Quality Assurance is a term used in the NatHERS industry that can cause fear in even the most accomplished Assessor. It is not supposed to do this and is spruiked as a way of improving all Assessors, educating those falling behind, driving policy and influencing CPD topics.
Quality Assurance (QA), as we know it, is a strange phenomenon. It is something that we all agree to be part of, that sounds like an excellent idea, until we are the one being reviewed. It starts a string of rhetorical questions like, ‘why me?’, ‘what did I do wrong?’, ‘what if I did make a mistake?’, ‘what if I loose my accreditation?’ through to ‘does the reviewer know what they are doing?’, ‘maybe another AAO would be go easier on me?’, ‘how does this work?’ and the list goes on. In my experience as an assessor, reviewer, policy writer and QA co-ordinator (aka candidate selector) the questions on the working side of the fence appear to be negative and fearful. Whilst on the reviewing side of the fence, the intent is good but maybe a little unintentionally oblivious to its impact.
Let’s look more closely at QA in the NatHERS Industry.
QA forms a large of the Protocol for Assessors Accrediting Associations or NatHERS Protocol. In a nutshell, the Protocol requires that Assessor Accrediting Organisations (AAOs):
· Have a professional Code of Practice, to which all Assessors are signatories,
· Meet certain levels of Assessor review,
· Have, and apply, a disciplinary policy, and
· Report annually to the NatHERS National Administrator
To my knowledge, we are the only industry professionals that have our work checked down to the level of individual calculations and software data. This statement covers many other industries where mathematical calculation and/or software data entry. This extends to building industry professionals like Engineers and Architects, Financial Industry Professions such as Accountants and Stock Brokers, and Medical Industry professionals like Doctors and Nurses prescribing life-saving medications.
In other industries there may be a peer review or a quick colleague check but this is nothing like what we do. We are required to send plans, software files, notes and issued documents. This is done, even if we have done nothing wrong. Does this mean that we are over-policed? Are we trail blazers or not being recognised as ‘professional’ by government and our own industry associations?
In my experience, NatHERS Assessors are, in general, not regarded highly by the professionals around them. More often than not, energy efficiency is something left until later in the project, rather than a NatHERS consultant being appointed at the beginning. This has improved, but given we have been around, and a mandatory part of the application process for nearly 25 years, the recognition by our peers is comparatively low.
QA is a time consuming and costly process for the AAO. It identifies areas of weakness that can help facilitate CPD development, locate Assessors that are not acting appropriately and possibly bring disrepute to us all. Equally, it can show Assessors that excel at what they do and have the potential to become reviewers themselves. The issue is that it sometimes identifies people who are good at what they do, made a few silly mistakes leading to temporary suspension and the associated effects, such as loss of income and clients subsequently resulting in irreversible effects that flow on to their company.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe Assessors should be accountable for their actions. Some questions arising are:
o Are the current checking methods the right approach?
o Is our Certificate IV qualification inadequate to demonstrate ability?
o Should we aim for a single Industry Association like the Institute of Architects, Building Designers Association or Engineers Australia?
o Could an Industry Association liaise with other associations to spread the word about reporting of unprofessional or questionable behaviour or knowledge?
Quality Assurance definitely identifies Assessors that should not be operating. Equally, there could be Assessors flying under the radar. It sometimes targets the wrong people. There is variability in the knowledge and style of the reviewers. It can result in mandatory mentoring, from which AAOs generate income potentially this a conflict of interest?
Is there another approach that could be used that allows assessors to be recognised and respected as skilled professionals whilst operating with a greater amount of autonomy?
Leave your thoughts below.