peer certification

This week I had an interesting conversation with kanarip about certification. Certified professionals have value to companies as they have guaranteed knowledge about a certain field. The professional has taken exams that are given out by institutes that are trusted by the companies. Mostly these institutes are connected strongly to the field, like Sun does for Java and Cisco does for networking. But how do we know that a certificate obtained by a professional is really valid.

The exams are mostly written ones and there is no real personal review of the actual skill level of a professional. Review is only done with on the spot knowledge and generally about a the field at that moment in time. Computer languages like Java, Ruby, HTML and other change over time. So do the written certificates really represent the knowledge of a professional?

The idea

I talked with kanarip about peer certification as a new way to give certification to professionals. Our idea was: “What if you would get a certificate for talking with an expert in your field?”. Somebody that has proven to be knowledgeable about your field can make a good assessment on how good you are. If they grade you into a set scale developed and agreed upon by those same proven experts you have a certificate telling companies that your peers think you are this good at what your doing. You can even say that the your peers find you a certain amount of cool!

So, how we you do this? Well to start you need to have someone to say that he is the first experts of a field. They will start the giving out the first certificates to other professionals. These newly certified professionals can now start to give our their own peer certificates. Because certified professionals have a certificate they are knowledgeable about the field and can do peer reviews on other people. This creates a web of trust just like the key signing parties do for identities. The web of trust is crucial for this to work.



One of the problems for this to work is direct at the start. How do you find that initial expert? And how do you prove he is an expert? The solution to this can be many things. An important organization within a field can give him certifications to prove that he is an expert in that field. An expert can be determined by the previous experience and proof of delivered work. An expert can be a well known figure within that field (in interaction design and cognitive science Donald Norman would be considered an expert). Also academic titles could prove someone to be an expert. What is most important is that it can be proven true documentation and/or community that someone is an expert.

The expert might not need to be the starter. If a professional wants certification in his field he will need to look for an acceptable expert that is willing to give out the first peer certification. Even if the expert is not of the highest level the growth of the web of trust will secure the quality of that specific certification. In this way the start may be of less quality but the growth will ensure the proper quality levels required for a good peer certification.

Friends of friends

What if you get peer certified by your co-worker? That would be a bit biased, would it? To prevent that the professional will need to ask for someone outside of his environment to be the expert peer that will asses the professional. It could even be done by asking a central organization to pick a random peer out of the pool of certified professionals in that field. In this way you can ensure that reviews are not done by someone who is biased about the new professional that is seeking peer certification.

One is a bit lonely

Getting a peer review by one expert is good, but getting peer reviewed my multiple is better! An expert in a field can almost never cover the whole field or even asses your skill in the whole field. Therefore it is useful to get reviewed by multiple experts and strengthen the web of trust. Beyond getting better coverage of the field it also helps to cover part if the friend of a friend issue. A professional that is looking for peer certification would need to know a lot of people to only get reviewed by friends. Also this helps against corruption as a professional would need to “buy” more then one expert to get a complete peer certification.

The more peer reviews a certified professional had the more valuable that certification is. This can grow over time. Not all the review will need to be done with a specific time frame. It can be build up over time and grow in value.


Just like in the current model of certification knowledge can change and technology changes can make the certification invalid. So a peer certificate should have an expiration date that indicates how long it has been that you have been certified. This should also affect the possibility for you to certify new professionals. The expiration assures that the knowledge is up to date and still valid. The expiration time should be determined per field as different fields move at different speeds.

Expiration should not be something that completely removes your certification. It should just lower the value of it. In combination with multiple peer reviews over time you should still be able to grow the value of your peer certificate.


I didn’t talk with kanarip about the exact value of the peer certificates and how it should be determined but we did agree that several factors should affect the value. The value could be expressed in a level or point system but the essence should be that it is determined by the initial rating given by the first expert affected by the amount if new reviews and their values combined with the decreasing value of that review over time.

As an extra value could increase or decrease with the amount of reviews done on other professionals and their results. This would help get a better judget rating to other professionals as it would affect their own certificate’s value.


For everything to work there needs to be some sort of central registration system that keeps track of who review who and what the current value is of that certification. This allows the companies looking to hire or use a peer certified professional to see where the certification comes form and what the origins are. This creates the transparency needed to give value to the certificate that companies can use and refer to. I would of course also supply the holders of a peer certificate a nice banner with link for their website!


This is still just an idea but it would be an interesting way of certifying professionals against the traditional exam base certifications. I have found something of a similar idea but that was for work experience only without a peer review. Anyone interested in talking about it? Contact me!

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  1. #1 by Folakemi on 2011/04/12 - 14:57

    Hi my name is folakemi as I was searching for a place to get Peer certification I came accross this website, that’s why I am sending you this email to please direct me on how to go about it. I leave in Minneapolis,minnesta.

  2. #2 by Joost Elfering on 2011/04/12 - 21:26

    You have to understand that the proposal I’m making is that there is no real “place” to go to. The idea behind it is that you find a person that you feel is expert in the field and you talk to them and test your knowledge.

    I do see that a peer certification setup would require a central registration database. But I haven’t found one yet. Maybe one should be created but I do not know if the world is ready for such an open system.

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