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.

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.

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.

Certification is not your purpose

Recently I scanned the websites of numerous certifying agencies and found an alarming trend:  many mission statements read like this: "Our purpose is to certify members of the X industry."  Here are two REAL purpose statements that I found via my Web search:

  • To develop, maintain, promote and administer a high-quality certification and recertification program for (target audience).
  • To certify (target audience) and to identify, for the public, quality professionals through a system of certification, adjudication, standards of practice and continuing competency programs.

Yuck (and sorry if it's yours!).  Hear this:  CERTIFICATION IS NOT A PURPOSE.  Certification is a strategy to accomplish a purpose.  If  your mission/purpose statement reads like these, you've severely and unnecessarily limited the impact of your organization.  You need to uncover your real purpose.  Is it to protect the public?  Advance the profession? Better position individuals in the marketplace?  Once you've done that, you'll open yourself up to the possibilities of how your organization can accomplish your purpose.  While certification is one strategy, there are numerous others to consider.  More on this later.