Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An Interview with the Certification Implementation Task Force

A big thank you to Amber Kerr Allison, who represents the network as an advisor to the Certification Implementation Task Force (CITF), for coordinating this project.  The results of the interview are below. Please add to the conversation by responding with your comments.


Question 1) Seven years of prior experience is required before a conservator can take the certification exam. What will count towards that experience? Why have an experience requirement at all if an unqualified individual will not be able to earn a passing score? [From Blog]

Answer1) Please note that in response to member concerns, the seven-year requirement has been shortened to six:

  • A cumulative total of 6 years full-time experience in a combination of conservation education, training, and work experience (including pre-program and apprenticeships) is required. At least 3 of these years must be spent working and/or studying in a specialty area (as defined within a material specialty).
  • Completion of a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) is required. A waiver process will be established for special situations.
  • AIC membership is required to take the exam. However, a membership application and the required documentation reports can be submitted for approval along with the certification application. Please Note: It is acceptable to require membership for participation in a certification program as long as membership is open to anyone. It is not considered restraint of trade.

There should be both training and experience requirements to sit for the exam, since this is part of setting a standard for those we call certified conservators. Most certification programs set such requirements to qualify to apply. There are always entry requirements and those have to be equal for all parties.

Question 2) How will years of experience be calculated for people working part time? [Anonymous]

Answer 2) The CIPP working group defined full time as “at least 35 hours per week”. It is a straightforward mathematical calculation: i.e., if you worked three days a week (7 hours per day) for one year, that would count as 21/35 (or 3/5) of a year of experience.

Question 3) Shouldn't individuals who sacrifice the time and money to attend graduate school have an advantage in the number of years before they can take the exam from those who didn't dedicate themselves to education? [Amber Kerr-Allison]

Answer 3) A cumulative total of 6 years full-time experience in a combination of conservation education, training, and work experience (including pre-program and apprenticeships) is required. See the response to #1.

Every year of graduate school counts as a year of being a full time student, and thus counts as years toward the required 6. If your year of graduate school was spent in an internship in your specialty, that year would also count as a (concurrent) year toward the stipulation that three of those years be spent in your specialty.

Although some make the argument that formal program training provides a more complete academic background, others argue that the experience gained through hands-on apprenticeship is of equal importance. The CITF requirements acknowledge the value of both academic training and practical experience in meeting the standards to become a certified conservator.


Question 4) What exactly does the test certify a conservator for? [From Blog]

Answer 4) The AIC Certification Program will convey to other conservators and end users of conservation services that the certified conservator can work independently as a competent conservator.

Question 5) How will becoming certified differ from obtaining a degree in conservation? [From Blog]

Answer 5) See above. In addition, certification confirms that the conservator has had experience as well as formal training. Recertification also requires ongoing education.

Question 6) After the test run, what will be the review process to evaluate effectiveness and develop changes? Will these changes be voted on like the initial process was voted on? How long with the initial test be allowed to run before changes are made? [Rachel Penniman]

Answer 6) Once the program is established and running, it will be up to the AIC Certification Commission to periodically evaluate or re-evaluate the program and determine if there is a need for change. While the AIC-CC will operate with a certain amount of autonomy, it will certainly review potential program revisions with the AIC board. Modifications to the program will not go back to members for a vote.


Question 7) I understand having an essay-based exam, which many think is a more accurate way to judge the values and ethics of a conservator, rather than quizzing us on facts in a multiple-choice format. I think the idea of submitting treatment reports is a great idea--true, real world application. But retesting our ethics, values, and methods for approaching case studies every 3 years? Would anything really have changed in our responses? [Claire Walker]

Answer 7) In response to member concerns, certified individuals will need to recertify every five years rather than the three years previously proposed. There is no requirement to re-take the exam in 5 years. The preferred route is based on credits earned for continuing professional education. Re-taking the certification exam would only be done if someone was not willing to invest in continuing professional education.

Question 8) Why take expensive classes and workshops for recertification credit rather than simply taking the certification exam again? [From Blog]

Answer 8) The current option of re-taking the exam for re-certification will be evaluated in the future after the program is underway. It is certainly more professional to invest in continuing education. Not doing so might make it more difficult to pass the exam, because the applicant has not remained current with changes in the field. Re-taking the exam does not give the recertifying applicant any advantage since he/she will be evaluated as if a first-time applicant, including providing recent treatment documentation and accompanying essays.


