The recent site visit to Murdoch University offered the unique experience of several different accreditation bodies joining together to conduct a single site visit. The AVMA COE, the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council (AVBC) and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) initially met in May 2007 to discuss and plan for this joint visit. Representatives from the South African Veterinary Council and the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education also participated in this meeting and each sent an observer to the Murdoch visit. Prior to this meeting, in March 2007, the COE and the AVBC had concluded a successful joint visit to Massey University in New Zealand and decided that there are benefits to collaborating on additional site visits.
Joint visits benefit both schools and accreditorsA joint visit offers many benefits. The school is the recipient of the most obvious benefits: a savings in money and time. As one member of the Murdoch team said, "There are a lot of expenses and manpower necessary to prepare a school for a site visit, and doing it once for three different accrediting agencies rather than three separate times has to be easier on the school and the faculty." A joint visit also reduces the interruption to students and staff.
The accreditors benefited from the larger site team and its diversity. The COE co-chair explains: "There were more individuals evaluating all aspects, and we were less likely to miss something. The site team members, coming from different accreditation jurisdictions, looked at the various standards in different ways, which helped all of us learn from each other and probably improved the quality of our questions and information obtained."
Advance planning helped address challengesBut with the benefits came challenges, especially keeping the 12 site team members together during the tour of the facilities. A standard COE site visit comprises 6-8 members. More organization also was required to ensure that the site team worked as a cohesive unit. The first step to facing these challenges was to establish co-chairs. Ten weeks prior to the visit the co-chairs and AVMA staff met by conference call to iron out concerns, establish members' roles and review major issues identified from reading the self study. A team building plan was also developed.
Once in Australia, the team gathered over dinner for social interaction and to get acquainted. Official duties began early the next morning at a 10 a.m. training session. Expectations and concerns were discussed, and it was decided which member was responsible for the opening questions at each interview. It also was determined what would be the primary and secondary standards evaluated in each meeting. This planning alleviated confusion and allowed for an efficient use of time. The easy-going personalities of the members helped with team cooperation, playing a significant role in the visit. Personality conflicts would have hampered the group.
While planning for this site visit, it was decided that it would be run and based on COE Standards. The accreditation standards from the three groups are also very similar, so establishing the COE's as the primary guide was easily accomplished. The COE co-chair explains, "We were fortunate that the accreditation standards of these three groups were so similar that there were no major issues." The RCVS did require additional material, but that was easily obtained as an appendix to the school's self study. The co-chairs also made sure that the opinions of the different groups were represented even when these were in conflict.
Future joint site visits are possibleThe COE members consider the Murdoch joint visit a success. "We were able to conduct a thorough site visit with little to no interruption or change from our regular routine," stated one member. It is anticipated that because of this success other schools may request a joint visit, especially schools that are accredited by the COE, the AVBC and the RCVS.
For these future joint site visit teams, a member of the Murdoch team offers this advice: "Be organized ahead of time, assigning areas of focus before arrival. Allow everyone to get their ideas and questions heard. Have strong chairs that can control debate without hurting feelings."
Most of all a Murdoch co-chair recommends that, "COE site team members must be true to the COE standards, as must the members of the other accrediting agencies be true to their standards."
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