The exit briefing that concludes a panel's on-site visit has several purposes:
- It is a formal concluding activity terminating the visit; a concluding handshake which brings closure to the visit.
- It allows those associated with the program to have some idea of the findings and preliminary conclusions of the panel.
- It is a final face-to-face occasion for the panel to verify or obtain information.
However, the exit briefing is not:
- A time for panel and program to argue.
- The final, last word from the panel to the program.
- The occasion for the program to miraculously "discover" important information about the program.
Who conducts the exit briefing?
The exit briefing is the property of the panel chair, in association with the members of the panel. The chair determines the content of the briefing and acts as its principal speaker. In some cases, if there are issues in which particular members of the panel are expert, the chair may call on team members to speak to particular topics.
Who attends the exit briefing?
Standard practice is to allow the program head to determine who will attend (other than members of the panel). Certainly the program head should be present as well as the chief academic officer or that person's delegated representative.
What is the content of the exit briefing?
The exit briefing is an exposition of the panel's findings and (preliminary) conclusions combined with the formalities of a courteous departure.
A suggested order of proceeding:
- Brief thanks to the program head, institutional officers, and all those who have met with or otherwise contributed information to the panel.
- Statement that the exit briefing summarizes the panel's preliminary findings and tentative conclusions. Final statements cannot be made until all material is organized, reduced to written form, and considered at length. Furthermore, since the panel has off-site members who need to be consulted on the findings of the on-site members, the panel would not yet have had the opportunity to consider all information.
- Statement that the panel makes its report to COA and that COA makes the final decision about accreditation rather than the panel.
- Statement that the program will receive a draft of the panel's written report for correction of factual errors. The program will also receive a copy of the final report to which a written response can be made. In addition, a program representative is invited to meet with the Committee on Accreditation before a final decision is made. The exit briefing is not an appropriate occasion for program representatives to raise objections to the panel's tentative conclusions.
- Summary listing of the strengths the panel has identified in the program. It is important not to focus exclusively on problems or deficiencies. If a program is to change constructively, it needs to recognize, retain, and expand its strengths as well as address problems.
- Summary listing of problems and/or deficiencies identified by the panel. If the panel has come to a preliminary conclusion that one or more of the standards is not adequately met, that should be clearly stated. This is done with the reinforcement that the program will have several opportunities to respond. If there is bad news for the program, it is best to simply state it as early in the exit briefing as possible. If the panel is not certain about a program's conformity to a Standard, it is best to say clearly that the panel has concerns, but has not yet reached a conclusion.
- Recapitulation of program strengths, and encouragement to believe that problems can be addressed. Reiteration that these are informal observations to give the program some sense of the visiting team's impressions but are neither final nor comprehensive. Final thanks for help in conducting the evaluation, and a cordial good-bye.
Probably the greatest mistake that can be made in an exit briefing is to give the program the impression that things are at least OK, and then identify important problems or deficiencies in the written report. When this happens, the program feels outrage that it was not fairly evaluated by the panel. This is a natural reaction to bad news when no precursor signal was given.
The panel chair needs to be careful to signal any possible problems and not gloss over them simply to offer temporary harmony during the exit briefing. Being the bearer of bad news is never easy, but making the program aware that bad news is likely as early as possible is much easier than suppressing bad news until the last minute.