The Evidence Inventory should be thought of as a referenced resource for both the team and the institution to be used prior to, during, and after the On-Site Evaluation Visit. Documentation in the Evidence Inventory should be directly related to assertions made in the Self-Study Report and constrained to representing compliance with the standards for accreditation, requirements of affiliation, policies and procedures, and federal compliance requirements. Therefore, the Steering Committee is responsible for ensuring that it does not comprise a “document dump” of items that only tangentially relate to Commission standards or the institution’s chosen priorities.
Phase 1: Gather Initial Evidence
Initial assembly of the evidence can seem daunting at first. Steering Committee and Working Group members should not think of initial attempts to do so as a commentary on an institution’s readiness to engage in self-study or compliance with Commission expectations. Initial steps taken are often beset with concerns about gaps in documentation and how much information is sufficient.
Institutions that have developed an effective, focused, and well-referenced Evidence Inventory first gain a familiarity with the Commission’s expectations and begin collecting documents and descriptions of policies and procedures that might be used in the Evidence Inventory. They do not rely solely on their own knowledge of documentation; instead, they enlist feedback from staff, faculty, and administrators about what documentation might be available. They consult with offices and units on campus, such as financial aid, academic affairs, compliance, registrar and other offices whose staff may know where relevant information is available. Steering Committee members consult frequently with these offices to ensure that identified information sufficiently addresses the Commission’s expectations.
At this point, it is also important to discuss what interface the Steering Committee might use to access information to be found in the Evidence Inventory. Some institutions use a wiki and yet others use commercial software. As the Steering Committee collects documentation it is important to inquire how the information will be warehoused, any technical requirements, and how Working Group members will be given access. Additionally, it will be necessary to ensure that the evidence can be uploaded to the MSCHE portal in the required structure and format.
Phase 2: Refine and Reference
At this point in the process, copious amounts of information may have been identified. It now becomes important to discuss how the information will be limited to documentation that is highly relevant and is not unduly duplicative. Questions to answer during the process could include the following:
- Do documents relate directly to the Standards and their Criteria? For those documents that do not, is it possible to find one or two that more directly relate?
- Do multiple documents relate to one criterion? If so, is it possible for just a few documents to be used to demonstrate compliance?
- Where information is gathered from multiple offices or academic units (e.g., for the purposes of demonstrating the implementation of educational effectiveness assessment process or strategic planning process across an institution), is it possible to summarize the information in the form of a chart or table?
- In cases where Criteria refer to processes and procedures, can the Evidence Inventory contain a process chart or table instead of only lengthier documents? If such charts or tables are available, can they be appropriately referenced to ensure that the team of peer evaluators can understand what they intend to communicate?
The Steering Committee and Working Groups continue to refine the Evidence Inventory in the interest of ensuring that the information provided is both appropriately representative across the institution and comprehensive enough to enable the team of peer evaluators and institutional representatives to access meaningful information. For example, when documenting compliance with Standard V, “Educational Effectiveness Assessment,” some institutions may consider whether the supplied documentation provides sufficient evidence of the assessment of all programs and of institutional outcomes (e.g. those relevant to general education). For Standard VI, “Planning, Resources, and Institutional Improvement,” institutions refining the initial Evidence Inventory may ask if there is sufficient demonstration of a strategic planning approach both institution-wide and for individual units in the documentation.
Phase 3: Use in the Self-Study Process
As the Steering Committee and Working Groups complete reports and move toward an initial and then final draft of the Self-Study Report, they also discuss the effectiveness of the referencing of information found in the Evidence Inventory. Institutions that have developed an effective Evidence Inventory avoid unnecessary acronyms, institutional lingo, or titles that peer evaluators are unfamiliar with. Key terms and acronyms are often spelled out in the form of a glossary or “key institutional phrases and terms” found in the Self-Study Report.
When further refining the Evidence Inventory up to and after the On-Site Evaluation Visit, institutions might ask the following questions in the interest of ensuring focus of the information provided and suitable referencing for those outside the institution:
- When references to the Evidence Inventory are made in the Self-Study Report (or vice versa), are these connections clearly communicated or referenced in the Report itself?
- If clickable links are used in the Self-Study Report or Evidence Inventory, have measures been put in place to ensure that they work both before the visit and after?
- Is the documentation in the Evidence Inventory complete, appropriately representative and comprehensive so institutional representatives and peer evalutors can effectively and confidently use the information?
- For documents that are necessary but appear complex to an outside reader, is it possible to annotate this information and/or provide excerpts of policies, procedures, reports and other information?
- Does the documentation align with right-to-privacy regulations and respect the privacy of individuals?
It is important to note that not all the Commission’s Standards and their Criteria are equally documentable. Some Criteria or Requirements of Affiliation are easier to document than others. In cases where a Steering Committee or Working Group considers it difficult to provide appropriate documentation, it may want to consider providing information within the Self-Study Report itself.
Phase 4: Continuously Refine and Use
After the Evaluation Team has completed its work and the Commission has reaffirmed accreditation, it is advisable that the institution continue to update its documentation periodically. Accreditation is assumed to be ongoing and, should the institution be required to engage in follow-up reporting, or if it completes additional accreditation-related work such as a substantive change application to the Commission, documentation used for the Evidence Inventory can make the process much more efficient and straightforward. In addition, such documentation may be helpful when institutions interact with other accrediting or state regulatory agencies as well as to ensure that the institution need not “reinvent the wheel” when it prepares for its next Self-Study Evaluation with the Commission.
Figure 2: Organizing and Maintaining the Evidence Inventory