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Assessing Competence

The Consulting Arborist Society was founded on the principle of arboricultural consultants demonstrating their competency within specific specialist areas.  This is different to merely attending a course for CPD purposes, and is a factor which drew me to CAS as I worked to develop my skills.  With the CAS model, the person delivering the training is responsible to determining how competency is to be assessed.  A number of external industry courses are recognised by CAS, with assessment of competency being determined by those who award the individual qualification.

This week, CAS has just run the Professional Amenity Tree Valuation course, which recently gained Lantra-endorsement.  This is the final of the CAS-run courses to complete the Lantra process.  For each of these courses, I have worked with the trainer to identify how we assess the skills of the delegates.  This is a challenge: how does one assess competency within the constraints of the short course, when one has limited opportunity to observe and assess?

My first experience of competency assessment with CAS didn’t actually take place, as at the end of the course, the trainer concluded the presentation with no test of our ability.  Later on, as I worked to develop an assessment of competency with Tree Preservation Orders, I had the advantage that the trainer already provided a written text to assess how much of the day’s course had been understood by the delegates.  Exploring the wider skills which one, as a consultant, would typically be expected to demonstrate, I added the ability to make an on-line application, which several delegates struggled to successfully complete.  Whilst I do not like to be the bearer of disappointing news, for me, a sign of rigour in assessment is when some delegates are unsuccessful.  Assessment for which all delegates successfully complete is, for me, of insufficient rigour.

Of course, one’s skills and competency are likely to develop with experience and the opportunity to work on more complex cases.  Should allowance be made for this when assessing the skills of the delegate on completion of a short course?  And the point is also true that we are generally judged by our most recent work.  Depending on the situation, one poor commission can undo much good work.  Being regarded as an expert in one’s field, as an expert witness is generally recognised as a pinnacle in the professional journey.  One aspect of this which got my attention was the emphasis on the role of the expert witness.  I have organised Experts’ Question Time on three occasions, with the excellent and most informed expert Dr. David Lonsdale being a speaker for all of these seminars.  He has shared on this principle, that the expert is there to inform the court, and not to be an advocate for one party or the other.  Surely experts do not need to be reminded of this?  However, as David shared during the most recent event, at Myerscough College in June, there is a problem of experts not fulfilling their duties.  I have heard experienced experts speak of trying to do their best for a client, seemingly unaware that they had crossed in to the realm of the legal specialist.  The skill of the expert is to inform the court and to remain focused during cross examination.

My work as an expert is in the earlier stage at present, yet as I reflect on David’s observations, I reflect that the comments from the QC in one case where I was required to attend court and face cross examination were a greater compliment than I perceived at the time.  I had remained calm under a period of extended cross examination.  I need to ensure that, like David, I remain focused on the role of the expert and do not fray in to the world of the advocate.