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Ethical Issues and Challenges of AC in South Africa

The use of the Assessment Centre (AC) technique in South Africa has been around since the 1970s. AC use and application generally aligned closely to the Unites States model with a strong influence from the American experts, Doug Bray and Bill Byham who visited the country and introduced it to organisations. This trend continued in South Africa and soon other organisations adopted the AC model and techniques into their businesses (Meiring, 2008). Since the 1980s ACs and DCs have grown from strength to strength with the Assessment Centre Study Group (ACSG) leading the way in South Africa.  The main aim of the study group has always been to promote the professional and ethical use of the AC technique and to facilitate the exchange of experience and skills with regard to AC practice in South Africa.

In the middle of the 1980s, the ACSG started playing an active role with regard to the professional and ethical aspects of AC. Firstly, appropriate legislation to regulate the use of personnel assessment techniques was lacking and, secondly, consultants and HR practitioners who were not qualified to implement AC methodology were exposed. These issues were considered to be serious and it was decided to adapt the 1979 International Guidelines on AC and Ethical Practice for South Africa. It was furthermore decided to publish a document containing the amended guidelines, as well as the role of the ACSG in monitoring AC applications in South Africa.  Currently the ACSG has published three versions of the guidelines. The 2007 Guidelines is the latest published version and is aligned with the 2000 International Guidelines as well as the 2006 Professional Guidelines for global ACs.

In the absence of laws governing the practice of ACs in SA, the ACSG has assumed the unofficial mantle of “ethics and standards watchdog” in order to ensure that the highest standards of practice are shared with its members through workshops, conferences, an updated website, and now for the first time the AC Blog.

Ethical Issues and Challenges of AC in South Africa is the first discussion topic to be introduced to the AC Blog. The reason for the introduction is the overwhelming reaction and debate the topic generated at the 30th Annual Conference of the ACSG in March 2010 in Stellenbosch. AC practitioners indicated that the time during the conference was too short to have meaningful discussions on the critical ethical challenges thatwere introduced.

The ACSG wishes to open the debate again and give the AC Blogger the opportunity to voice their opinions, concerns and debate these issues. The way we would like to go about it, is to focus on only four (4) ethical AC challenges raised at the conference.

You are welcome to add your comments on these issues to the AC Blog and then follow the discussions as it unfolds. Once a month, the respective Editor (in this case Prof Deon Meiring) will summarise the discussion and perhaps give the discussion new impetus.



[Mis]application of Assessment Centre Results

  1. How do we manage the way AC results are being used by our clients?
  2. What about designing ACs for one purpose and then applying them for something else?
  3. What is our right to recourse if we know an ethical line has been crossed?



Using assessors and role-players who are not properly trained or only partially trained

  1. What role does assessor training play?
  2. How long should the training be?
  3. How frequently should assessor training take place?
  4. How do we manage assessor quality?




  1. When do assessors discuss candidate performance?
  2. Discussing candidates “in the corridors” may well affect how assessors rate them in subsequent exercises. How do we manage this?
  3. Who do we share AC results with?



Scope of Practice

  1. Can the AC not be seen as a psychological act?
  2. Can anybody perform this act, especially if we measure psychological constructs in the AC?
  3. Can everybody be trained to give feedback?



  • The purpose of the AC Blog is to encourage continuous discussion on relevant AC issues throughout the year.  All AC enthusiasts are invited to participate.
  • Please share your comments / ideas / suggestions / recommendations / research findings on the discussion topic with us on the AC Blog. We also invite our International AC enthusiasts to contribute to this discussion.
  • Please also own your contribution by clearly indicating your name and surname.
  • A topic will be on the AC Blog for three months. Once a month the appropriate Editor will summarise the discussion and perhaps provide new impetus to the discussion.
  • The current Editors are: Prof Deon Meiring; Prof Rian Viviers; Prof Petrus Nel; Francois de Kock. Please give your comments on the AC Blog and not directly to the Editors.
  • The Editor for Ethical Issues and Challenges is Prof Deon Meiring.
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Ethical Issue 1, number 1

