Quality Assurance Committee – The First 100 Days

June 3rd, 2013

The new Quality Assurance Committee (QAC) became operational at the end of September.  The team is chaired by Vanessa Dennis as part of her role as Vice-Chair of the Ceremonies Committee.  As you may know, Vanessa is one of our busiest celebrants with many years’ experience of providing ceremonies.

The other members are Barbara Chandler, David Hewitt andBill Stephenson, who together also provide experience of handling many hundreds of ceremonies, and were selected by Andrew Copson and an outgoing member of the CMC after the posts were advertised last summer.

Our primary role is to enhance the reputation of the Humanist Ceremonies network of celebrants, and also to give you the confidence to refer a client or intermediary to any of your colleagues should you be unable to take on a ceremony for some reason.  During these early days the committee has adopted the existing complaints procedure that was used under the previous organisation structure.  It is our intention to revise the procedure based on our experience over the first few months, as we learn what works well and what could work better.

So what have we done so far?  Three complaints have been received since we started, which represents approximately 0.1 per cent of the ceremonies performed in an average quarter.  Of these, two were considered serious enough to be considered by the full QAC at meetings inGower Street, and one was considered less serious and was handled by Andrew Copson in consultation with one of the QAC members, as per the complaints procedure.

Both complaints considered by the full committee were upheld.  One was serious enough to suspend the celebrant, who immediately decided to resign from the network.  In the other the committee proposed steps to the celebrant to review their own performance and spend time with colleagues to work out how to avoid such problems in the future.  The less serious complaint was discussed with the celebrant and they accepted lessons to learn from the case, but no breach of the Code of Conduct was found and no action taken.

So what can we learn from these early days?   Fortunately, you could say, we don’t have a lot of experience to draw on, and it will be more valuable to do this exercise after the first year, but a few things have emerged.  Of all the Code of Conduct elements, the one area that seems most problematical is the one of managing boundaries in our relationships with our clients and intermediaries.

We walk a narrow line to maintain our professional approach while engaging with people on the most personal and intimate aspects of their lives.  It’s fine as long as things go well but if problems arise it can be difficult to handle them if we have crossed that line in some way.

Unsurprisingly, most cases come from funerals, where grief can provide major challenges for relationships with clients, but the potential for difficulties is also significant for weddings and namings because the timeframe of the relationship is of course much longer.  Wedding and partnership ceremonies in particular are complicated by the number of parties that may be involved in planning a very special occasion over many months.

All the complaints received were about very experienced celebrants, who have a history of delivering excellent ceremonies over a number of years.  So the message here seems to be that a successful track record is no protection against a complaint.  It may be that after a few years we start to take our abilities for granted and become less conscious of any drop in standards, and we should all reflect regularly on the quality of our work.

Quite naturally, when a celebrant first hears of a complaint they tend to see it as an attack on their professionalism.  Our celebrants are rightly very proud of the work they do, and sometimes it is difficult to see the problem from the complainant’s viewpoint.  It is the QAC’s task to look at both sides of the issue and, if a complaint is upheld, to help the celebrant see how their behaviour has contributed to the problem.

As a committee we are also learning from our first experiences.  One area we are keen to look at is a wider responsibility for ceremony quality – a more proactive role to propose ways to maintain standards rather than a purely reactive role in handling complaints.

So in summary these are early days and we will continue to try and improve the way the QAC does its work.  We would welcome any thoughts that celebrants may have on this.  You can contact the QAC team at qac@humanism.org.uk.