Question 9) If, as members, we are seeking certification as a means of defining and promoting expertise in our field, how long before we insist that ALL fellows be certified? Otherwise, what would be the incentive for members at this level to become certified? How long before it would be mandatory for Fellows to have certification? [Amber Kerr-Allison]

Answer 9) Setting requirements for membership are the responsibility of the Membership Committee and are outside the purview of the CITF. The membership committee has been assessing the potential impact of the certification program on Professional Associate and Fellow membership categories, and they will make any recommendations for changes to membership categories to the AIC Board following further consideration. The two programs are distinct and the marketing of both will reflect that difference. Note that it would not be fair to add a requirement onto the Fellow category that affects those who are already Fellows, and some established Fellows may certainly decide not to become certified. Also, there will undoubtedly be many certified conservators who make no contributions to the profession as a whole and who never desire to influence the field through service in AIC, and therefore would not apply for Fellow status.

Question 10) Now that AIC is a certifying body, how will this change AIC’s focus? Will it affect any other aspect of AIC as an organization? “For at least the first five years, AIC will administer the program by setting up a Certification Commission that will be responsible for administering the exam.” Is there thought that after the first five years a separate certification organization will be developed (like the European model) or will it stay within AIC? [Rachel Penniman]

Answer 10) AIC’s focus will remain on providing services to its members. Changes in AIC will include increased marketing and outreach both to its members and to end users of conservation services. If it seems useful, additional workshop topics might be added to our repertory in response to the needs of members seeking certification.

At this time, the main reason for creating a Certification Commission is so that the AIC Board cannot unduly influence the decisions of the AIC-CC in regard to fair and equitable administration of the certification process. It would be financially impossible to set the AIC-CC up as a completely independent body at this time (the costs would have to be passed on in the form of substantially higher certification fees). In the future, the CC could become independent; however, it will be up to the AIC-CC and AIC Board to investigate whether there are reasons to change and the impacts of such a change for the program and for AIC. Frankly, given that the program is not designed to be fully self-supporting, it seems unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

Question 11) [Rachel Penniman] You must be a member of AIC to take the exam. If your membership subsequently lapses in the next 3 years, are you still certified? Can you renew your membership only in recertification years or must you maintain membership to maintain certification?

Answer 11) AIC Membership is a requirement to maintain certification. Hardship issues will be evaluated on a case by case basis.

Questions from Rachel Penniman

Question 12) “The programs are involved in the process and have been providing bibliographies.” What kind of involvement have they had? Will/have they been asked to help develop questions? Will they adjust their curriculum based on test focus? Will they do anything to specifically prepare their students for the certification exam?

Answer 12) Program faculty have been involved in the certification development process over the years. However, it has long been recommended that the graduate programs not be deeply involved in the certification development process because it was felt that they would bias the exam towards their curricula. Members of graduate program faculty, as PAs or Fellows, may help develop the exams, but the programs have very strongly implied that that would be the limit of participation. They do not wish to bear the burden of exam development. Whether curricula change in the future will be up to the programs. They do periodic curricula evaluations and make changes as they deem necessary. It would be difficult to imagine a graduate program “teaching to an exam.” The proposed certification exam has been described as being in the nature of a comprehensive exam. Comprehensive exams require that candidate demonstrate the ability to synthesize material learned through coursework and/or experience.

Question 13) I see in the FAQs section that there will be a study guide. How about reading lists or practice/example questions?

Answer 13) During the exam development, the need for study aids will be evaluated by the group organizing the development. Reading lists and guides will be considered.

Question 14) For the trial run, could recent graduates/students be included in the initial testing phase to evaluate their preparedness for this exam? This could give the certification committee a better idea of just how knowledgeable and competent students are and help them evaluate what the exam is really testing. If a passing mark is being set based on results of this trial run but only PA and Fellows can take it then theoretically everyone in the trial run should pass the test. Perhaps you should include those who you don’t expect to pass the test as well to help set the bar.

Answer 14) Please see the last bullet below:

Pilot Program

  • Grant funds will be secured to develop the pilot project, part of which is the first administration of the exam.
  • A group of Fellows and Professional Associates eligible to become Fellows (minimum of ten years of experience) will be allowed to apply to take the first exam. They must meet all exam requirements and pay the test fee. The pilot participants must agree to help edit, develop, and validate the test.
  • Sufficient representation from each specialty area will be sought.
  • This group will be trained to serve as reviewers.
  • During the pilot stage, candidates will also serve as reviewers of other candidate’s exams and documentation.
  • An additional small group of less experienced (but otherwise eligible) candidates will be incorporated in the pilot run to ensure test validity.

