Communities of Practice versus the NQF brand


Gerda Magnus, Managing Director: Assessment College

One of the interesting topics discussed at the 2nd Annual SAQA Colloquium is the matter of Communities of Practice or Trust. While this has become a very topical discussion we realise that the concept "communities of practice' is not that well defined as yet.

Firstly one has to consider where the discussion around "communities of trust' started. My first thought was that it probably started as a result of the distrust between educational institutions in the NQF environment. In order to create the dream of portability and transferability we would then need mechanisms to create trust. Simply put, if we were to start grouping people who do trust the quality of work of others and recognise this publicly, they would be communities who trust one another?s work.

I would like to argue that if we believed in the NQF the NQF brand would be as strong as that of Coke, Castle Lager, MTN or OMO washing powder. In that case we would not need to create these communities, they would exist naturally as a result of the structures put in place by the NQF.

While we may differ in opinion about the quality of McDonald?s food, we can not disagree about the product that we receive time after time - it does not vary from its quality, taste and texture, no matter where in the world you may find yourself. We are therefore able to trust that the product we order today will be as it was the last time it was ordered.

There are two important elements here:

The brand is known

The brand is trusted

Let us consider for a moment if the NQF meets these two criteria.

Is our NQF known?

Optimistically only about 50% of the population has ever heard of the NQF. Was there ever a marketing plan? Marketing was directed mostly at the disadvantaged learners, where advertising was on public busses and printed media in taxi ranks etc. Although this did serve a particular purpose, it did not reach large numbers of role-players in the educational context, such as employers, government officials and teachers.

Is the NQF trusted?

I would argue that in some sectors it is trusted but not in others. This is due to the fact that the complexity of the NQF makes it hard to understand and hard to implement in a quality way.

The question therefore remains. If we were able to trust the NQF system, would it be necessary to create special relationships or communities of trust? What comes first, the trust amongst communities or the trust in the NQF system?

It seems that the discussion has deepened somewhat and this original idea of communities of trust has become "Communities of Practice'. This is somewhat different from the original concept in that it speaks of communities that function together in order to achieve a specific purpose. The example usually given was that of professional bodies.

While in my opinion "communities of trust' are something we create where we recognise one another?s practices in the absence of an NQF guideline. "Communities of practice' is something that we create within an NQF in order to focus on specific occupations or professions or interests. These communities will make the NQF a trusted brand - an agreement among role-players to implement the NQF in a consistent manner. An example that comes to mind is the ETQA Forum run by SAQA and Moderator Forum that has recently started.

In conclusion it seems that "Communities of Trust' are not synonyms for "Communities of Practice', even though they are at present used interchangeably. "Communities of Trust' is critical for the NQF to achieve its dream of transferability. In the absence of a nationally accepted system we need to create trust. "Communities of practice', on the other hand, are as important, as they will create the longer term bonds within the NQF which will give it credibility and make it trust worthy.