Do Accreditation Requirements Deter Curriculum Innovation? No!

By Drolen, Carol S.; Markward, Martha | Journal of Social Work Education, Spring-Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Do Accreditation Requirements Deter Curriculum Innovation? No!


Drolen, Carol S., Markward, Martha, Journal of Social Work Education


The most commonly used and agreed upon definition of innovation is something new, a change, a challenge to the status quo. Innovation does not behave in a predictable fashion. It can have a moderate impact on routine or require radical, new behavior and patterns of reacting. Innovation can occur with the addition of a product or service, in how a product is produced, within an organization's structure, in deciding how incentives are managed, or as a byproduct of groups of individuals who create programs and conduct outcome research to assist the organization move closer towards its goals and objectives. Innovation does not require brilliance, nor excessive resources. What innovation does require are new ways of accomplishing our goals.

Light (1998) looks at innovation as a challenge to the prevailing wisdom, a view in keeping with Lawrence Lynn's, who believes innovation is "an original disruptive act" (1992). Innovation does not require the elimination of minimal standards; on the other hand, ordinary good practice need not be innovative.

Based on a five-year review of 26 non-profit and government organizations, Light's (1998) investigation offers substantial evidence to debunk the notion that innovation occurs primarily (if not exclusively) in for-profit organizations--arenas where monetary reward is viewed as essential for innovation to occur. Light describes, as do others, characteristics conducive to innovation, both external and internal to the organization. Unnurturing environments that do not allow for infusion of new thoughts or few or no opportunities for faculty, staff, alumni, and practitioners to create a synergy in which to formulate ideas are not likely to be innovative. Innovation needs a structure sometimes described as loose--loose enough for the exchange of diverse ideas (Hage & Aiken, 1967). A key component of innovation is time and patience--patience to work through mistakes, patience to see a vision through into practice, and patience to fine-tune rough edges. Innovation requires tolerating uncertainty, and requires the time and energy to make mistakes and to retry and start anew.

Other scholars of innovation insist on unique leadership (Kanter, 1983; Van de Ven, Angle, & Poole, 1989) that supervises and coaches employees and that manages the institutional critic who will second-guess each idea and hint of change. Moving the institution ahead, within the confines of the resources at hand, requires several traits: creating a vision, communicating, and, at times, accepting defeat (Delbecq & Mills, 1985).

What is the relationship between accreditation standards and innovation? Often accreditation standards and the accreditation self-study are looked upon as mechanisms that transform an ordinary institution into one of quality. However, to overstate the intent of organizational standards and the process of systematic review is to be led down a disappointing path. Standards are minimal levels of expectations and do not guarantee excellence or innovation. Others might view accreditation standards as unnecessary rules or as stumbling blocks, where each question, each policy statement has little meaning in the day-to-day routine of their college or school. Both views are incorrect. One gives more influence to the standards than is actually there, the other does not see our standards as a means towards a greater end.

How curriculum is structured and what content should be emphasized is certainly not new subject matter for debate among social work educators. Austin (1986) notes several critical junctures throughout the history of social work education, from "social-gospel movements" through "social diagnosis"; from "on-the-job training" as a major educational method through "scientific" affiliation with academic institutions and their colleagues. Professional status is always subject to the shifts and movements of knowledge and of acceptable practice. …

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Do Accreditation Requirements Deter Curriculum Innovation? No!
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