A Broader View of CertificationJurek Kirakowski
Human Factors Research Group,
University College, Cork, Ireland.
16 May 2002
As I understand it, the main objective is to reach some kind of scheme of personal certification for people who work in the field of user-centred design/ user testing/ interaction design. For want of a better term, we describe this as 'Usability Professional' although there seems to be some disagreement on this term.
From a web page about the IEEE certification scheme for Software Development Professionals:
It seems to be accepted that the ISO standard 13 407 is the common level of agreement about what kinds of activities should take place in order for an organisation to be able to say it has carried out user-centred design in its processes. It also seems to be accepted that ISO 13 407 defines the common frame of understanding of the knowledge and skills a person doing user-centred design should have, although I am not sure that everyone outside this group understands quite what 13 407 says either for organisations or for people.
Most certification bodies assess the possession of knowledge certainly by means of an exam:
Level of skill or 'professionalism' is assessed by the career experience of the person being certified:
This is from a web site of an organisation that specialises in accrediting certification schemes in the private sector (see www.cpc-online.net/page/cpcstandards.html - they also mention testing of skill and knowledge for purposes of certification.)
The recent discussion on the role of the SFIA structure highlights the difference between an organisations view of an individual, and that individuals view of their knowledge and competencies. For instance, in order to work at level 4, SFIA says that the individual must be able to
Now, unless one puts an individual into a situation where they can be observed working within a clear framework of accountability this is impossible to judge simply from an examination of the knowledge and skills of the individual concerned or their CV to date. In many cases, we will find that a persons ability to work and their skill and knowledge are orthogonal. However, we can say, that if an individual possesses a certain level of knowledge and/or skills, then they are capable of working under general direction.. . etc. The personal assessment is in terms of their skill and knowledge; their corporate assessment is whether they have enough skill, knowledge, temperament, personality and enthusiasm to enable them to work at a certain level.
Thus the immediate certification of an individual must be in terms of the extent of their knowledge and skills, as I have elsewhere suggested. If it is required by one of the stakeholders in the process (the employers) that there be a linkage to SFIA, then this should be explicit. Not everybody who is a Usability Professional will have either the opportunity or the wish to work in an organisation.
Finally, in order to ensure that certified individuals can take their place in the workforce without bringing discredit to their colleagues, and to maintain the highest standards, we have subscription to a code of ethics:
Some of the recent discussion with regard to an individual's ability to properly represent the profession centres more appropriately on the concept of a code of ethics. On a page to do with ethics in general (www.ethicsweb.ca/codes) we see: Why have a Code of Ethics?
A useful compendium of codes of professional behaviour can be found on www.ethics.ubc.ca/resources/professional/codes.html.
I particularly draw your attention to the work of my colleague Dr RB Swain, who in the European Psychologist, 5.1, pp 19-27 gives an account of Awareness and Decision Making in Professional Ethics. He was one of the people who helped revise the professional code of ethics for the Psychological Society of Ireland: www.psihq.org/1Codeofprofessionalethics.htm and he also pointed me to a code of professional ethics for test administrators: www.intestcom.org/test_use_full.htm
A code of ethics should also cover the kinds of behaviour expected of individuals at various SFIA levels, in order that the individual should know clearly what is expected of them, and that an employer should be able to know what is inside the package when they do employ a person at a given level, or at all. Here is where an interface with ISO 18 529 (the organisations eye view of 13 407) would be most interesting.
My suggestion therefore is that not everything should be thrown into a discussion of personal skills but that we should be able to define a Usability Professional by means of:
In addition, in order to give guidance to organisations wishing to employ people as Usability Professionals we should include a table indicating what kinds of personal profiles we consider will be relevant to levels of employment. A suggestion would be to try to reconcile the person-centric assessment given in my UP document with the SFIA scheme.
On the IEEE & ACM Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice (www.computer.org/certification/ethics.htm) we find:
Certification for a Usability Professional should not dwell on specific techniques or be confined to specific areas within information systems: Usability Professionals should be the people who can be relied upon always to see the bigger picture.