Interview with Chief and Deputy Chief Assessor
Chief and Deputy Chief Assessor share their views on their roles within the certification scheme.
Podcast length: 12:00
Today we are speaking with the Chief Assessor and Deputy Chief Assessor for the SCP Australia certification scheme. Ross McFarland, who is Technical Director with AECOM in Canberra is the Chief Assessor and Ivan Kwan who is Associate & Principal Environmental Engineer with Golder Associates in Perth is the Deputy Chief Assessor.
Q1: What role do you play in the assessment process?
Ross: My role as Chief Assessor is to oversee the assessment process including ensuring the consistency of the assessment goes ahead, that we have the right kind of people on the assessment panel and that there is no bias or conflicts of interest occurring during the assessment. We of course do not have a role in influencing the panel, my role is just to make sure the process of panel assessment is done in an appropriate manner with no bias, and is consistent.
Ivan: My role is to assist and support Ross in his role, particularly when there is perceived or potential conflict of interest. For example, if there was a person from a company Ross works for (being assessed) I would take over the role of observer of procedures and proceedings of the panel.
Q2: What do you think is the most difficult thing about rolling out an assessment process?
Ross: The most challenging thing is maintaining a consistency of assessment. The process itself uses panellists from across Australia and there are differences across jurisdictions in terms of how contaminated site assessment and remediation takes place, thus ensuring we produce a process that is able to deal with and maintain a consistency across Australia is really important. That’s one of the biggest challenges. Another one is keeping to the deadlines, because there is a lot of work involved in just ensuring the SCP Australia process goes ahead and meets all of the delivery deadlines we set for ourselves.
Ivan: I have to agree with Ross in terms of deadlines and timeframes. There is a process set in place and we are all busy practitioners and we strive to meet that process and timeframe. The other challenge is trying to roll out a process that is fair and equitable for all practitioners. We have to understand that practitioners come from different walks of life, there is no one size fits all and it is sometimes difficult to foresee all the permutations that different people may have. The positive to the process is also that there is a feedback loop, and that any feedback and learnings can be incorporated into the assessment process in the future.
Q3: How have processes been working thus far? Are there any lessons learned?
Ross: The process has grown really well. It started off with lots of interaction between all of the assessment panels and individual parties and there was a lot of effort put into getting the baseline right and get a consistency of assessment together. That seems to have worked really well and we are able to now use fairly well established processes in order to get the assessment panels to work properly. One of the things that has worked best in that respect is the preliminary discussions with the panellists who are selected where the minds of the assessors are aligned so that they all understand the importance of creating a national baseline and ensuring a national consistency. Also dealing with the process where one size doesn’t fit all and you have to have some kind of measure of professional wisdom to get people to fit inside the assessment process itself.
Ivan: Adding to that Ross, we have to remember that the certification program is a national program, and as you mentioned, getting people to align their thoughts early on in the piece has been very helpful and efficient in the process. Someone who is certified in one state needs to meet the standard to be able to be certified in another state and vice versa, so it is a transferable certification. Based on my understanding of the debriefs to date, all of the panels have been consistent in their review and assessment of the applications. We are all very busy practitioners and as the assessors have their independent workloads as well, one of the lessons I have personally learnt is not to leave it too late, because the effort that has been made in the application merits a sufficient amount of time from the assessors dedicated to review and assess appropriately.
Q4: How do you manage issues of bias or conflicts of interest?
Ivan: The industry is fairly niche, and most practitioners will cross paths with each other at some point in time. I think the main thing is to declare any potential or perceived conflicts from the beginning and I endeavour to try and do that. In addition, maintaining a professional opinion and trying to see things from a client’s perspective, industry perspective and consultant/ applicant perspective to provide a balanced view is important. All decisions and all rulings need to be transparent and therefore any perceived or actual conflicts of interests need to be put on the table fairly early on in the piece.
Ross: We have really developed a rigorous conflict of interest process, where we have tools to identify early the potential for an actual or perceived conflict of interest. We use the reasonable person test in that respect and we use our wisdom and experience in this area to identify both actual and perceived conflicts of interest. The next part of that is confirming whether that potential or actual conflict exists and then communicating that to the parties involved. If there is a potential or actual conflict of interest, then we have a disclosure and declaration process and management process. The one that has been most effective is where Ivan and I replace each other in the Chief Assessor role, when someone going through an application process where there may be a perceived or actual conflict of interest for me, then Ivan would take over for me, and vice versa. I think we have a good system to deal with conflict and as Ivan mentioned, as we go through the process we have solid documentation so that we can be transparent so that people can see we have made the effort to make sure there is no potential or actual conflict of interest. We also provide an opportunity to the applicants to say whether they perceive an actual or perceived conflict of interests with the panellists as well as the Chief Assessor and the Deputy Chief Assessor.
Q5: What do you see in the future for the assessment process and the certification scheme?
Ivan: One thing we have talked about is timeframes and the ability to meet those. I think as the pool of assessors grows, there will be less pressure on the current pool of assessors and it will allow more diversity into the assessment process. In terms of the future of the certification scheme I think there is a lot of interest from industry. We have seen a lot of practitioners now go through the certification process. I think clients are now starting to see the value in having a certification process which sets a standard in industry and I have seen personally a couple of client briefs to consultants which actually state they would like a certified practitioner or equivalent working on the project and on the team.
Ross: I was also seeing the future as having more tools available for the applicant’s to use, and also for the practitioners that have been certified to use in their day to day operations. I have noticed the quite rapid uptake of the certification process by industry and of course the regulators are requiring or will be requiring this certification in 18 months or so as well. I can only see this certification scheme will continue to grow stronger.