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HomeGeneral NewsChartered Archaeologists - an alternative view - Why you should vote no

Chartered Archaeologists – an alternative view – Why you should vote no

a viewpoint by Chiz Harward

Vote No, and send a message that CIfA should be for all members not the few.

Like all Corporate CIfA members I’ve just received a letter from CIfA on the EGM to vote to allow the creation of a Chartered Archaeologist (CA) grade. It asks me to vote yes. As has a stream of videos, posts, emails and a glossy leaflet over the past few months. As an archaeologist who cares deeply about our profession, and who actively supports CIfA in its role as our professional institute, I am glad to get a vote on this important issue. I am however concerned about the one-sided nature of CIfA communication on this issue, and felt that it was worth trying to set down a contrary view so that members could formulate their own opinion. There is an alternative.

Firstly I am very glad that there is now online voting, that is a huge step forward and one that was long overdue. After our protest vote at the 2017 AGM it took a matter of a few months to design and implement online voting, giving all corporate members the ability to vote on their Institute. That has improved the Institute, and came from constructive criticism, I hope that similar criticism can lead to improvements at CIfA. That is the spirit in which this note is written.

The letter about the CA vote informs me that CA will achieve a lot of things, all of which were also promised when we Chartered the Institute. I would like to have seen clearly set out evidence of how Charter has directly improved matters for all archaeologists, and how this would increase due to a CA scheme. And how that compares to the improvements that we could make if those resources were used for the good of all members. I am not naïve enough to think that having Chartered Archaeologists will not make a difference to external perceptions, but I am also not naïve enough to believe it will achieve all that is claimed, and I believe that the costs will be disproportionate to the benefits, and that the time is not right.

I was on IfA Council in the years running up to the Chartering of the Institute, and like several council members argued that the time was not right, and that we needed to bring the profession with us: to improve the profession, to focus on the issues that affect all archaeologists, and then to Charter with positive support, rather than a begrudging membership. I was told that we needed to Charter now, and that the new CIfA would deliver on training, competence, career development, and through these remuneration. Whilst CIfA staff and volunteers have done some excellent work since Charter, we are nowhere near that point, and I am concerned that the concentration on developing CA over the last couple of years has taken resources from such work, and that there will be little change in the future.

The demographic of CIfA has changed over the last year with far more PCIfA members joining due to changes in the CSCS card scheme, reflecting the make-up of the profession. CIfA showed it can work for all when it negotiated the CSCS professional accreditation route, but having had so many members join because they had to, rather than wanted to, it is time to show how CIfA is for all its members, not just the few. There remain endemic, institutionalised, problems in our profession: a lack of real training, a lack of career development, an attitude that still considers much of the field staff as disposable and temporary. Some argue that pay is not CIfA’s role, most would accept that standards in archaeology are, and I’d argue that standards are at the root of most of the issues that affect membership every day. Standards, and the need to value competence and excellence by all members. CIfA has a role at the heart of this, in setting and championing standards at all levels in archaeology. That is how we will improve our profession, for archaeologists, for our clients, and for the public.

A focus defined by time and money 

Chartered Archaeologist is a scheme that shows that CIfA believes that the problems of archaeology are ones that can be solved by how others see us, not how we see, and treat, each other. Whilst external consideration of archaeology is obviously a massive factor in archaeology -as part of the planning process for example- it seems to me that it is archaeologists that have the greatest role in how our profession develops, and have had a significant role in holding the profession back.

There is no Magic Money Tree for CIfA, even if every practising archaeologist were to join, the numbers would not create the economies of scale to allow it to do everything it wants to do. The more members join, the more money is needed. CA is a scheme that will focus a lot of resources on a small number of members, those that in many ways need the attention the least. Whilst Charter was for all members, Chartered Archaeologist is for the few. Not least because there are not the resources to make it for the many.

I am concerned that the scheme will eat up a disproportionate amount of CIfAs resources, both in staffing which is already stretched, and more importantly in volunteer time. And that the end result will be a vanity project for those that are already getting the best deal in the profession.

What exactly is a Chartered Archaeologist? How exactly does it differ from Member, other than an ethics interview by a panel of volunteers, and a bit more CPD inspection? What exactly is the difference? And at what cost? To date CIfA has failed to adequately address the inference that the addition of a MCIfA-Plus grade implies a deficiency in the skills and expertise of those at MCIfA grade. It is problematic that the CA is essentially MCIfA with ethics – where does this leave those who are MCIfA and what is the message about their ethical standards? Whilst being effectively MCIfA-Plus, the CA scheme can be seen as downgrading current MCIfAs who cannot afford to upgrade.

All things to all people?

CA is trying to be all things for all people. Like Brexit, having come up with the headline, CIfA spent two years formulating what it would really mean. And that plan is basically for MCIfA-Plus. But at a massive cost in terms of additional volunteer, staff and office time. CIfA say that all MCIfA would be able to apply (because it is basically MCIfA!), they have no idea on numbers of applicants, but that it would all be sorted in due course. With fees set at the same rate as MCIfA it is likely that many MCIfA will apply, that would be a good thing, but who will validate them? Where are all these volunteers? Who validates the validators? How will the first CA applicants be selected? Will those MCIfA who self-validated or were validated decades ago be made to match modern standards? Will non-members who join CIfA be able to push past existing Members in the queue? Will the CA scheme go live before everyone has had a chance to apply and be tested leading to an unequal playing field?

A worrying issue is how CA status works with career/parental break, for part time workers and carers. How will it deal with the semi-retired or low paid? Will CA be accessible to all that fulfil the criteria, or just those that can afford it? Will we end up with many practising archaeologists excluded, whilst CA status is awarded to managers who have no direct contact with archaeology? There is also uncertainty on how exactly the scheme will work and its impact, especially on specialists, sole traders and its relationship to ROs.

Fundamentally this is going to cost. A lot. It has already taken up a large amount of CIfA time and resources over the last two years. If passed, then it will carry on taking resources from CIfA’s other work for years to come. For the two years of development work to create the scheme, and then an ongoing cost in staff time and volunteers, but with little extra income other than the application fee. Essentially CIfA is saying that CA will benefit all via ‘trickle-down’ economics. That the benefit to those at the top will lead to better pay and conditions for all. I’m not convinced and think we can do a lot more with these resources. For all.

At a time in which archaeological organisations and staff are stretched to accommodate massive infrastructure projects and face the uncertainties of Brexit, we feel that the efforts and resources of our professional body would be better spent on identifying and promoting best practice in recording systems, management and supervision, training and professional development. The creation of a tiny elite out of the existing membership is a resource-intensive distraction from the real challenges we face as a profession.

I am not ideologically opposed to CA. But feel that CIfA should build up from the bottom of the profession, making a profession that is ready for CA, rather than creating CA at the top of a profession with no foundations.

Vote No, and send a message that CIfA should be for all members not the few.


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