IAF's Philosophy on Assessment and Credentials

The International Association of Facilitators provides various levels and types of professional credential to its members in support of the association’s mission to:

grow the community of practice for all those who facilitate, establish internationally accepted professional standards, build credibility, and promote the value of facilitation around the world.

Why we offer endorsements and certifications: To contribute to the professional growth of group facilitators as individual practitioners, and to the quality of services delivered by the global community of facilitators.

What we endorse or certify is all based on our defined IAF Core Competencies. This is the same whether we are examining various levels of practitioner competency, or associated services such as facilitator training.

How we endorse or certify: The foundation of our philosophy of certification is built on the bedrock of our Statement of Values and Code of Ethics.

The following extracts, in particular, provide guidance on how we collectively think about professional recognition:

  • We value professional collaboration to improve our profession.
  • We use processes, methods and tools responsibly.
    • In dialogue with the group or its representatives, we design processes that will achieve the group's goals, and select and adapt the most appropriate methods and tools. We avoid using processes, methods or tools with which we are insufficiently skilled, or which are poorly matched to the needs of the group.
  • We practice stewardship of process and impartiality toward content.
    • While participants bring knowledge and expertise concerning the substance of their situation, we bring knowledge and expertise concerning the group interaction process. We are vigilant to minimize our influence on group outcomes.
  • We are responsible for continuous improvement of our facilitation skills and knowledge.
    • We continuously learn and grow. We seek opportunities to improve our knowledge and facilitation skills to better assist groups in their work. We remain current in the field of facilitation through our practical group experiences and ongoing personal development. We offer our skills within a spirit of collaboration to develop our professional work practices.

IAF certifications and endorsements are the product of a peer review. We work from a position of appreciation, inclusion, and fairness.

With all of this in mind, the IAF believes the following to be the critical and fundamental philosophical underpinnings of certification and endorsement: 

Strive for Objectivity

With the exception of mathematical problems and scientific questions that can be resolved through experimentation, there are remarkably few situations that have simple, quantifiable answers. The assessment of human performance by another person is, and always will be, subjective. The complex interactions between facilitators, their clients, and groups cannot be reduced to a simple number ranking. The creation of, and adherence to, some numbered scale may produce the illusion of objectivity but unless the organization can demonstrate consistent application through regular and large scale testing, producing very small standard deviations in the ratings assigned by the entire body of Assessors, objectivity remains an illusion.

The fundamental principle is to recognize that assessments are subjective, and take conscious and well planned steps to ensure IAF assessments are as objective as possible.

The IAF has done so by:

  • Having defined, well documented, rigorous and repeatable assessment processes based on well-known methodologies.
  • Applying strict conflict of interest rules,
  • Using Process Managers to oversee the work of assessors, and to ensure consistent delivery of process regardless of assessor team, language of assessment, or country or culture of origin.
    • For example: In our premier certification, the IAF Certified© Professional Facilitator, we use four Assessors in the consensus based decision to ensure multiple perspectives and to reduce the impact of individual bias, whether it be conscious or unconscious.

Assess to Pass

Many assessments are built on a pass/fail philosophy and the testing is designed to produce a distribution of marks. In other words, the goal in testing is to have some people excel, some fail, and the majority fall somewhere in between.

The fundamental principle is that the role of the assessor is to give each individual candidate every opportunity to demonstrate the IAF competencies. This is not to be confused with assuming a candidate will pass or giving the candidate the benefit of the doubt. It is an ethical point that every assessor has a duty of care towards the candidates in creating opportunities to demonstrate the competencies. The role of the candidate is to take advantage of the opportunities the assessors provide. 

The IAF does this by:

  • Selecting and developing assessors who have a demonstrated commitment to the profession, and are open and receptive to different approaches, attentive to detail, and skilled in questioning and observation
  • Providing processes that engage two or more assessors, who provide different viewpoints, in considered discussion.
  • Making certification decisions by consensus of the assessor team.

Be Realistic

Most assessments take place in an artificial environment. The result is that those who are being assessed often approach the assessment thinking “What do I have to do to pass this test?”. Whole industries are built around helping people prepare for exams and assessments in areas such as project management and quality systems. The result is that many assessments end up evaluating the ability of the candidate to take the test rather than what occurs in the workplace.

The fundamental principle is to recognize that assessments are artificial, and take conscious and well planned steps to ensure IAF assessments are as realistic as possible.

The IAF has done so by:

  • Providing candidates with multiple paths to provide evidence of competence. For example, in the IAF Certified™ Professional Facilitator assessment this includes evidence in writing, through interviews, and by demonstration.
  • Building in a simulated facilitator/client interaction to create the context and deliverables for the skills demonstration.
  • Telling candidates, and expecting them to treat the assessment as they would any other professional engagement. We want to see how they normally work.
  • Endorsing a variety of facilitation training that addresses the competencies, and supporting informational seminars and webinars, while actively discouraging workshops that are focussed on preparing for the assessment.

Seek Value to Groups

Groups can, and do, work successfully without a facilitator.

The fundamental principle is that the basic test for anyone wishing to be certified as competent in relation to the IAF Core Competencies –indeed anyone who presumes to call themselves a facilitator – is that they add value to the work of groups.

The IAF supports this by:

  • Comparing results achieved in the demonstration workshop to deliverables contracted for in the simulated client interaction(s).
  • Checking the process as planned vs the process as delivered.
  • Evaluating group engagement and participation.
  • Including confirmations from the candidate’s past clients of the work conducted and result achieved.

Appreciate Diverse Approaches

Many assessments and professional accreditations are based on a single prerequisite training course (or series of courses) and/or the use of particular methodologies in particular ways. This tends to result in a narrow range of ideas about, and styles of work.

Over the history of the IAF’s Professional Development and Recognition programs we have certified people with PhDs and massive amounts of facilitation training. We have also certified very skilled Facilitators who were entirely self-taught. The IAF believes there are many different paths to facilitator competency…an almost infinite number of combinations of training, mentoring and experience. A diverse range of philosophies, methodologies, and group processes makes us all better.

The fundamental principle is that competence is a combination of understanding and skill, that there is no single correct way to achieve competence. While we are curious about the individual learning journey, credentials recognize competence, regardless of what the learning journey was.

The IAF supports this by: 

  • Basing mentoring, endorsements, and certification on researched competencies rather than particular methodologies, or specific behaviours.
  • Providing for considered, and deliberate, assessment process improvement.
  • Building assessor teams that include a wide range of nationalities, cultural backgrounds, practices, experience, education, and training.
  • Focusing on experience.
  • Endorsing training programmes based on how they provide practice in the competencies rather than particular methodologies, or specific behaviours.
  • Not establishing training prerequisites for certification.
  • Recognizing that endorsement or certification is not for everyone. There are two primary reasons to seek a credential: for the purposes of professional and personal development, and/or to provide a differentiator in the market place to attract new clients. Not everyone needs these. Going through an endorsement or certification process may contribute to becoming a better facilitator. Each individual facilitator who gets better strengthens our profession. Not seeking an endorsement or certification does not make a person any less of a facilitator.