Professions have developed a number of frameworks for understanding, benchmarking and setting standards for practice. Traditionally, these have tended to be descriptions of tasks – to ascertain professional expertise; or references to a body of knowledge – to assist with curriculum design.  This is the competency approach and describes the skills, knowledge, attributes and/or behaviours of individual practitioners. These have proved very helpful in designing curricula and professional development. However, as many professions find their core practice changing with technological, social and economic changes, they can become outdated.

More recently, attention has turned towards models of competence, which consider what is necessary to practice competently and then identifies the constituent elements of that competence. The needs of the workplace or profession as a whole drive this approach. However, it can be hard to assess the degree to which, say, ethical awareness, is embedded in everyday professional practice.

Limitations with both approaches have led professions to look towards capability approaches for more dynamic, fluid and future-looking frameworks.

Capability approaches extend the notion of competence and contextualize it. They describe the abilities required by a profession or possessed by a practitioner. Capability approaches emphasise potential or opportunities to achieve or acquire competences – so are more dynamic than competences. Capability is contextualised – allowing for consideration of access to resources, such as education, technology or social status and other variables not always included in competency approaches.

Capabilities are generic and underpin competences. They can be used to define the core practices of a profession, but should be limited to those that are irreducible.

Capability frameworks emerging from global sustainability policy development encourage the widest possible participation in both creating and evaluating the set of capabilities. These can then be prioritised according to the value they represent to the individual or group. 


Research questions

Following a review of literature, the following research questions were agreed:

  1. Is there a shared set of PR capabilities that defines the profession globally?
    1. How is it determined?

  2. What, if any, are the variations by region/culture and by stakeholder groups?
    1. Diversity in professional ID/value
    2. Access to resources

  3. How can such a framework(s) support professional development, at individual, national, regional and global levels?
    1. Assessment issues for professions/members/educators



The project consists of three stages: Stage 1, 2 and 3.

STAGE 1: Delphi research project

The aim of this stage is to develop a list of public relations and communication management capabilities. To achieve this, a Delphi study method is being used. . A panel of 15-20 experts are asked their suggestions regarding a list of capabilities and they also comment on suggestions made by other (anonymous) panellists and rank the collected content until a degree of unanimity is achieved (usually about 60-70%). This takes place over 10-12 weeks and will involve 3-4 rounds, depending on the outcomes and the degree of convergence over time. We aim to produce 8-10 statements setting out the capabilities for public relations in the UK. Each partner will run a Delphi to set out the capabilities for public relations in his/her country.

STAGE 2: Wide consultation on the capability framework

The outcomes of the Delphi research will form the basis of wider consultation and evaluation among practitioners, academics and employers. This will validate the statements and their underpinning components.

STAGE 3: Preparing for Practice

The framework will be adapted for use by a range of stakeholders and help set the stage for the future development of public relations as a profession, as well as assisting individual practitioners and employers develop their careers and/or workforces.