Question 15) “At least 4 of these years spent working and/or studying in a specialty area (as defined within a material specialty).” Does this mean each specialty will have their own way of defining how your 7 years of experience must be met? So could one definition differ from another? And if you can answer any of the specialty group questions, and the certification exam does not certify you for a single specialty, isn’t it possible to have years of preprogram experience in one specialty, meet the experience requirement for that specialty, answer the questions for that specialty, but then be actively working in a totally different specialty?

Answer 15) Note that the new requirement is 3 years in a specialty area. The CIPP working group, which drafted this recommendation, felt that the majority of conservators work within a defined area of specialty or specialties. Therefore, it was important that the education requirement encompass both broad–based, general conservation knowledge and specific, in-depth knowledge in one’s particular area(s) of specialization. There was concern that an applicant for certification may have spent their required 6 years in general training situations without spending enough time within their area(s) of specialization, producing an applicant with a broad but shallow course of preparation, and insufficient in-depth knowledge to perform as a conservator in their chosen area(s). Therefore, the group included the stipulation that a minimum amount of training be focused in the applicant’s area(s) of specialization to help to insure that the applicant is both well-rounded and focused.

The current recommendation is:

A cumulative total of 6 years full-time experience in a combination of conservation education, training, and work experience (including pre-program and apprenticeships) is required. At least 3 of these years must be spent working and/or studying in a specialty area (as defined within a material specialty).

This is strictly a mathematical calculation, based on the applicant’s self-described area(s) of specialization, and part of the basic requirements to sit for the exam. When applicants are accepted to sit for the exam, they will be able to answer any case studies they wish, and will not be limited to those that directly relate to their aforementioned area of specialization.

Question 16) Questions will be made that address specialty groups. Why? If this is not certifying conservators for a single specialty then shouldn’t the questions be general or core competencies? What does AIC considering as being the “specialties”? Does it just fit with how they’ve structured their specialty group membership? For example, will there be questions focused specifically on conservators in private practice or research and technical studies?

Answer 16) While all conservators have “core knowledge” of general conservation, that knowledge is usually applied through the lens of their particular area(s) of specialization. Therefore, it was felt that certification applicants could best display their knowledge by answering questions from their area(s) of specialization. The specialty groups will be asked to help in developing case study questions which will address core competencies and general conservation knowledge as defined by that specialty. Presently, specialty areas will include the AIC specialty groups, with the exception of CIPP, since it is defined by employment method rather than specialty material. An added area of specialization to be included will be preventive conservation. As the certification program continues over time, more areas of specialization may be incorporated, with specific exam questions, as the field of conservation changes. A certification applicant will be able to choose among all the available exam questions regardless of their area(s) of specialization.

Question 17) I see that there will be an application that must be submitted before sitting for the certification exam. It mentions submitting two documentation reports with this application, what other information will be required for this application? Documentation of experience?

Answer 17) Two documentation reports are now part of the exam and not part of the application process.

The exam will consist of:

  • Two case studies that would require essay answers addressing specified criteria relating to a variety of competencies. Candidates would be able to choose from a number of case studies in each of the specialties represented by AIC Specialty Groups and an additional area for preventive conservation.
  • Two documentation reports must be submitted with the completed exam. Guidelines for the documentation will be supplied to applicants. Documentation should be “depersonalized” by the applicant (instructions will be provided), but should otherwise be a copy of the actual reports. An essay of 800 to 1,000 words must be included with each documentation report that explains the thought process behind actions taken, a discussion of how each documentation report conforms with the AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice, and any additional information the applicant would like to convey to clarify or expand on any sections.

Question 18) How will certification be described/advertised to non-conservators?

Answer 18) This is very important, and AIC will be developing a campaign focusing on helping the user of conservation services find the most qualified conservators with whom to work. It will emphasize the goals of the AIC Certification Program and the process of becoming a certified conservator and maintaining certification.

Question 19) How will conservators be able to advertise their certification? I think right now, associate conservators cannot advertise their associate membership in AIC. For example, what can a certified conservator (associate, PA or Fellow) put on their business card, resume, or ads for private practice?

Answer 19) Certified conservators could put “Certified Fellow, AIC,” “Certified Professional Member, AIC,” or “Certified Member, AIC” (depending on their membership level) on their business card and promotional material. On their website, they could also link to the AIC website page that describes these categories. Members will be encouraged to advertise their status as certified in the AIC Certification Program.

Question 20) For recertification, how will credits be tracked? Will AIC track them or does the individual conservator need to provide documentation at the time of recertification?

