Developing An Effective Advisory Group

The ASTM standards for training certificate programs (ASTM E2659 & D8403) require the formation of an advisory group consisting of a balance of primary stakeholders of the program. An advisory group is an important part of the management of certificate programs, ensuring their value and continued relevance. For those just developing a new advisory group, the following information should assist. For those with established advisory groups, this blog post can help to identify areas for improvement based on the experience of others.

Creating an advisory group requires four tasks:

  1. Establish the purpose
  2. Identify stakeholders
  3. Recruit members
  4. Develop AG charter and meeting plans

Those who already have an advisory group should add one more task: Conduct on-going monitoring.

Figure 1: Advisory Group Process

Establish the Purpose

Before forming a training advisory group, it is important to establish a clear purpose for the group. The ASTM standards for certificate programs require that the advisory group be formed to ensure the program is current, relevant, and valuable. It further requires that the advisory group provide input to the following elements of the program:

  1. Target audience
  2. Purpose
  3. Scope
  4. Requisites
  5. Term
  6. Intended learning outcomes
  7. Instructional design plan

The advisory group should provide its input and insights at the time the certificate program is created and whenever a revision or major change occurs. Once formed, the advisory group should meet at minimum annually to review the results of the program evaluation and determine if any corrective actions or improvements should be undertaken.

If a certificate issuer creates a certificate program without the benefit of an advisory group, it will need to have the newly created advisory group go back to review the program’s basic elements and provide its input on the value and current relevance of the program. If the advisory group recommends changes, these should be seriously considered as corrective actions to improve the program.

Some certificate issuers already solicit training advice through steering committees or training councils. These may be repurposed as advisory groups by incorporating the elements listed above. If the existing group is large and oversees a broad curriculum, a subcommittee could be formed to serve as advisors to the accredited certificate program.

Some advisory groups extend their involvement beyond these minimum inputs. Advisory group members may become directly involved in developing course content, learning materials and assessments. Some may even become instructors, auditors or evaluators of their programs. Decisions about the scope of advisory group members’ involvement should be made before recruitment efforts commence.

Identify Primary Stakeholders

After clearly defining the purpose, management should identify the primary stakeholders who will be represented on the advisory group. This should include representatives from the organization, such as senior management and training staff responsible for the certificate program. It should also include external stakeholders. A stakeholder is anyone who has an interest in the outcomes of the program. A primary stakeholder is one who has a direct personal stake, either as a participant, a consumer, a provider, or investor in the training.

The number of people who serve is a function of the size and complexity of the certificate program and its issuing organization, but the advisory group must contain at least some external members who directly represent the primary stakeholders. These may be recruited from existing certificate holders, employers of certificate holders, business partners or vendors, academic experts, regulatory agencies or any customer who represents stakeholders and is willing to serve. Having a balance of stakeholders helps to ensure that all points of view are represented.

Advisory groups have historically ranged in size from as few as three to as many as thirty people. The exact number is dependent on the scope of the certificate program and the number of stakeholders it serves.

Recruit Members

Once stakeholder groups have been identified, you should develop a potential pool of candidates who represent each primary stakeholder and can contribute to the management of the training program. It is common to recruit from the organization’s existing network but extending beyond that may be necessary to find individuals who can effectively represent all primary stakeholders. Recruitment should include a formal description of the role and requirements for participation, such as the number of meetings per year, and any other expectations. It should be made clear If remuneration will be provided or if the position is voluntary.

Develop a Charter and Meeting Plans

After determining the membership, the advisory group should meet to develop a written charter that describes how they will conduct their work, make decisions and communicate with each other. This will become the nucleus of the advisory group policy that the ASTM standards require. While the standards require advisory groups to provide input and suggestions on the content, audience and requirements of the certificate program, they do not view the advisory group as a governance body with authority to make program decisions. That authority still rests with the program’s management. However, some certificate issuers empower their advisory group to become a governing body with decision making authority. This is allowable, but not necessary.

Meeting agendas should outline the topics to be discussed and the timeline for completing tasks. Meeting minutes should summarize the topics discussed, any decisions made and the assigned responsibilities for any action items. When corrective actions are identified, a tracking mechanism should allow the advisory group to monitor them through completion.

Monitor Progress

Once an advisory group has been established, it is crucial to monitor its operation and ensure it continues to meet its purpose. This includes soliciting regular feedback from the advisory group and providing continuing management support to ensure that the group is meeting its purpose and objectives. When adjustments are needed, program management should lead in their implementation.

Members’ term of service should be a part of monitoring. Advisory groups may establish set terms or offer open-ended membership. Either way, succession plans should be developed to ensure that the advisory group continues to represent all primary stakeholders and that new members receive an orientation to the work of the advisory group prior to starting their positions.

ANAB Evidence of Compliance

To meet initial accreditation for an advisory group, the certificate issuing organization should provide the following evidence to ANAB assessors:

  • Advisory Group roster
  • Member bios/resumes
  • Recent meeting agendas and minutes showing input to instructional design plan and program evaluation

Assessors will also ask to interview a sample of advisory group members during the initial site visit to verify their role and participation.

Once accredited, certificate issuers should report any changes to the composition of the advisory group during annual surveillance and should provide the latest meeting agenda and minutes, including any corrective actions that were targeted for implementation.

Contributing Author: Donald Ford, Ph.D., Lead Assessor, ANAB Certificate Accreditation Program

Donald J. Ford, Ph.D. is a training and performance improvement consultant specializing in instructional design, human resources and quality improvement. As President of Training Education Management LLC since 1997, he has consulted with clients like: ATD, ANSI, Amgen, Toyota, Nissan, Rockwell International, Samsung Electronics, Orange County Transportation Authority, Glendale Memorial Hospital, Employers Group, Southern California Edison, Saudi ARAMCO, Central Bank of Egypt and Malaysian Institute of Training and Development.  For these and other clients, he has developed custom classroom, self-study and web-based training on a wide variety of topics, conducted performance and needs analyses, facilitated groups, managed quality improvement projects, taught train the trainer and leadership courses and evaluated results. He has been a Lead Assessor with ANSI’s Certificate Accreditation Program since 2009.

Dr. Ford holds a B.A. and M.A. in history and a Ph.D. in education, all from UCLA. He also taught graduate courses in Human Resource Development for Antioch University, Los Angeles. He has published 35 articles and four books on topics in training, education and management, including: Bottom-Line Training: Performance-based Results (2005), Bottom-Line Training: How to Design Programs that Boost Profits (1999)  In Action: Designing Training Programs (Editor, ASTD, 1996), and The Twain Shall Meet: The Current Study of English in China (McFarland, 1988).

He may be reached at donaldjford@verizon.net or through his website: trainingeducationmanagement.com

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