amount of time in educating organizations about when certfication is or isn't appropriate or valuable.

Opening Session: Dr. Les Wallace on Leadership

Here is how we are starting the day, with a Keynote from Dr. Les Wallace.  He begins with his work on identifying the challenges of 21st century leadership.  Here's the thought: leaders don't have to do everything--they are the driving engine to empower people around them to lead.  This sets the context. The day will include panel presentations and workshop discussions.

Competencies and commitments for leadership include:  help others be successful; ability to develop other people; help people to anticipate the future of their work; help orgnaizations to remain vibrant; help others adapt to transformation of their organizations.

Les is on the mark with these competencies of leadership for certification and credentialing organizations.  Traits of leadership have a huge impact on the shape of governance and the shape of the future of the organization.

Risks we face in leadership are taking old solutions and applying them  to new problems.   Themes through the day will require different thinking about the "value promise" we offer to our constituents.

Key question for certification boards is: How to recruit leadership and groom the type of leader that can lead, and can make an impact on the organization that continues to inspire leadership?  What are the strategies for develping a volunteer governing body that can lead?  What are the traits of the leaders that certification bodies need, and how do you identify them?

Questions you may ask, per Dr. Wallace include:

Who am I / Who are we?

What's leadership?

How well am I / Are we leading?

What is your leadership succession plan?

Note: Leadership is not technical competency, yet's that's what most certification bodies depend on technical competence.  Why is this?  According to Dr. Wallace, current governance models may not serve the needs of certification organizations in the future (or of associations, in general).  The job of leadership is transformation, not rescue.  So, where does the CEO of a certification board and the volunteer leadership fit into this, and how do they begin to tranform themselves?

What are your thoughts and experiences? 

This message is from Christine Niero, Professional Testing, Inc.

Designations for Certificates?

Okay, so here's hot issue number two regarding the standard for certificate programs:

Should certificate holders be issued a designation and associated acronym? 

For certification, certificants are typically granted use of a designation (e.g., Certified Association Executive) and that designation's acroynm (e.g., CAE).  Should certificate holders?

As I see it, there are 3 possible answers:  The obvious "yes" and "no" and then the more complicated third option which would allow designations and associated acroynms for certificate programs only under certain conditions, such as 1) that the organization does not state or in any way imply that the certificate holder is certified, licensed, registered, accredited, etc. and 2) that a standardized designation and associated acronym that distinguishes it as a certificate program is used (i.e., "Certificate Holder in XYZ" or "CH-XYZ"). 

NOCA's current standard draft says no designation or associated acronym. ASTM's current standard draft includes the 3rd option.

As a point of clarification, the resulting standard(s) will be voluntary so there is no way to control the many certificate programs out there that issue designations using the word "certified."  But, if a standard becomes the basis of an accreditation program for certificate programs, it would mean that all accredited programs would either 1) not be able to issue a designation (under NOCA's current draft) or 2) use only the specified standardized designation format for their certificate holders (under ASTM's current draft). 

I'm convinced "yes" is not appropriate as that further blurs the ability for users to distingish between certification and certificate programs, but I see both pros and cons of the last two options.  What do you think?

Assess and Learn Modules

Those of you who know me know I'm quite an advocate for certifying agencies to supplement their certification programs with other programs that support their purpose/mission.

The Commission on Dietetic Registration has a great example of a product (other than certification) that supports their mission of public protection.  Their Assess and Learn series of modules assess users' knowledge and skill in targeted areas of dietetics practice and then provide education in those areas where it is needed. 

So, how do the modules work?  Through the use of case scenarios, learners are presented with information about clients, and then they take on the role of the dietetics professional in the case and answer questions about how to provide quality care for those clients.   While the initial focus is on self assessment, these tools are valuable learning instruments because each multiple-choice question is followed by feedback that identifies which answer is correct, explains why that answer is correct , and lists current references and links for additional information.   Evidence-based nutrition guides for practice and protocols, current research literature, and existing government disease-specific consensus guidelines and recommendations are used to support the various courses of action and care.   

The self-assessment is not a test that you pass or fail. The focus is on learning. The outcome of the self-assessment is performance feedback to assist learners in determining learning needs.  At the conclusion of the module, learners receive a detailed report that outlines how they performed on each self-assessment and on each performance task assessed through this module.  They are also provided a list of recommended resources to help them learn more about the areas needed. 

Click here to view an explanation and demo of the modules.

I think the Assess and Learn modules are very beneficial to dietetics professionals and, ultimately, to their clients -- since they assess dietitians' knowledge and skills and then address their weaknesses.  Now, I admit I'm a bit biased because I've worked with CDR's authors to design these modules.  And, you'll recognize the voice in the demo as my own.  So, you be the judge!  View the demo and let me know what you think?

Certificate Programs: Renewable?

A common question is "Can certificates be renewable?"

The ASTM E2659 standard upon which the ANAB accreditation is based does not allow for an issued certificate to be renewable.  The rationale is that this is a key feature distinguishing certificate programs from certification. 

According to both ISO 17024  and NCCA standards for certification programs, a certifying agency must have renewal (also known as recertification) requirements as an element of their certification scheme.  Because of this, certifying bodies must have ongoing communication with and ongoing tracking of their certificant populations.

In contrast, certificate programs usually issue a certificate similar to a college diploma (there are exceptions).  The certificate issued indicates that certain criteria were met up to that given point in time; however, the certificate issuer does not monitor the certificate holders beyond certificate issuance.  Should they?  Do colleges have ongoing requirements for their graduates?  Do training providers have ongoing requirements for their learners?

At first glance, you may ask why shouldn't certificate issuers be allowed to have renewal requirements if they want?  To me, the problem is that it makes certificate programs too much like certification.   Right now the two are often confused and blended.  We need to distinguish between them, and I believe this is one area that can do that.