Answer 20) Documentation will need to be provided on a yet to be determined schedule. AIC’s new Web site and databases will help facilitate tracking.

Question 21) What percent of eligible AIC membership do you anticipate will test for certification in the first year, five years, ten years. Ultimately, what percent do you hope to be certified?

Answer 21) See Projected Budgets, to be posted on the website shortly

Answer 22) What ramifications do you anticipate certification will have on hiring and pay of conservators? What effect on certified conservators vs. uncertified conservators?

Answer 22) We do have feedback from end users indicating that they will use certification as a criterion in seeking conservators for government contracts and certification may be used by some museum administrators as a criterion for filling conservation positions. There is no expectation that certification will affect conservation salaries.

Answer 23) What opportunities will AIC membership have for discussion about the certification issue before the vote in September? The AIC website has been updated with information and I see that an article will be published in the newsletter, but I would be very interested in hearing what other people are thinking and what questions they have. I would also be interested to hear what people think about my questions. I guess I’m looking for more of an interactive discussion. Is there any possibility for a distlist/blog/website to be put up devoted to certification discussion before the September vote?

Answer 23) The vote is now scheduled for January/February 2009. Information will be provided and updated as necessary on the website. The task force has used the FAQ section of the certification webpage to address repeated questions and this will be updated periodically to reflect any new comments that should be addressed. Regretfully, we do not have the resources needed to monitor and respond to a stream of comments and questions on a blog or on the distlist. More interactive discussions did take place on many specialty group listservs and will probably continue.

Question 24) From the FAQs. “We have heard a lot about the benefits of certification . . . what are downsides of this process?:
Certification is a powerful tool to boost the image of a profession and can be an important way to distinguish between qualified and untested professionals within a field. However, any profession considering certification needs to be unified and have an agreed upon set of guidelines that all professional practitioners have agreed to follow. Certification is not a quick fix, but rather a long-term process of a profession further defining itself.”

I would feel more comfortable voting on certification if there were a fuller discussion of the possible downsides or negative side effects. While I appreciate how it can benefit us as a field, I haven’t heard enough discussion of the possible negative aspects and most importantly how they can be dealt with.

Answer 24) There has been discussion about possible downsides to certification on the CIPP listserv over the years. The main thrust of it has been over the question of increased liability and vulnerability to lawsuits. These questions were first raised early in the development phase and were addressed by Samuel Y. Harris during the Issues Session in Dallas during the 2001 Annual Meeting, and were repeated in the AIC News, July 2002 (go to the AIC website on certification for this and other articles). Harris’ position was/is “that liability exposure is not a function of certification.” He goes on to explain a conservator’s risk of lawsuit is more directly related to the degree of risk in a given project, and the value of a piece being treated. He also stressed that conservators would be better served with thorough standardized contracts than added insurance against negligence, which can actually attract lawsuits because of the perceived deep pockets insurance implies. After consulting with several attorneys Harris writes, “The consensus is that conservators are more likely to be exposed to claims of breach of contract (for which insurance is not available) than to claims of negligence, for which, ironically, insurance is theoretically available.”

It has been explained in conversation that no contract will keep one out of court, but it will provide protection once you are there. Certification should provide the same kind of protection should one be sued over the outcome of a treatment, because if a certified conservator can prove that he/she was performing according to the established and recognized standards of the profession, he/she will have a potent defense against charges of negligence or malpractice. The best protection against lawsuits for malpractice or negligence is high performance, but even that won’t protect anyone against a client who can’t accept the reality of a bad situation. In which case, certification will be a better defense than just insurance.

Another potential downside to implementing a certification program is low participation, particularly in the first few years. If participation is lower than projected, the program will become a drain on AIC resources. Low participation will also adversely affect the ultimate success of the program in assisting end users of conservation services, in publicizing conservation to the public, and in providing additional stature to the conservation profession.

Question 25) Also from the FAQs: “Conservators who help write exams – are they then expected to sit their own exam?

Grant funds will be secured to develop the pilot project, part of which is the test run. The first 75 Professional Associates and Fellows, each with a minimum of ten years of experience, who volunteer, will be allowed to apply to take the test run exam, which will be proctored. This group will be trained to serve as reviewers. During the test run, candidates will also serve as reviewers of other candidate’s exams.”

This does not exactly answer the question. Will people who wrote the questions be sitting for the exam and answering their own questions?

Answer 25) The Pilot Program exam takers will not answer questions that they wrote. The test bank created prior to the Pilot Program will be large enough that no one will need to answer their own questions.