The design and delivery of assessment centres


By Steve Whiddett, ABP Representative on the BPS Standards in Assessment Centres Working Group

AC Standards

A follow up article....


Many thanks again to Nigel Evans for his recent article on Assessment Centres (ACs) and the need for standards of practice in the design and delivery of ACs.

Well, Nigel and several other members of the ABP have been working on a set of AC standards as part of a BPS science and practice special working group. The mixed membership of this group reflected the fact that many ABP members are also members of the BPS. While former Chair of the ABP, Steve Whiddett, joined this group specifically to represent ABP members and to ensure the work was informed by and took account of the needs of practitioners in the field.

The standards are now available and can be downloaded, free of charge, from the BPS website. The following introduction to the AC standards provides a brief rationale for the standards and an outline of its structure and content. If you are involved or interested in ACs whether for assessment or development these standards should be in your toolkit!

The design and delivery of assessment centres

After over two years work by a working group of highly experienced Assessment Centre practitioners and academics, and following a public consultation, a new standard for implementing assessment centre methodology is about to be published.  The overriding aim has been to provide a document that will raise the standard of assessment centre practice and in particular enable poor practice to be identified and improved. This concern very much influenced the decisions about the format of the standard and the way it was written. 

While there are many ways to support better practice, a standard can be used to evaluate a particular implementation of assessment centre methodology; provides a specific indication of where practice falls short; practitioners can use their conformance to the standard as a quality mark; a standard can underlie training or exercise design.  For example, before the test user standard was introduced test publishers were free to determine their own rules for distributing test materials.  With the introduction of the standard, and later the qualifications based on the standard there has been a much broader consensus on the skills and knowledge required to use psychometric tests, levels of practice have improved and poor practice, such as selling tests to unqualified individuals is rarer and when it happens it is easier to recognise.

The standard takes an evidence based approach making recommendations based on the latest research findings.  The content was informed by research on common areas of poor practice and ensured that these were well covered. 

The form and structure of the standard has been based closely on ISO 10667 - the international standard on assessment service delivery - and the standard can be considered as exemplifying in detail how ISO 10667 applies to Assessment Centres. We followed the ISO convention of using ‘shall’ to indicate a minimum requirement and ‘should’ to indicate a desirable one.

The standard is supplemented by notes that provide explanation of some points or discuss issues that a practitioner should be aware of where it is not possible to formulate a clear standard on the basis of the current evidence or because what is acceptable will depend on the context or specific design of a centre. There are also a number of annexes which provide guidance on specific topics such as training, diversity and contracting.

The standard covers the use of assessment centre methodology in both assessment and development contexts with the following sections:

  • Specifying the purpose and scope for the Centre
  • Designing the Centre
  • The standards of competence and professional behaviour required of the different roles involved in the Centre process
  • Preparing for delivery
  • Implementing the Centre
  • Data integration and decision making
  • Appropriate reporting and feedback of Centre results
  • Managing the  data derived from the Centre including access, use and storage
  • Evaluation of Centres

How to use the Standard

Few people will want to read the standard from beginning to end.  Rather it is a working document.  Practitioners may wish to refer to the relevant sections for a particular activity they are undertaking, such as considering who should act as assessors or designing training.  Someone commissioning a service provider might be particularly interested in the section on contracting, and whether the service provider adheres to the standard. 

The standard could also be used to evaluate practice and is designed to supplement ISO10667.  While there is no formal accreditation body, a client or supplier could use the standard as a tool in understanding the strengths and weakness of their own practice or could seek certification from an independent standards auditor. 

Centres are resource intensive assessment procedures and while the evidence shows they can be very effective, pressure on costs and resources can undermine this.  This standard will provide useful support to those concerned about the maintenance of proper levels of resource for a centre.

This standard can help both those running centres to improve their practice and those commissioning centres to select effective service providers. Most importantly we hope that the standard will increase the likelihood that participants in centres have a positive experience and that they are assessed fairly and effectively with due concern for their rights and well-being.

Find out more

The standard is available for free download via the DOP website www.bps.org.uk/dop

Enquiries regarding the standard can be forwarded to DOP@bps.org.uk