PA 4: Reporting Assurance – version 2.2
Data Accuracy Video
Frequently Asked Questions
What areas in STARS recognize reporting assurance and report review?
There are three credits under version 2.2 where institutions can earn points for engaging with others in a comprehensive report review. review. These credits include:
- PA 4: Reporting Assurance – One point can be earned for institutions that engaged in a comprehensive review of the current submission, as guided by and documented in the STARS Review Template. Reviewers can be internal or external to the institution, but they must be unaffiliated with the data collection process for the credits they review. See also PA 4 Help Center credit article.
- IN 11: External Reporting Assurance – 1/2 bonus point can be earned for institutions whose reports have undergone the above review process using an external reviewer (someone outside of your institution). This is generally a volunteer peer reviewer or a paid contractor.
- EN 11: Inter-campus Collaboration – 1/2 standard point can be earned for institutions whose employees or students served as peer reviewers of another institution’s STARS report. See also EN 11 Help Center credit article.
Is Reporting Assurance required?
Under version 2.2, reporting assurance is encouraged but not required. STARS scoring includes incentives to encourage institutions to complete an assurance process that successfully identifies and resolves inconsistencies prior to submitting their STARS Report.
Are points for Reporting Assurance guaranteed?
Assured reports are still subject to review by AASHE staff prior to publication, which may require additional revisions. AASHE reserves the right to withhold points for this credit if it is determined that the assurance process was clearly unsuccessful in identifying and resolving inconsistencies or errors (e.g., when AASHE staff identify a significant number of issues that are items to check for in the review template, but were not identified as issues or not resolved successfully).
What are the benefits of obtaining Reporting Assurance?
In addition to the point-earning opportunities outlined above, results from our STARS Review Pilot indicated that institutions that completed a reporting assurance process had fewer issues following AASHE’s standard review, had minimal changes in provisional score, and got their reports published sooner.
Do we have to use the STARS Review Template?
AASHE publishes a STARS Review Template that highlights areas that are commonly misinterpreted and ensures that reviewers follow a standard review process. Use of the STARS Review Template is REQUIRED in order to earn points.
Who should perform the review?
The assurance process may include:
- Internal review by one or more individuals affiliated with the institution, but who are not directly involved in the data collection process for the credits they review. AND/OR
- An external audit by one or more individuals affiliated with other organizations (e.g., a peer institution or third-party contractor).
You can choose to conduct either an internal review or independent review (or, as some institutions have done, a combination).
The most important thing is to choose a reviewer who was not involved in any STARS data collection for your institution, understands the STARS credit criteria, has good attention to detail, and will use the approved STARS Review Template. To be eligible for the External Reporting Assurance exemplary practice credit, the reviewer may not be affiliated with your institution.
How can I find an independent reviewer for my institution’s STARS report?
Independent review is a process by which an individual who is not affiliated with the institution reviews and provides assurance for the institution’s STARS report. There is no formal process for finding a reviewer, but here are some suggestions:
- Ask a colleague directly – Consider contacts you’ve made by attending professional conferences and participating in regional or topical sustainability networks.
- Post a request on the STARS Community or a relevant email list – Include the desired timeframe for the review and any other information you think might be relevant for prospective peer reviewers.
- Recruit student reviewers – Connect with faculty or sustainability staff to identify students with an interest or experience with STARS.
- Hire a third-party assurance provider – The following AASHE member organizations offer third-party external review of STARS reports for a fee:
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of other organizations that offer this service.
When should we start looking for a reviewer?
The assurance process must be completed prior to submitting your report, but after the data has been collected and entered into the Reporting Tool. For many institutions, this means that a reviewer will be needed for a very specific timeframe. Find your reviewer in advance and allow ample time for the review to be completed. Keep in mind, the review process will require time to address the reviewer(s) comments as well as a second, or even third review of the report to ensure that any identified issues have been addressed.
How can I serve as a peer reviewer?
Many of the suggestions for finding a peer reviewer (see above) apply when you would like to volunteer your services as a peer reviewer. You can ask colleagues directly and monitor or post to listservs to seek out opportunities.
In terms of data quality, what are the common things to look out for when completing or reviewing a report?
Some of the common issues that occur across credits throughout STARS include:
- Supporting affirmative responses – Affirmative responses must be supported by information provided in descriptive fields, particularly in scoring fields that require a descriptive response following a Yes or similar affirmation.
- Aligning with credit timeframes – In general, information must be current at the time of submission, or based on data from within the last three years prior to submitting. Care should be taken to ensure that information falls within the expected Timeframe (particularly when updating a report).
- Avoiding or clarifying data outliers – Data outliers can be the result of exemplary performance, a change in operations, or quite frequently, a mistake or miscalculation. Outliers can have significant scoring impacts, so it’s important to pay attention to them and make revisions if they are the result of an error or miscalculation. For outliers due to exemplary performance, please provide information about how this was achieved in the Notes fields.
- Data consistency across credits – Some information in STARS is asked in multiple sections, and can be quickly duplicated using the Copy From feature. While consistency between credits is typical, there are circumstances where a discrepancy can be expected. We recommend clarifying the reason for any valid discrepancies in the Notes field.
- Valid and working URLs – Supporting information via URL is typically optional, though there are a few credits where a working URL is required.
Resources, Templates & Tools
STARS Review Template
NEW: Reviewer Sandbox
The Reviewer Sandbox serves as a guide for reviewers filling out review templates. It follows the latest version of the STARS review template and provides example notations for common issues.
- Boise State University – Good reporting example of a peer review conducted by sustainability staff at another institution (two reviewers from California State University, Stanislaus). The Letter affirmation serves as a good template example.
- Connecticut College – A high quality review was conducted with two reviewers responsible for distinct sections. A good example of recruiting reviewers via regional listservs. The Letter affirmation is concise and serves as a good template example.
- Eastern Connecticut State University – Good example of peer review using multiple reviewers that reviewed specific sections. The reviewers did an excellent job, as this was a high quality report with no errors found by AASHE staff. The letters from reviewers were combined and uploaded as a single, two-page PDF file.
- Missouri State University – Good example of a review conducted by both external and internal contacts. The Letter affirmation confirms that reviewer is satisfied with responses to identified issues.
- Northern Arizona University – An institution that used the STARS online community to solicit a peer reviewer! The Letter affirmation includes more detail than is required (reviewer offers their contact info in case there are questions).
- Susquehanna University – Good example of review by another institution. The Letter affirmation includes more detail than is required (reviewer offers their contact info in case there are questions).
- Santa Clara University – Good example of engaging multiple reviewers for specific sections. The uploaded affirmation letter from reviewer is a simple email, which does qualify.
- University of Tasmania – Concise response reflecting a peer review from another ACTS institution. Good reporting example for other institutions that are part of regional networks. The Letter affirmation includes more detail than is required (reviewer offers their contact info in case there are questions).
- University of Wisconsin-River Falls – Response included review template filled out by an external reviewer, with comments. There were multiple internal and external reviewers, and all credits were reviewed by at least 2 people and at least one external reviewer. The Letter of affirmation includes signatures from all students in one file, which does qualify.
Common Issues Identified During Review
- To count, the institution must have had a finalized version of its current STARS submission reviewed by one or more individuals not affiliated with the data entry process for the sections they review. Completion of this template is required, and any inconsistencies identified by the reviewer(s) must be addressed prior to submission.