What does Member mean?

Why belong to a professional body? Why make all that effort to become a Member? Especially in membership bodies where Affiliate Members pay substantially less for their subscription and get the same benefits.

Membership of a professional body is something that should be of value. It is a badge to make the Member stand out from the crowd because of their professionalism.  It should give employers (and the public) confidence that the person who is a Member:

  • takes their profession seriously
  • has the learning and skills to work in that profession
  • has made a commitment to continuing professional development
  • agrees to a code of conduct when performing that work

So, how does a membership body decide who gets that badge of Member?  There are two main understandings of the solution and neither has totally satisfied the other side that their approach is correct.  I hope you’ll forgive the unrefined labels of “practitioner” and “academic” for these approaches – I know that there are practitioners who agree with the academic argument and vice versa.

The academic argument is based on the study of knowledge and psychometrics and it asserts that you can test for attitudes and knowledge to indicate competency, certify that competency and hope it will be seen in application in the real world. This is an international perspective (and especially favoured in USA).  It has the advantage that it can be automated and scaled without adding significant cost.  However, get the safeguards in the exam wrong and people pass who had simply learnt the answers without competence – and there is no expert eye to catch them out. Similarly, in a broad-based profession, there is a danger that the test could inadvertently favour one part of the profession because that is easier to test or more familiar to the examiners.

The practitioner argument is well established in Britain because of the long history of professional bodies and guilds.  It asserts that competence must be proven in practice and requires education of first principles, training in techniques and responsible experience that must be assessed by an established professional. It also accepts that in a relatively new profession, learning by supervised doing could be as valuable as a more traditional education first route. This approach is more costly to do, for candidate and professional body.  Finding the correct assessors and organising panels can be a nightmare. There is also a concern that this approach reduces diversity because the process and judgement from panels can be somewhat subjective.

Which is best?  That hasn’t been decided but many professional bodies are struggling with that question right now.  Ask me again in five years, we may start to see some answers.


About 3triangles
Helping organisations make change happen in 3 key areas: strategic change, deliver tactical impacts, efficient and effective processes. All blog content (c) 2009 - 2012 Carol Long and Three Triangles Performance Ltd

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