Participatory Certification System
The Masiyembo Association embraces a Participatory Certification System (PCS) to empower its Members and enrichen the experiences for clients.
Our PCS for nature-based facilitators is adapted from the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) that has proven success in its application to supporting small-scale organic and natural farming worldwide.
The PCS is a regionally focused quality assurance system.
It is intended to certify or endorse our Offerings/Experiences based on the active participation of Members and feedback/invovlement ofother stakeholders. It is built on foundations of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange.
It is about responsible promotion rather than strict regulation.
The PCS places a high priority on knowledge and capacity building.
This applies to Members (guides, facilitators) and their clients: direct involvement allows a PCS to be less burdensome in terms of paperwork and record-keeping requirements. This is critical since PCS systems seek to be inclusive in bringing small operators into an endorsed system of facilitation.
PCS programs use an integrity-based approach that starts with a foundation of trust. It builds from there with unparalleled transparency and openness, maintained in an environment that minimises hierarchies and administrative levels.
(This in contrast to many existing certification programs start with the idea that guides/facilitators must prove they are in compliance to be certified).
The PCS is a complimentary alternative to third-party certification.
It is a different way to ensure transparency and integrity that is adapted to local contexts which have minimal capacity for excessive administration and bureaucracy.
i) Choice and definition of standards;
ii) Development and implementation of verification procedures; and
iii) Review and decision making process to recognise Member’s Offerings as authentic, meaningful and connecting.
For example, in natural farming, a PGS presents a viable option for smallholder farmers and producers who cannot afford to pursue costly (international) organic certification.
In nature-based guiding and facilitation, a PCS provides a credible option for Members to receive 'peer-reviewed' endorsement.
This is particularly important for those Members (e.g. outdoor process facilitators, nature therapists) who offer quality meaningful experiences but whom do not 'fit' or comfortably fall under existing government or industry certification bodies.
The PCS responds to a shared need.
For example, in natural farming, it can happen when smallholder organic farmers have a surplus and consumers are looking for organic assurance.
In nature-based guiding and outdoor facilitation, it is appropriate when Members have a shared ethos and offer diverse experiences/activities that appeal to the public, but which would be further bolstered by transparent quality assurance or recommendations (from peers and the sector).
Increasingly, and especially in these uncertain times and unfolding post-COVID-19 future, it is critical that we not only stand tall as unique individuals offering something vital to society, but that we also associate and share with our peers through collaboration.
The PGS therefore offers a community of like-minded professionals who support others in realising an outcome that essentially belongs to all societies and future generations – an authentic, meaningful and regenerative connection with all life that is essential to real wellbeing.
6 Basic Principles
1. Shared Vision
A fundamental strength of the PCS is that all Members have a shared vision in the core principles driving the Association. PCS participation may vary but its consistent strength is in the heightened awareness of why, how, and especially who is being served.
Participatory endorsement is based on a methodology that requires active involvement by those interested in the creation, facilitation and experience of Member's Offerings. Principles, guidance and practices for nature-based facilitation / guiding are conceived and applied with input of all stakeholders (Members, advisors and clients).
The credibility of the quality of the experience offered is directly related to the quality of the participation.
Members are invited to participate in the:
- Development of Processes - guiding the Association and maintaining its integrity;
- Site Visits – evaluating and providing feedback on other Member’s offerings;
- Administration – documenting / confirming / certifying Member's upholding of standards;
- Marketing and Advocacy – providing relevant input / materials to support media, marketing and public communication.
All stakeholders, including Members, must be aware of how the PCS generally works; the process and decision-making by the Association. This does not mean that every detail is necessarily known by everyone but rather that everyone has a basic understanding of how the system functions.
Stakeholders must be aware of the criteria used for decisions on certification / endorsement, especially the reasons why a certain Offering / Experience cannot be endorsed. This implies that documents must be available about the PCS, and that these documents are made available to interested and affected parties.
