Explaing the role of 'Communities of Expert Practice'

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Marietta van Rooyen, Executive Chair: Assessment College

The importance of registering with the SABPP as a Learning and Development Professional should be clear to trainers on all levels by now (see our January 2009 article). This article shows how you can play an active role in determining the kind of education and training trainers or Learning and Development Professionals need in order to become effective in their work.

The Department of Labour regulations for the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) will make it possible for professional and occupational bodies to play a leading role in designing qualifications, curriculum and assessments for their own professions. They call the experts involved a Community of Expert Practice (CEP).

What is a Community of Expert Practice?

We are being stalked by a new acronym, a Community of Expert Practice (inevitably CEP for short). According the Concept Document for Discussion from the Department of Labour it is a "group of practitioners currently in the occupation'. Comments on this document had to be submitted by 31 October 2008.

The Quality Council for Trades and Occupations are planning to make use of CEPs to replace standards-generating bodies to develop qualifications and to perform certain quality assurance functions.

What will a CEP do?

According to the Occupational Qualifications Framework (OQF) document, the design and development process for occupational qualifications, curricula and qualification assessment specifications will be expert-driven and conducted by Communities of Expert Practice.

They also say that they will make use of selected experts to be convened to develop the qualifications and other members of the CEP will be provided with the opportunity to comment. Well, that sounds reasonable enough.

The CEP can also play an active role in the moderation or examination body and register constituent assessors who conduct or moderate assessment.

It is envisaged that the CEP will design, develop, manage, conduct and verify the final integrative summative assessment for awards, and even for some certificates. The CEP will however work under the delegated authority of the QCTO.

How will the CEP be appointed?

The discussion document states that where there is a professional body, institute or occupational association to represent practitioners, it can be used to convene and manage the processes in line with QCTO regulations.

That sounds sensible. But here lies the rub: Where there are no such bodies or where there is more than one competing body, the QCTO will set up and maintain a database of practitioners who are willing to contribute to the delivery of the outputs.

The following criteria are proposed: Practitioners captured in the database must be knowledgeable about current practices of their respective occupations. In addition, the experts may be members of standards-generating bodies.

But are experts willing to contribute without getting any rewards? It was found in the past that the real experts are either too busy to get involved or are a part of a small business and simply cannot afford to spend hours in meetings.

Thus, unless the Department of Labour paid these experts a reasonable fee, they may not be able to spend much time in CEP meetings.

Who else will participate?

The document states that other quality councils, that is Umalusi and the Council on Higher Education, will also be included where appropriate. The plan is to promote occupational progression, portability and articulation with the other qualification frameworks, of which there are now three.

Assessment experts may also be included in the CEP to provide assistance to ensure the credibility of the assessment process. I would have thought this is essential.

The formation of CEPs

It will be in the interest of professional and occupational associations competing in the same field to start talking immediately and sort out their own roles in the formation of a CEP.

Personally I am rather skeptical of the idea of a database of practitioners at the QCTO. We have seen too many such so-called expert groups who came up with totally irrelevant standards and qualifications.

If it is left up to the SETA to nominate the experts they may also be biased towards those practitioners who participate in SETA activities, but are not necessarily the real experts in their fields.

Quality partners

The concept of a Quality Partner has been one that has been used by FASSET, which has used professional and occupational bodies in their constituency to assist them with the quality assurance of their providers.

The QCTO is now beginning to talk about a single professional body representing the expert practitioners as Quality Partners.

Formal relationship between the QCTO and the Quality Partners

The QCTO and the Quality Partner (or other body to which QCTO delegates its functions) manage a series of formal CEP processes related to the design and development of curricula, qualifications and qualification assessments guidelines. They will also set the criteria for programme approval.

The CEP is a process-driven and not a stakeholder-driven structure. This means that it will not necessarily be a representative group and will not have community representation.

The names of participants will not be gazetted as was the case with NSBs and SGBs. The process will be highly fluid and will work on a fit-for-purpose basis.

The CEP operations will be facilitated by an expert or a team of experts. The QCTO will maintain a register of facilitators formally qualified to do this work. Thus, the qualification of this expert will be in the form of a skills certificate.

Conclusion

I do think that the concept of Quality Partners is a great leap forward. It includes the previously alienated professional bodies. It is these bodies that have the best interests of their occupations and professions at heart.

Their members, who are the practitioners, usually elect the governing body democratically and this body should be able to call on their members for participation.

Apart from the inherent dangers of databases kept by bureaucrats, and of SETA staff identifying experts, I think this particular policy proposal could work.

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