The power of storytelling

In the already fifth episode of the Quality Assurance Academy presents the HOW TO webinars Isabelle Fagnot, Associate Dean Quality & Accreditation, KEDGE Business School, and Geralyn McClure Franklin, Interim Dean, University of Louisiana at Lafayette B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration discussed the ins and outs of writing an accreditation report.

Starting with a broader context, Geralyn perceives an accreditation report as an actual written document proving that your institution achieved a certain level as defined in the standards used by an external body. Isabelle sees writing a report as your chance to highlight major achievements and showcase what you are doing at your institution, to simply share your story. And though the process itself of writing a report doesn’t change much, you need to always reflect on the audience you have in front of you as there are obviously different requirements for different accreditations. Hence, the terminology used throughout the report will be to a great extent affected by these differences.

Being attentive to the instructions and understanding the guidelines – keep in mind that criteria of international accreditations may differ from what you were used to asses at your institution until now – will help you overcome one of the complexities that are inherently linked to writing an accreditation report. What other complexities you should be aware of? Reflecting on the fact whether the report relates to the initial accreditation or re-accreditation and deliberately weighing what to include in the document will certainly pay off. Furthermore, both Isabelle and Geralyn agree that another intricacy lies in the transversal nature of such document. Writing an accreditation report doesn’t involve just one person, it takes an entire team and you need to engage with and rely on a lot of different people.

Isabelle and Geralyn both underline that getting everyone on board is equally important. Management has made the decision that accreditation is from now on a significant milestone, hence it is desirable that they explain what is at stake and how exactly it might impact staff and faculty perception of their own role. Making accreditation part of the strategy of the institution will help to engage all internal stakeholders and once engaged, you can make sure they know the role they are playing in achieving this strategy. Isabelle suggests in addition that many things in accreditation guidelines can be used as tools towards improvement. Since accreditations tend to provoke vivid reactions and resistance in some cases, it is crucial not to create extra work when you don’t necessarily have to.

To start the ball rolling, Isabelle advises to have an action plan enumerating different stages of the process, so that everyone understands these stages of the report writing first. Geralyn adds that prior to the writing itself, you need to gain expertise in certain aspects and that’s why gathering all the possible facts should come first. Once this is done, it becomes easier to prioritise what information to keep, what to skip or what to include in the appendixes. Including key points and summarising seems like a sensible way to proceed. Eventually, you will appreciate all the information gathered even though not included in the final report, because the bigger picture will be helpful when answering the various additional questions during the visit. And you can bet that these questions will come up.

When discussing the most common mistakes in writing the accreditation reports, Geralyn’s advice would be to avoid fluffing or omitting key points of accreditation requirements and informational disbalance between individual sections. Isabelle’s take is not to be afraid to own what you want to say about your institution – it is understandable that you have areas of improvement, every institution does. On the other hand, best practice seems to be threefold: start with collecting the data, tell your story talking about uniqueness that helps you achieve the points and desired levels as described in the accreditation standards and eventually proceed with final trimming and adjusting the document with different standpoints. Getting to know people and how they work, how they write and how they are dealing with their responsibilities might help as well. And if possible, don’t forget to share the report with your staff and faculty – transparency is appreciated as it helps your colleagues to feel part of it!

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