The importance of being… prepared

In the sixth episode of the Quality Assurance Academy presents the HOW TO webinars, Kirsteen Daly, Accreditations, Rankings and Communication Manager, University of Glasgow, Adam Smith Business School shed more light onto the backstage of an accreditation visit – from planning and preparations to managing your staff.

When asked about the key things to always have in mind when preparing for a visit, Kirsteen didn’t need to think twice: it is crucial to make sure that the accreditation process is not a small side-project, but rather an endeavour firmly embedded within the school structure and as part of its strategy. Communication can do miracles as well – build your relationships and do not neglect your colleagues and management. Knowing your school and all the partakers will help you a great deal. Spreading the knowledge about accreditation and sharing the best practice will not only ensure that the message comes across properly, but you will secure for yourself all the help you can get. Because just in case you were wondering, you cannot pull this off on your own without the support of many internal stakeholder groups.

In line with what has been mentioned in the previous episodes of the QAA webinars series, Kirsteen underlined the importance of being on the same page. Internal stakeholders need to wrap their heads around the accreditation process, so that they can relate to it and participate in the common effort. This can be influenced both externally and internally. A good example of the former are accreditation seminars organised by accreditation bodies, where your institution’s staff can learn and understand the ins and outs of the procedure. As for the latter, this varies from institution to institution, depending on the governance structures in place (various committees, councils, ambassadors…) and strategic plans. At Adam Smith Business School, we are talking about a 5-year strategic plan in particular. Each accreditation has its own chapter within this plan detailing the documentation available, recommendations, timeline, responsible persons, progress marking and functional areas and the respective chapters are being updated on a yearly basis. In the spirit of transparency, everyone involved has access to these files and later on also to the report and related comments.

When planning for an accreditation visit, the Peer Review Team (PRT) shouldn’t certainly slip off your mind. As Kirsteen explained, it is wise to contact the Chair of the PRT a few months in advance, to make sure you have all the information prior to making the arrangements for the duration of the visit. In a nutshell, you want to make the PRT members feel comfortable and see friendly faces (have you checked whether they are having peers at your institution by any chance?; are there existing research collaborations?). Hospitality is not necessarily measured with money, it’s the effort and thought you put into it that makes it valuable. You will discover very soon how much interaction will be needed and the Chair can even become your mentor of some sorts – mostly in cases of initial accreditation.

Talking about the couple of days of the visit itself, Kirsteen shared quite a few best practice examples, being very open that most of them she took over from other schools. Which is also the reason she is now happy to be able to pass on the baton. And what are those precious tips? Think of using a ‘photo agenda’ rather than a regular one – PRT members meet a lot of people and adding pictures will make their lives easier; introducing a ‘project management spreadsheet’ to your team with listed actions, timelines, responsible persons, outcomes and reporting summaries to your school’s management will on the other hand make your life easier; having a back-up of all the documents given at disposal to the PRT is never a bad idea; the same goes for having back-up meeting rooms ready in case one of the meetings is running late against the schedule – you might want to have additional staff on stand by for cases like this. (Should you want to hear more tips, make sure you listen to the webinar recording and check some pictures and documents in the LinkedIn group:)).

In conclusion, Kirsteen highlighted another recurrent theme of the QAA webinars series – the importance of sharing and helping each other (though most schools remain competitive when it comes to student recruitment, this premise is not necessarily true in other areas, such as accreditation processes). Such help takes on different forms – national accreditation groups, soft skills fine-tuning, mentoring new professionals – all having one thing in common and that is giving back to the system. It is essential to make connections and friendships with your peers, because these are for life and really valuable. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, because the more you are engaged with accreditation bodies, the more they see the value of accreditation managers.

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