I sat in to observe what happens during a meeting of a Standards Program’s Peer Review Panel. It was a fascinating look at the program’s behind-the-scenes decision making process.
The Peer Review Panel meeting is one of the final steps in the accreditation process. Peer Review Panels are responsible for making decisions on the status of each application presented to them.
- Accreditation (the organization is compliant with each standard and is awarded the program Trustmark),
- Conditional accreditation (just a few things require clarification),
- Revise and re-submit (the application requires further work and will need to be reviewed again by another panel), and
- Non accreditation (the organization is unwilling or unable to comply with the standards and does not achieve accreditation).
I was impressed with the level of energy in the room; these volunteers have years of experience in the sector, are highly skilled experts in their fields and some have been through the accreditation process with their own organizations. This is the case with Sharilyn Hale, the governance committee chair at Canadian Feed the Children, and volunteer peer reviewer, who told us “It was rigorous and challenging but created the opportunity for our Board to have conversations we may not have had otherwise. We are better and stronger for it.”
By the sector, for the sector.
In full accordance with the mission of the Standards Program, the panel’s objective is to be supportive of each application and promote best practices in the sector, rather than be punitive and look for gaps. After all, the Standards Program was developed by charities and nonprofits to help organizations increase their transparency and strengthen their operations. But that doesn’t mean that the process isn’t exacting.
We really worked hard on responding to the Imagine Canada staff review of the submission we made. A number of the points they raised challenged us to do developmental work. In some cases, we needed to re-think the way we do things. Now we look forward to the peer review feedback! Thanks for supporting this process of growth and development for our organization.” — Mike Coxon, CEO, Mills Community Support Corporation
A great deal of work happens before an organization’s application is deemed ready to be peer reviewed - by the organizations applying for accreditation, by program staff here at Imagine Canada who review each submission and by the volunteer peer reviewers, who spend hours independently reviewing applications before the Peer Review Panel meets. Because of this high level of commitment, most applications are accredited or conditionally accredited.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re in good hands.
Initially, peer reviewers do the majority of their work in isolation. Dave Spedding, of UNICEF Canada told us “With the first few applications, I worried if I was being too lenient? Too strict? I wanted to be as fair as possible.” Members of the Peer Review Panel take their responsibilities seriously; you’ll be glad to know that very careful consideration is given to every part of the application. It helps that the panel chair emphasizes consistency in decision making throughout the process, making sure that the same level of insight and analysis is applied to each application.
I can’t emphasize enough how carefully and respectfully each application is stewarded. Many considerations are given along the way, such as the size of an organization or if it is run solely by volunteers. And speaking of volunteers, Imagine Canada owes each peer reviewer a debt of gratitude. Their consistent and objective input - not to mention their enthusiasm for the Standards Program - is invaluable.
We’re excited to watch the Standards Program develop and to see increasing engagement with the program by charities and nonprofits both small and large. And for those of you who are still thinking about applying for accreditation, please know that it’s worth it, and that you’ll be well taken care of.