Posted by Sandra Schlebusch at Oct 05, 2010 03:13 PM
This issue can be very problematic. Sure we all would like to believe our clients when they say that the Centre results will just be used for developmental purposes. And this is what we tell the Centre candidates, but what real assurance do we have that the results are just used for developmental purposes? We hand the AC results to the company and we ensure that the person recieving the results understands what it tells us and what not, as well as what the results can be used for. But what then? We as AC practitioners then have to rely totally on the integrity of the person we handed the results to. What if the results are misused and damage is done? Have we then done our jobs ethically?
Likewise, the AC is run to select an incumbent for job x. Candidate A, B and C attend the AC. Candidate B is appointed into the position. Five months later job y is vacant. Candidates A, D and E applies for the position. To save costs, the company decides to use candidate A's previous AC results, while candidate D and E attends the AC for job y. All three candidates' AC results are compaired to each other to decide who to appoint into job y. Is this ethically correct? Is this fair to all three candidates?

Ethical Issue 1, number 1

Posted by Francois de Kock at Oct 05, 2010 03:13 PM
Even though informed consent is implied when candidates avail themselves for assessment, it is probably still a good practice to obtain written informed consent for ACs and DCs. Clearly communicate to all AC participants, in writing, what the purpose of the assessment is and what the results will be used for. It should clearly state what the results would not be used for. This openness would increase trust in the procedure, improve fairness perceptions, and ultimately also reflect on the employer brand. When this 'contract' is done in writing, client organisations would be less likely to misuse the information for purposes not agreed to with participants. Ultimately, though, clients pay for these assessments and therefore can legitimately stake a claim to use the information for any purpose within reasonable boundaries. I guess if they play open cards with this need in their informed consent form, at least it is contracted with participants. In summary, clearly stipulate the intended uses of the information and delineate the boundaries of such fair use, in writing if possible.

Ethical Issue 2

Posted by Sandra Schlebusch at Oct 05, 2010 03:13 PM
Can the assumption be made that the fact that a person is a registered psychologyst enables her / him to design and administer simulations?

Ethical issue 3

Posted by Anne Buckett at Oct 05, 2010 03:13 PM
Candidate performance and their general behaviour should not be discussed during the AC in order to avoid influencing your other assessors. The appropriate time is during your debriefing session. This will then enable you to get an accurate picture of the candidate across the day and all nuances in behaviour can be accounted for in the final ratings and write-ups.

Ethical issue 2

Posted by Anne Buckett at Oct 05, 2010 03:13 PM
I think that there must be at least some type of minimum training for people to act as role-players. Depending on the nature of the project the Senior Assessor can either provide this training in small groups with practice or, alternatively, let new role-players observe for a couple of rounds before participating. Consistency is important as is practice.

Ethical issue 2

Posted by Bouwer Jonker at Oct 05, 2010 03:13 PM
Bouwer Jonker
In my view proper role-player training is essencial in order to ensure consistent 'performance'. This can assist in making sure targeted dimansions are tapped for the specific excersise. All applicants will also be treated the same which will help to prove fairness in the case of legal action.

Ethical issue 2

Posted by Francois de Kock at Oct 05, 2010 03:13 PM
Hi Anne, yes I agree. Research findings are very clear that untrained assessors are probably not much better than tossing coins. What many practitioners have not taken notice of, though, is the fact that the more prevalent types of assessor training are not very effective, i.e. avoiding rating errors, behaviour observation training. Good, solid frame-of-reference training is the most effective form of assessor training. Normally, a careful follow up of rater performance should be conducted as part of validation, i.e. assessment of inter-rater reliability, rater idiosyncrasy, rater error (halo, elevation error, etc.). It boils down to fairness and legality issues, ultimately. Raters that are not good assessors don't comply with our legislative requirements since they do not yield valid and reliable measures of assessee competencies. Rater bias is a serious issue and too frequently we accept that our assessors are probably o.k., without offering evidence in support of the use of their ratings in selection and development decisions. Looking at it this way, what would our clients say when an assessee hauls them to court and the judge asks, 'so what proof do you have that your raters were good judges of the AC competencies?'. Our laws are clear that the burden of proof shifts to the client organisation when unfair discrimination is alledged. The key question is how ready our clients are to consistently generate these types of evidence in support of what they are doing in ACs.
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