Jennie Findlay and Lorna Robertson are both experienced information professionals, working in the legal sector, and have been active members of CILIP for a substantial period of time.
As background to this post we are both Chartered and revalidated members of CILIP, active mentors and one of us volunteered with the Career Development Group for 10 years.
One of us wrote a blog post on the problems they had encountered with using the CILIP Virtual Learning Environment in December 2013. In February 2014, they wrote another post about the issues they felt are caused by a professional qualification system being run almost entirely by volunteers. In March, we both attended an “exchange of experience” session, discussing the VLE and the mentoring system with other mentors. Following on from that event, we have continued to have worries about how the new Body of Professional Knowledge systems are being run and supported, and we are not alone. Our concerns are shared by other information professionals, and this concern has motivated us to co-write this post.
A core purpose of a professional body is enabling its members to act as competent and ethical professionals, and to do this it means that the body should be providing professional training to those members to fulfil those needs. However, at present most training provided by CILIP is carried out by volunteers in the branches and groups.It may be that CILIP members are often not aware that the people running training events in their local areas are not actually paid CILIP staff, but volunteers, usually fitting in these commitments around their own jobs. The expectations of attendees are that communications relating to events will be prioritised, and our experience is that they can often become annoyed when they do not get what they perceive to be an efficient or rapid response. There can also be issues when the training is being provided by inexperienced staff: the information being given can be inaccurate, and confusing. We ourselves have experienced this recently, when attending a demonstration of the VLE, given by volunteers. The information given at this event was inaccurate, or conflicted with the information given in the formal training provided directly by CILIP via a WebEx demonstration.
Participation in the Certification/Chartership/Revalidation/Fellowship system is currently voluntary. If and when involvement becomes obligatory (as is proposed), this will be an even greater burden on the current mentors, trainers, support officers and assessors. Can a system such as this, which will be a core component of the benefit of CILIP membership, be implemented effectively by volunteers when every member is expected to participate in it?
We were informed during the recent event that we attended that CILIP is trying to sell the PKSB “package” to other professional bodies. This in itself is not an issue: it is obviously going to be a priority of CILIP to get the maximum value for the members from its assets. However, it would be interesting to know whether they are selling the PKSB system as one which will need salaried staff to run, or whether they are promoting it as a volunteer based system?
Volunteers are not compensated or recognised for their contributions to the running of their professional body. There are many people involved in the activities that CILIP provide: people running social events, training events, providing mentoring support, and assessing professional qualification submissions. We were quoted a figure of 650 people who were currently registered as mentors – that is a LOT of people supporting the mentoring system alone. It seems unfair that those people are having to pay one of the highest membership fees in the information professional field, in order to give their time and skills to run core CILIP services and member benefits.
There is currently also a worryingly high level of confusion in communications coming from CILIP. It can be hard to differentiate between emails from groups, branches and CILIP, and the different areas don’t always give the same advice. Information which comes from volunteers in the groups can be inconsistent, for example information on what areas in the VLE mentors should be able to access, from MSOs. Or are just wrong – one author recently got an email telling them to select a new group as the Career Development Group no longer exists but they had already changed groups in December so they were no longer in the CDG. This confusion and inconsistency in the provision of basic information undermines members confidence in their professional body.
Other Professional Bodies
So, are the professional qualifications schemes of other professional bodies run by volunteers too? We had a quick (non-comprehensive) look to see who else expects their members to volunteer to provide CPD opportunities or run core events for other members.
- The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has an Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) system. The APC appears to be a work based, long-term qualification similar to an apprenticeship, which expects an applicant’s line manager to oversee the process. They have an event management team to run training. There appear to be no volunteers involved in events.
- The Institute of Chartered Accountants has a CA qualification system. Similar to RICS, it’s a modern type of apprenticeship, with skills being developed and assessed within a role. There is a virtual mentoring system being introduced, but with no element of professional assessment. It appears that they have a “Member Engagement” team.
- The Royal Pharmaceutical Society appears to have a mentoring scheme, which is undergoing redevelopment but it doesn’t look like there’s currently any element of professional assessment within it. It appears that they have an Events team.
It’s quite hard to compare systems, as CILIP needs to have a wide-ranging professional qualification system in order to encompass the wide variety of membership sectors, rather than the very specific and often intensive employment-based qualifications system some other bodies run. Also, most professional bodies tend to protect information by placing it within member-only areas, so some materials such as the specific details of training provision by the body are inaccessible to non-members.However, it appears from looking at CILIP’s website in a comparable way, that a significant proportion of events and professional visits/CPD are currently being provided by volunteers. In May, there are 3 official CILIP events, and 13 branch/group events (http://www.cilip.org.uk/cilip/events-calendar), and in June, there are 2 CILIP events, and 14 branch/group events. Knowing from personal experience that group events are run by volunteers and branch events may have support from local volunteers, this means that volunteers are providing five to six times the number of professional events that CILIP as a body provides. It also appears that the professional training that CILIP provides beyond this is organised by CILIP staff, although it is unclear if this is at an additional cost to recipients. In terms of the mentoring system, the website shows that the Professional Registration system requires the involvement of mentors/Candidate Support Officers, but does not explicitly state that those individuals are volunteers.
There needs to be greater clarity and publicity from CILIP around the fact that most of its member benefits are actually being provided by volunteers, and as such, the expectations of participants in such events must be lowered. This includes in respect of the time the organisers have available to respond to them, and the speed at which any queries can be dealt with.
Event organisation and management should rely less heavily on the work of volunteers. For a professional body to expect people to pay membership fees, and then to have events which should be a core membership benefit being run by people who have effectively paid for the privilege of providing a service to their professional body, is not acceptable.
If CILIP is going to introduce a compulsory element to the professional qualifications system, they need to assess whether continuing to run it through the efforts of volunteers is still appropriate, or whether they need to recruit for a level of staffing which will make it possible to support the system full time. If providing staffing to run the system is unachievable, they need to take a closer look at the role of volunteers within the system, and how to maintain their engagement and involvement with it.
Many volunteers give up huge amounts of their own free time to CILIP to provide services to members (10 days+ of annual leave per year for a couple of years for one of the authors) but this is unsustainable for any length of time, especially without “reward” or thanks of some sort. A system of reducing the steep membership fees in relation to the time spent working for CILIP should be achievable, with a bit of effort, and would act as a reward for the voluntary contribution of time and energy of the member. Activities which should trigger a reduction could be: being a mentor; being on a committee/board (although there is difficulty involved with assessing the level of activity there – some people join committees but don’t actually contribute); being an assessor; being a Mentor Support Officer etc. Having a system to enable members to be recognised and rewarded for the time and effort they give to CILIP would encourage these volunteers to retain their enthusiasm to support the system, particularly when revalidation becomes obligatory in the near future. Otherwise, as the demands on volunteers increase, the number of those willing to participate in supporting the system may well drop.
The public position of CILIP on volunteers
Another element of CILIP’s reliance on volunteers to run its services is its effect on the public and political view of the body. CILIP is, as of June 2012, officially on record as being opposed to the use of volunteers to deliver core services in libraries: “We do not believe that volunteers should undertake core service delivery”. However, it could be argued that by using volunteers itself to deliver its own core services to paying members, it is undermining its own stated position on the role of volunteers in core service provision. If our professional body is content to deliver its main services by using volunteers, what authority has it to say that others shouldn’t use volunteers too.