“Our time is your money.”
Consider that a mantra in preparing for the accreditation process.
Achieving accreditation under the ASTM E2659-18 Certificate Accreditation Program is a rigorous and not inexpensive process. Before submitting an application, those considering accreditation are provided an estimated cost and time frame for completing the process. That estimate is based on a well-prepared application package–a concisely prepared application document accompanied by complete and well-organized supporting documentation.
The application consists of two closely linked parts: the completed CAP-FR-304: Application for ANAB Accreditation Under ASTM E2659-18 (CAP-FR-304) and the accompanying supporting documentation that provides evidence of what is stated in the application form. Assessors use the application as a guide when reviewing the supporting documentation. Applicants can do the same when putting their application package together, which lets them think from the perspective of someone outside their organization who doesn’t know the program as intimately as they do.
The two-person assessment team will keep track of the time they each spend reviewing the application and documentation, and ANAB will invoice the applicant based on that time. Here’s where the mantra comes in: keeping “our time is your money” in mind, applicants can minimize the chances of ending up with a higher-than-expected bill right from the start. The easier it is for assessors to review the application and documentation to determine if the standard’s requirements are met, the closer to that time- and cost-estimate the invoice(s) will likely be.
Keep in mind that throughout the assessment process, assessors will seek to triangulate the evidence that the certificate program complies with ASTM E2659-18. For example, assessors will read a policy, ask for evidence that it is being implemented, and, likely during the onsite visit, talk to someone responsible for implementing that policy.
Characteristics of a Well-Prepared Certificate Accreditation Program Application
Following are some tips for ensuring the application and supporting documentation are put together in ways that save both time and money and increase the chances of a successful accreditation process.
CAP-FR-304 Application Form
The first thing assessors do when receiving an application package is a quick overview of the CAP-FR-304, looking at what it contains as well as what documents are noted as evidence for each of the standard’s requirements. They’ll also take a quick look at the supporting documentation. Experienced assessors can often tell, just from that overview, how easy or difficult the application will be to assess. The lead assessor may reach out after this overview with anything particularly notable, such as missing documentation (it does happen).
- Keep in mind that the application form is not the evidence; it is primarily a guide to the evidence.
- When responding to each requirement in the CAP-FR-304, keep it simple. A one- or two-sentence response is generally sufficient, followed by the name(s) of supporting document(s).
- Avoid repeating in the application what is in the documents; e.g., don’t copy-and-paste a policy from the policy manual to the application. Assessors always read the documentation, so it’s not necessary to duplicate language; doing so requires more time both to prepare and assess.
- Avoid explaining situations or backgrounds in the CAP-FR-304. Point to the supporting documents that provide evidence of compliance with the standard. If anything is unclear to the assessors, or they need more information, they will ask about it. Explanations are best discussed with assessors during document review and/or the onsite assessment.
- If the relevant evidence is a small part of a larger document, include page and/or section numbers – perhaps noting which paragraph if it would be helpful – with the document name in the application. This has the potential to be a huge time-saver – assessors won’t have to hunt through the document to find the relevant evidence. Examples: a single policy/procedure within a larger overall policies and procedures manual or a section of the instructional design document describing how the learner assessment is developed.
Before submitting the accreditation application package to ANAB:
- If links are provided in the CAP-FR-304, ensure they lead to the intended web page, and that they will work for someone outside the organization. Any link to an internal server generally will not.
- Have someone other than the preparer review the package for errors, typos, links that don’t work, etc. Compare the supporting documents listed in the application with the documents being submitted to ensure everything is included.
Supporting Documentation for Certificate Accreditation Program Applications
How the supporting documentation is provided to assessors can make a big difference in the amount of time the assessment takes–and thus what the applicant is invoiced. Keep in mind the “our time is your money” mantra to simplify what it will take for assessors to locate any particular evidence item.
- Ensure all document names in the CAP-FR-304 match the actual document names.
- For any document longer than one or two pages, number the pages. If the document has multiple sections, include a table of contents. Verify that the page numbers in the table of contents are accurate.
- Demonstrate compliance with document control procedures by including evidence of them in each controlled document. For example, version numbers, revision dates, etc.–whatever the organization’s procedures call for.
- Link each supporting document to its relevant requirement in the standard. However you do it, this one tactic can save an enormous amount of assessor time. There are a variety of ways it can be done; the goal is to make it as easy as possible for assessors to find evidence of compliance with the standard. Here are a few ideas–none of them are required, yet are definitely worth considering to save assessors’ time:
- Organize documents in folders labeled by requirement; e.g., place all documentation supporting 5.2.1 into a folder labeled 5.2.1.
- Include the requirement number as the first part of every document title. For example, for corrective and preventive action: “126.96.36.199 Corrective and Preventive Action Process;” “188.8.131.52 Analysis of 2020 Corrective-Preventive Actions;” “184.108.40.206 Corrective and Preventive Action Tracking Log.” Putting the clause number at the beginning results in documents being listed in the folder in the order they appear in the standard, which makes them easier to find.
- Prepare a separate index or guide to the supporting documentation that includes the requirement, the document name(s) supporting compliance with that requirement, and the document’s location (i.e., which folder it is in). This is particularly helpful when a larger document provides evidence for multiple requirements, such as a Policies & Procedures Manual. Some applicants have, for example, created a table: column 1 is the requirement number; column 2 contains relevant document name(s), section(s), and page number(s); column 3 includes the document’s folder location and any other pertinent comments.
- If asked to correct something and resubmit a document, note where changes have been made. For example, provide page numbers and highlight the new language so it can easily be found. Again, some applicants use or add to an index/guide document for this purpose. Do not use the “track changes” feature; it creates more challenges than it solves.
The Bottom Line
Assessors want every applicant to succeed; their role is to examine the evidence and serve as the applicant’s advocate to the accreditation committee. They want to see the certificate program accredited, and within the confines of that role (e.g., they can’t consult or state how to comply) they’ll provide as much support as possible in achieving accreditation. Applicants can do their part by ensuring the application and supporting documentation are complete and well-organized.
Contributing Author: Kathleen M. Edwards, CAE
Kathi Edwards has been a lead assessor for ANAB’s ASTM E2659 Certificate Accreditation Program since its inception in 2009. She is president/owner of the Learning Evangelist, LLC, a Maryland-based learning consultancy established in 2003. Her clients include organizations throughout the U.S. and globally that want to increase the value of their learning opportunities, and individual content experts seeking support in designing and delivering effective learning experiences.
Taking a broad learners-first approach, Kathi’s specialty areas include assessing learner needs and practices; optimizing learning operations; identifying and implementing short- and long-term learning strategies; developing turn-key instructional design projects; assessing and developing subject-matter experts’ knowledge and skills; coaching; and evaluating results.
Kathi is a contract facilitator for the Association for Talent Development (ATD); she also creates and facilitates webinars, workshops, and retreats for a wide variety of other organizations. She has written numerous articles and edited and/or contributed to several books in the field of association professional development, and served as executive editor of a comprehensive study guide for those seeking the Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential.