COA Accreditation

Tips for Virtual Reviews

January 5, 2021

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, COA made adaptations to the Site Visit, a foundational part of the accreditation review. Incorporating feedback from our volunteers and organizations, the new virtual review options both allow organizations to move forward with completing their accreditation requirements and prioritize the safety and health of our Volunteers, organizations, and the individuals they serve, all while maintaining the integrity and rigor of our accreditation process. The virtual review is fundamentally designed to minimize in-person interaction amid the pandemic. Conducting interviews and reviewing onsite documents/evidence is completed remotely, through the use of HIPAA-compliant secure environment. When an in-person walkthrough of the organization is needed, assignment of local volunteers is prioritized to minimize travel (and any related concern(s)), and safety guidelines are stressed and followed.

As the pandemic continues to challenge all facets of our lives, we are tested to think differently, creatively, and with flexibility to accommodate for these unpredictable times. The move to virtual reviews required a quick turnaround from planning to implementation, and the continual feedback we have received has helped to refine the process. As a result, COA has increased different ways of communicating expectations and providing support, such as developing a checklist to clarify steps of the virtual review, establishing monthly meetings with leads of the review team, and hosting webinars on virtual reviews for organizations and Volunteers.

The collaboration between Volunteers and organizations has been instrumental in the successful implementation of the virtual review. We are pleased to relay reflections from a Volunteer for COA as she experienced her first virtual review!

COA – The virtual way

As I embarked on my July 2020 COA Zoom Site Visit journey as Team Leader, I questioned whether this was going to be the next future reality. I wondered if this was something I was comfortable doing and whether the integrity of the accreditation process was being compromised.

Also I thought…

What happened to the travel and enjoying new places? Good food? Spending time with colleagues? Meeting new people? Witnessing organizations taking care of those in their communities? Developing new programs? Learning and growing?

Retiring and giving back to the field was not supposed to be “virtual” – or was it?

We began with a team of four, and none of us had met or worked together (which make me think “great- now I have to juggle three new personalities as well as agency folks!”). We also covered a large portion of time zones, from Hawaii to mainland central time. “Oy vey!”

The team turned out to be one of the best I have ever worked with: a caring, dedicated group of professionals that were knowledgeable, patient, and flexible. We were not the most techie group, but thanks to the help of COA’s IT staff, we all figured it out.

I began with contacting the POC, using my social work skills to convince her that we knew what we were doing and everything would go smoothly. We started with a team Zoom meeting a few weeks before the review. We invited the agency POC to join the Zoom meeting so everyone could become acquainted, ask questions, and feel comfortable. It was decided that each Peer would set up their own schedule with the POC, with me only having to decide on the Entrance, Pre-Exit, Exit, and team meetings and my own schedule. Wow…it worked fantastic; everyone was happy! We decided to have a dedicated person assigned to each Peer that would be their “go-to” for all aspects of the review. (I secretly prayed that no one would drop off this review as I was beginning to feel some anxiety – I was worried it was going too well to be true!). We all began working at least week ahead of the actual date for the review, reviewing the Box, conducting interviews, going on virtual ASE facility tours, and working out IT bugs. We developed a back up plan with a conference number in case of any Zoom failure.

After numerous phone calls and emails, we had our team Zoom Sunday night to touch base before the Entrance Meeting. Everyone scheduled their Zooms with POC, and she did the invites from there. Easy!

Ready, set, g… no. One Peer couldn’t get Zoom fully working – maybe they would have it ready by the a.m.

Monday morning, all four Peer Reviewers were visible, and there were over 30 in attendance at the Entrance. We did the usual introductions, covered the COA process, and asked the agency CEO to give us some background and history of the organization. It was well done, and made up for some of the missed onsite interaction. The POC did an incredible job facilitating the whole process.

Zooms happened all day long without a glitch. Agency staff made sure the connections and introductions happened, and then dropped off the Zoom meeting.

Review of records and screen sharing went well, although we were not able to review as many records as we usually do. Meetings started and ended on time. Very few schedule changes were needed.

We added an additional Peer on the fly to agency to review the crisis center. No standards or ratings were assigned to her. She was just in and out and sent me a report – thank you! – which was wonderful.

Tuesday was the same. Very organized. Wednesday we Zoomed with team again before exit. We were all pretty Zoomed out and ready to be done. For the Exit Meeting, we had 76 in attendance on Zoom! Awesome! 

The team did a wonderful job presenting on their standards, experiences, and sharing strengths with agency. By now it made no difference whether we were on-site or virtual. We were all connected, and the emotional impact that is often felt on site was present. The Peers presented with passion and professionalism. The CEO was grateful for the experience.

Although I, like most of my peers, am anxious to travel and be present with agencies, the COA staff have done an outstanding job figuring out how to get this done with integrity, best practices still in place, and camaraderie. Thanks!Oh, and the dietary question… the agency did send us all delicious cookies to enjoy at our home desks while working. A working snack – much appreciated. Thank you.

So my friends, “Zoom on” until it’s safe!

-Maddi Noleen, COA Peer Review Volunteer

Have questions about the virtual review process? Reach out to your Accreditation Coordinator, or contact us here.


About COA

Founded in 1977, the Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit organization that accredits human and social service providers. Our mission is to partner with human and social service organizations to strengthen their ability to improve the lives of the people they serve.