Automated Processes Reduce Bias

Licensing authorities play a critical role in society. They protect the public by ensuring practitioners have the credentials and ongoing qualifications to deliver competent service. To be effective, these organizations must be trustworthy and impartial. An organization that treats all potential members with unflinching fairness helps ensure both public trust and the trust of applicants going through the process.

Identifying Fairness Problem Areas

Licensing and regulatory bodies have to live up to their claims of fairness and honesty because if they don’t, they invariably get found out. But what’s the best way to ensure that your organization is treating members and potential members fairly? How do you keep the playing field level in the real world and not just on paper?

The first thing to recognize is that unfair treatment of members isn’t necessarily the outcome of personal bias. Oftentimes, unfair treatment results from breakdowns in processes followed and not intentional bias. The first step in improving fairness then is to identify where your application process is inconsistent.  For example, is your organization’s standard for acceptable alternatives for competency requirements clearly defined, or does the process break-down and rely entirely on individual judgement? What about deadline dates?  Are these enforced through automation or can different members expect different application of penalties?

Multiple Application Streams

Education streams as an example of multiple college application streams.
An example of multiple application streams configured in the Alinity Licensing Management Solution.

One of the key areas where questions about fair treatment often arise is applications. This is particularly the case where the process is different for different groups, such as local applicants versus applicants from different states/provinces and different countries. Consider for example a requirement for a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Is this requested at the reviewers’ discretion or is it always required for applicants who apply from countries where English is not an official language? Enforcing consistency through business rules in your system may help reduce bias and errors in the application of such policies.

Form Clarity

Ensuring that an application is filled out accurately is the responsibility of the applicant but it does test your organization’s form design skills.  Particularly where applicants are working in a second language interpreting requirements on a form is not always straightforward.  An applicant who is qualified may not appear to be so based on an error they make in interpreting the requirements of the form. For this reason providing support for the form completion process through extended documentation, great form design (short coded questions over long narrative ones), and especially the introduction of real-time error checking for automated forms, improves fairness.  Defending your organization from the effects of unclear form design that may appear to applicants as bias, is never an easy conversation.

Disciplinary Action Reference Base

Members of professional organizations agree to abide by the rules and bylaws of the organization they join. Inherent to that agreement is the understanding they will face penalties for violating those rules.  Fairness in the interpretation of those rules and applications of penalties is critical.  In this situation access to previous similar cases your organization has already assessed, (the “common law” model) is extremely helpful. Just having those case records, however, will not ensure they are examined unless your process also enforces it. Storing the information in an easily searched electronic format (document management system) is critical to achieving strong compliance to the defined procedure.

Automated Processes Reduce Bias

While your organization undoubtedly has its own areas where fairness challenges arise, mitigating the problems can usually be reduced to a simple concept—consistency. The more you can build-in or force consistent application of your defined processes, the less likely you will have to deal with lack-of-fairness accusations. This is one area where software can contribute materially to best-practice in your organization. By forcing all applicants, members and reviewers to follow sets of business rules configured into your Licensing Management System, the scope for bias is dramatically reduced.  If software solutions are not possible, training and use of manual check-lists should be considered.