Friday, February 19, 2021

Organizational Quality and Competence (Part 3)


I have been arguing that when documents use the phrase “Quality and Competence” they are causing confusion the poor word choice and definition.  Using the word Competence to mean  “ability to apply knowledge and skills to achieve intended results”, diminishes the meaning of competence because it excludes the essential abilities of judgement and nuance.  As mentioned (see  Organizational Quality and Competence (Part 2)) Gonczi, a scholar expert on competency based standards (along with his colleague Hanger) made the point in 1996 that competence is not just about a checklist of knowledge and skills; it also encompasses  attributes such as problem solving, analysis, pattern recognition, interpersonal skills, affective attributes and working ethically.  

Using “competence” to mean meeting an achievable bar for only knowledge and skills assessment is incorrect and inappropriate and sets the bar too low.  Competence includes knowledge and skills and judgement and problem solving; it is the term that expresses the High bar.  

I understand that the ISO official definition for competence does not include judgement and the other soft skills, but their definition is out of date and needs revision.

So what is the better word that can be used to describe the person who has the knowledge and skills, but may not be sufficiently talented to also address problem solving or interpersonal skills or ethical dimension into performance?

As it turns out English has a word that describes that situation.   We can use the word “able”, or more effectively “capable.

Capable is an old (circa 1590) word derived from an even older word “ capabilis " (Latin) meaning “able to grasp or hold” .  It is linked to another term capax, which is the adjectival form of the verb capere which means to grasp, to undertake; take in, to take hold.  [see:  ]

If Competence is the High bar and being capable is the lower achievable bar, Standards bodies  have to a few choices. (a)  If the point of the exercise is to express the sense of quality and excellence, then they can continue to use the term “Quality and Competence” but change their terms and definitions so that they use the term as best described by Gonczi and acknowledge that competence requires evidence of judgement and problem solving.  (b) If it is more important to set standards that are more at the level of being achievable by most (“Good Enough” is good enough) then the standards need to be retitled, perhaps on the line of  “Quality and Capability” or perhaps take an asperational approach “Achieving Quality”, as in "if you follow this standard to are moving along the path to Quality through being more capable with knowledge and skills"

So perhaps some standards need to be retitled:

ISO 15189:2012 – medical laboratories – requirements for achieving quality.

ISO/IEC 17025: 2015 - General requirements for the capability of testing and calibration laboratories   

ISO/IEC 17043:2010 - Conformity assessment — General requirements for proficiency testing (soon to be revised to General requirements for achieving quality of proficiency testing providers).

I can hear the muttering now.  This guy has a word fetish; he needs help; he is wasting my time, Competence versus Capability… Who cares. 

But I would argue the other side.  Words have meaning and words matter.  Standards are hard enough to interpret at the best of times.  Adding confusion by making up its own meanings for the words that are used, as opposed to using the best definitions available does not make their documents better… it makes them worse. 

Standards bodies want to define themselves as a core of precision and excellence.  Maybe rightly so.  But that requires a demonstration that their documents shall meet the high bar for understanding and precision. When that is achieved they will move from being capable to competent.