Accrediation - What is it & Why bother?


accreditation: third-party attestation related to a conformity assessment body conveying formal demonstration of its competence to carry out specific conformity assessment tasks (3.1, ISO 17011:2004)

Accreditation is sometime described as 'auditing the auditors'...while that is not really correct it does hint at what an accreditation body (AB) does.

Accreditation is better described as a 'competency assessment' rather than an audit. You may feel that I am splitting hairs, stay with me for a few more paragraphs and I'll lay out why that is important.

First of all, let's focus on what competency means. Some folks think that a qualification to do a job is based on your education; in my case, I spent 2 years earing a masters degree in regional planning and a few more years qualifying for membership in a professional planning organization. As a result, I can call myself a 'Registered Professional Planner'.  I am a qualified planner!  In the twenty-eight years since I completed my degree in planning I have never worked as a land use planner or as a regional planner.  As a result, while I am qualified as a professional planner, I submit that I am no longer competent. Yes, I have the letters after my name and I use many of the skills that I learned in planning, but the degree and the designation does not equate to competency.

Competency is determined by demonstrating that a task or set of tasks can be done to a specified level of performance. In essence, it means the ability to do a job.

To assess the competency of a conformity assessment body (CAB) the AB looks at the systems, process and procedures used as well as how they are executed. Accreditation is granted to a CAB that demonstrates its competency in conducting conformity assessment work. In this context, competency is not a low bar to meet, it is a high bar. 

The areas that an AB would examine include a wide range of elements such as:

  • maintaining professional relationships with clients;
  • ensuring that all the staff of a CAB are competent to do their jobs;
  • the frequency and quality of the training and evaluation of auditors; 
  • planning and executing audits;
  • ensuring that non-conformities are addressed;
  • taking certification decisions; 
  • conducting regular management reviews and internal audits of CAB operations;
  • and a host of other elements.

Conducting an accreditation assessment is a specialized business, it is not just determining if the results of audits against your standard are producing the results you want.