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Ensuring Impartial Assessment in Recertification

May 19, 2017  | By  | Leave a comment

At the recent Mid-Term International Accreditation Forum – International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (IAF-ILAC) meeting, a forum where accreditation bodies around the world convene peer-to-peer to review conformity assessment standards, the topic of recertification as it applies to the certification of persons in ISO/IEC 17024: Conformity assessment—General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons[1] was raised.  As part of the ISO process, clarification can be sought regarding the interpretation of specific requirements of standards, and in the case of ISO/IEC 17024, clarification was sought regarding requirement 9.6.4 The selected recertification activity/activities shall be adequate to ensure that there is impartial assessment to confirm the continuing competence of the certified person.

At issue is whether work experience and continuing education/training ensure impartial assessment of continuing competence of certified persons, the emphasis being on impartial assessment.  ISO/IEC 17024 defines assessment as “process that evaluates a person’s fulfillment of the requirements of the certification scheme”[2]; and impartiality as “presence of objectivity.”[3] Typically this is achieved through the administration of third-party assessments.

While it is generally accepted that continuing education/training or education activities contribute to continuing competence, training in and of itself is not necessarily an assessment activity.  In instances in which training has an assessment, the assessment can measure continued competence, but impartiality may not be achieved if the assessment is administered by a second party (e.g. trainer or instructor), or if it is self-declared (e.g. certified person documents training completed).  Assessments that are administered by a third-party would meet the criteria of impartiality.

Many certification bodies accept continued acceptable work experience as a means of demonstrating continuing competence of certified persons.  As with the option of training, second-party (e.g. supervisor observation/assessment/check-off of work experience) and self-declaration (e.g. certified person declares work experience) do not meet the requirement of impartiality (third-party assessment).  In addition to these considerations, continued work experience may be a means of maintaining continuing competence in specific work areas, but may not address the entire scope of the scheme.  Furthermore, continued work experience may not assess competence.

ISO/IEC 17024 requirement 9.6.5 stipulates that certification bodies consider several options for confirming continuing competence, including: a) on-site assessments; b) professional development; c) structured interviews; d) confirmation of continuing satisfactory work and work experience records; e) examination; and f) checks on physical capability in relation to the competence concerned. The responsibility of certification bodies electing any or a combination of these options is to provide evidence of impartiality in assessing continuing competence.

Short of administering a third-party examination, how can certification bodies assure impartiality in assessing continuing competence?

In selecting recertification options, certification bodies should carefully review the scheme and competence requirements and match the best options to specific competence requirements.  Usually certification bodies arrive at a combination of recertification options in order to provide certified persons many pathways to recertify.  In selecting options b) professional development, which often includes training and continuing education, and d) confirmation of continuing satisfactory work and work experience records, certification bodies should give careful consideration to the type of competencies that can be demonstrated through these activities, and the methods that can be implemented to assure impartial assessment of competence.  In doing so, certification bodies should also consider the evidence the certified person needs to be able to document on their application for recertification to show they are meeting the competence requirements.

For example, the certification body may stipulate that training options match learning objectives directly to the competence requirements of the scheme, and include a third-party assessment.  With work experience, certification bodies may develop rubrics designed to measure continuing competence and documentation of records of completion based on objective and impartial criteria.  As with the determination of prerequisites (eligibility for certification), recertification requirements should follow methodologies to assure reviewers or raters of work experience are making consistent and comparable decisions across applicants. This may necessitate training of reviewers, and periodic inter-rater reliability studies.

While certification bodies work to develop or revise recertification options that assure impartial assessment of continuing competence, they are also cautioned to keep in mind the characteristics, needs and preferences of persons recertifying.  Providing a recertification option that certified persons will not utilize, or which may be too “burdensome” for them to complete, may not be options the certification body should provide.  Finding the right alignment between offering recertification options that provide evidence of continued competence, appeal to applicants, and are “user-friendly” can be a delicate balancing act.

Ultimately, the clarification requested regarding ISO/IEC 17024 found that whatever the methods used by the certification body to verify competence of the person being recertification, it is still up to the certification body to ensure that they comply with clause 9.6.4 which states, “ The selected recertification activity/activities shall be adequate to ensure that there is impartial assessment to confirm the continuing competence of the certified person.”


[1] ISO/IEC 17024:2012 Conformity assessment—General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons

[2] ISO/IEC 17024:2012 Section 3. Terms and definitions, page 2

[3] ISO/IEC 17024:2012 Section 3. Terms and definitions, page 2

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