Dave Snowden

The certification question

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The vexed question of certification came up in conversation yesterday. We’re going through the process of creating the right support systems and quality control processes to allow us to extend training options to a larger population of trainers for Cognitive Edge methods, along with the take on of coaches for our soon to be launched 360º service. In parallel I’m finishing off material for the new Cynefin Centre Masters programme which may be called The Management Apprenticeship, although the Trump associations might trigger a switch to Journey(wo)man or similar!

I faced this issue before in knowledge management and opposed the various attempts to create certificates with pretentious sets of initials to follow your name. Now within Agile at times it appears that no one is actually creating software as they spend all their time on short courses to gain various certificates which at best can record attendance at the event. I’ve always opposed and to be honest, despised people whose interest in a new field is to rapidly codify some lowest common denominator material and then package it up to make a quick buck.

Now in the new Masters we are creating a three year period of study in which the student creates a trans-disciplinary knowledge acquisition path in the humanities and sciences, then validates their learning by examination of a thesis on the application to a real world issue. In parallel they will keep a narrative based log of the work they have done, variously signed off by more experienced people in the field. That will get through a University accreditation process and the letters after the name will have some meaning.

The tentative conclusions I have come to in making notes on the flight from Atlanta to Philly are as follows:

  • Letters after the name need to be linked to a properly accredited educational institution and the accreditation should be national
  • Its legitimate to certify attendance at a training programme
  • Any certification that implies competence has to be accompanied at the very least by an extended period of supervised practice
  • Muti-choice questions can never validate learning
  • Anything linked to something that claims to be a standard or to define a field (not a method or technique) must not be created by, or be the property of, a single player

I may need more than that, but I’m working on it

  • François Bachmann

    Your approach makes a lot of sense and would be a welcome change in the jungle of attended-and-got-the-T-shirt courses. To me, your last sentence perfectly summarizes what a certifying authority declares: “This person may need more than that, but she’s *really* working on it.”

  • Alan Larimer

    Well said.

  • Michael Hill

    I have letters after my name, but recently assisted others in identifying similar training at roughly 1/40th of the cost. The training that granted the contract critical ‘letters’ did not meet your criteria #1, although it pretends it does, because considering #5, it’s only not a sole property because one group split into two companies that now only agree on not letting anyone else in. Concerning point #4, you could get the certificate without taking the multiple choice exam, but if your company or contract required an exam, they’d give you a multiple choice exam and put the score on your ‘certification.’ I only view those ‘letters’ as #2 – I survived the five days. I’ve learned far more from individual study, continuing education opportunities, comparison of claims to practice, feedback, and reflection on that feedback. Whether Knowledge Management or Applied Complexity, I don’t see how certification can be achieved without #3.

    In comparison to the other major letters (B.S., M.A., etc.), those required much longer time-frames, were from accredited institutions subject to national review (no ‘self-inspect’ or ‘buddy-inspect’), and they required demonstration of competency that couldn’t be done in a week or so.

    If I could suggest one addition – certification should also include a continuing education requirement (or research/writing requirement for noted leaders in the field). Fields change; if you don’t keep current, you should eventually lose ‘certification’. Even when I’ve disagreed with some KM training it’s at least forced me to work through what I objected to and why, and that’s generally made me a better KM. Just yesterday I was dealing with a problem where they use waterfall planning, and the problem set is not easily subject to Agile. Meanwhile I’m reading about ‘Sprint’ (and the author apologized for using an Agile term to mean something different). Being exposed to more methods sharpens the ability to see where members of the team struggle to understand their own process, to include raising their doubts, misunderstandings and concerns. I think I’m struggling to explain the experience as I write this, but to me it highlights the power of continuing study and education even while practicing, and thus feel it should be part of maintaining ‘certification.’

    • Dave Snowden

      Nice addition – thanks for that