Private and commercially sensitive information about Members that is gathered during the operation of PCS is treated with confidentiality. But such confidentiality must not compromise the transparency principle. This may seem conflicting, but a line must be drawn between privacy and commercially sensitive information, and access to information for the purpose of transparency. Members need to collectively decide the boundaries and parameters of this transparency 'line'.
4. Trust - "integrity-based approach"
The PCS holds to the idea that Members can be trusted and the endorsement system should be an expression of this trust.
It should reflect the Association's capacity to demonstrate this trust through the application of different 'checks and balances', providing the necessary oversight to ensure the integrity of Member's offerings. Thus, a variety of locally and culturally specific mechanisms for demonstrating and measuring the integrity of the types of Offerings / Experiences are recognized and celebrated.
These are integral to the certification and endorsement process.
5. Learning Process
The PCS aims to provide the approaches, practices and feedback mechanisms to increase the knowledge and effectiveness of Members in facilitating meaningful connections with nature, as well as raising the public profile of their work in improving quality of life. The intent of the PCS is therefore to provide more than a certificate or public endorsement.
It also supports increased education and awareness among clients / participants / public. Through involving independent public stakeholders such as clients in the review process, PCS helps build an informed and involved base of engaged and knowledgeable supporters who understand the benefits of such 'Masiyembo Experiences' for the greater benefit of society.
Therefore, the process of endorsement / certification should contribute to the creation of skills and knowledge that are shared by all the stakeholders involved in the facilitation and enjoyment of the Offering / Experience. The effective involvement of Members, advisors and clients in verifying and providing feedback on the principles and practices supports the credibility of the Offering / Experience, as well as facilitates an ongoing process of co-learning which develops a community of practice.
Egalitarian means the equal sharing of rights and responsibilities (or 'power' and 'control'). So the verification / endorsement of the quality of an Offering / Experience is not concentrated in the hands of a few. All involved in the process of participatory certification have the same level of responsibility and capacity to establish the authentic quality of an Offering / Experience.
10 Core Features
- Grassroots Organisation: whereby the PCS should be seen as a result of a social dynamic, based on an active, participatory and 'horizontal' organisation of all stakeholders.
- Certification: that provides visible evidence of the Member's peer-endorsed status.
- Commitment Document: a Member's pledge stating agreement with the established Masiyembo Mission, ethos, norms and principles.
- Clear Consequences: Clear and previously defined consequences for non-compliance to agreed norms, and actions recorded in a database or made public in some way.
- Supporting Mechanisms: for supporting guides / facilitators / therapists in creating and maintaining quality, meaningful experiences and to therefore be recognised as specialist facilitators. Includes field advisors, newsletters, sites visits, website presence, social media, etc.
- Verifying Mechanisms: for verifying a guides compliance to the established norms, ethos and approach to facilitation of experiences. This stimulates participation, organization, and allows a learning process for all the stakeholders - Members, advisors and clients.
- Documented Systems: of the management systems and procedures for the Association.There may be minimal paperwork required by guides / facilitators / therapists, but there will be ways in which they are expected to demonstrate their integrity and commitment to the ethos, and these ways should be documented by the PCS.
- Principles, Practices and Values: that enhance the offerings, performance and wellbeing of guides / facilitators / therapists, as well as promoting the importance of these forms of meaningful nature experiences for the health and wellbeing of broader society.
- Suitability: ensures there is an appropriate and accessible system for small-scale, emerging and independent guides / facilitators, because the participatory nature and horizontal structure of the PCS allows for more suitable and less costly mechanisms of certification, and actually highlights, celebrates and encourages clients to seek out small-scale guides.
- Agreed Norms: are conceived by the stakeholders through a democratic and participatory process, but always in accordance with the commonly understood sense of what constitutes an authentic nature-based experience. The norms should stimulate innovation and creativity (not inhibit it), as this is a key characteristic of the Masiyembo Association and its Member's Offerings.
Source: Adapted from PGS guidance as developed by IFOAM [see ifoam.bio]