Asking when, and indeed if, your organisation should introduce accreditation for your members is a big question. Some bodies, such as the Association of Accounting Technicians, were set up with certification at their core. Others have introduced accreditation down the line or remain solely membership bodies.
For many membership bodies, in particular those that represent professionals, accreditation is the first step towards becoming a more public facing body. One that demonstrates to the market that members have the required skills and competencies to complete work or tasks to a certain level.
How do you decide when it’s the right time to introduce accreditation?
What are the key considerations when deciding whether to introduce accreditation for your members? The following aspects should be considered:
1. Will accreditation work for your membership body?
Every organisation is unique. With around 8,000 membership bodies in the UK/EU membership and association sector, there will be almost as many different accreditation strategies as there are organisations.
The first question is whether accreditation will matter to your membership body and to the market at large. Will you be able to officially assess and recognise the required expertise, knowledge, and practice of your members? And will this recognition offer your membership real value when it comes to securing employment or appealing to clients?
2. What are the key characteristics that you need to assess?
Accreditation may be based on many different aspects and attributes, including but not limited to:
- A statement to uphold specific standards
- Years or hours in practice, as well as depth of experience in the industry
- Nominations from the sector or the industry
- Attaining a certain level of qualification
- Commitment to and participation in Continuous Professional Development
3. Do you have enough members?
If you are looking to introduce accreditation to an existing membership body, then you will need to have enough members to make it worthwhile. This is an especially crucial step if you want your organisation to become recognised by the public or market sector as the hallmark of quality.
4. Are there other membership bodies who provide accreditation/certification in your sector and industry?
If there are affiliated membership organisations who already have accreditation or certification, then perhaps you should look at partnerships, joint ventures, or even mergers as a means of introducing accreditation programming. Accreditation or Certification is most effective when it becomes accepted best practice in the industry.
5. Will you have different levels of accreditation?
Depending on what you plan to assess, you may want to introduce different levels of accreditation. This will also inform the fees that will be charged. Options include:
Granting Student Membership to entry level individuals, followed by Associate or Chartered Membership for more experienced members – g., Chartered Member of the British Psychological Society
Numbered levels of achievement – g., Level 1 in Coaching Football
Accreditation related to a specific area of knowledge or expertise – g., Family Law Accreditation
6. How will membership fees be impacted by the introduction of accreditation?
Introducing accreditation will likely impact your membership fees. This will need to be made clear before proposing the strategy to the membership body. You will need to prepare and make a case for the benefits that these changes will bring.
7. Will your membership body be positive about the introduction of accreditation?
Involve your membership body in discussions about the introduction of accreditation. A majority will need to back the move before any changes can be introduced.
However, as with any change of direction or strategy, there may be a drop off in terms of membership numbers. And not all members will reach the standards required for accreditation. Can the members you lose be effectively replaced by those who uphold the accreditation standards?
8. How will you assess applications?
The introduction of accreditation is just the first step. The assessment of applications will need to be conducted efficiently and on a timely basis that doesn’t require a lot of internal resource.
The right technology should enable your assessments to be completed effortlessly, with the applicant ideally able to engage in the accreditation process remotely at a time and place that is convenient to them.
9. Will you introduce certification or some form of external assessment?
If your strategy involves external assessment, examinations, or credentialing, then remote assessment centres or online proctoring can be a secure and cost-effective option.
10. How will you promote accreditation?
You will need to have communications and marketing ready to promote the new accreditation process. This needs to be targeted separately, for your members and for the market at large.
11. How will you monitor members who are accredited?
Your approach to regularly monitoring the market to ensure that members are upholding accreditation standards will need careful consideration. Is there an annual re-accreditation process? Do you have a complaints procedure in place?
It’s an unfortunate truth, but the value of accreditation is based on the worst performers. To maintain quality you will need to manage poor performers, and you will need a clear and transparent system for doing this.
By considering the above questions, you will be able to clarify how and whether accreditation adds value to your members, to the market, and to the public at large.
What is the difference between accreditation and certification?
There are specific differences between accreditation and certification. For clarity, here is what we mean by both terms:
Accreditation: Accreditation is the formal recognition by an authoritative body that an individual can perform work to specific standards and requirements.
Professional Certification: A person or an organisation can be certified to carry out specific activities or duties. In most cases certification requires some form of external rigorous assessment to demonstrate that a candidate has attained the required skill level.