Building Circles had been working towards a PQASSO accreditation for several years. A small working party met irregularly over a few years and had made some progress. We had established some policies and procedures which we felt were appropriate at the time. We were a small charity that had started to grow beyond the 1 part-time member of staff.
Once we had a few part-time staff we understood the need to have some policies and procedures in place. A staffing issue really encouraged us to have some contracts, policies, and procedures to protect our organisation and the trustees that were giving of their time and energies.
As chair of that small working party looking at Quality Assurance, I felt that we were making some progress. There was no external scrutiny of our work. Trustees and management were content that we were meeting and looking at PQASSO. Our small working party divided up the sections and we made efforts to call ourselves to account at our meetings. We did the best that we could in the time and the priority that we had given to this project. We didn’t share the work or the outcomes with the rest of the organisation very well.
This changed with the opportunity, to work with Barrie Wyatt, a licensed mentor, that we were given through the Volunteer Bureau.
Almost immediately we saw that our work could be significantly improved.
We understood that;
- That there was a new PQASSO standard and our efforts with the old standard would have been wasted a little if we had gone for inspection at that time.
- That we had not shared our work with the other stakeholders in the organisation – the trustees, staff nor volunteers.
- That we had no timetable for completing our work.
- There was no review of the quality of our work.
- There was no updating of the work that we had done once we felt that an item was completed.
Working with our mentor changed our approach and practice towards PQASSO and Quality Assurance. We opened up our meetings to others and included others with knowledge or experience to look at our work.
As we were working with someone outside of our organisation, we had to make dates for meetings and to keep to them. We had to give ourselves specific tasks to be completed by the next meeting. We had to open our meetings to external review and through that we gained input from knowledgeable people.
Our practice and our attitude to Policies and Procedures changed. Now there is a review timetable. We know when a policy is due for revision. Trustees get to see, comment and approve all of our policies outside of the quarterly meeting of Trustees with just a vote of agreement at our quarterly meetings. Quality Assurance, Policies and Procedures are a standing item at Trustee quarterly meetings. Our Admin Manager keeps a record of when our policies are due for revision and sends out the papers to Trustees for review in good time. Trustees must give feedback – even if it is to say that they approve the policy or the changes that have been made.
In the day to day work of our organisation there were always more immediate tasks to do. Events that we were organising were constantly upon us. The need to write bids to attract funds is a constant pressure on the CEO and the rest of the organisation. Writing reports to current funders and going to meetings to report on progress, to have a presence amongst purchasers and providers are always going to be a day to day priority. Quality Assurance is so easily relegated to being non-urgent that week.
Working with our mentor shocked us out of our complacency. As the chair of that working party and as Chair of Trustees, I was suddenly accountable for the quality of my work and the commitment to the tasks involved in completing PQASSO. Being questioned and having the standard of ones work scrutinised was a challenge to the easy-going approach that I had adopted to QA. Being answerable certainly made everyone up their game. We felt that we were contracted to do what we had talked about at our meetings. We felt that we were letting down our organisation if we did not give QA the time and priority that was needed to improve, update and review our work. We understood the value of having our paperwork in good shape and of being up to date.
The other side of that picture was that we felt very motivated and more diligent in our attitude to Policies and Procedures. A certain amount of pride developed in our QA working party as we developed a more business-like approach to QA and gave it some priority.
Our mentor was the catalyst for this change. Without him we would still be working in isolation of the rest of the organisation. We would be very vulnerable should a serious issue arise. We are able to be much more positive about QA in our organisation with our funders and potential funders and hopefully they will find working with us, and funding us, to be a more rewarding an experience.
In our latest bid we have identified an amount that we would like to use for a PQASSO Assessment, and this was encouraged by that agency.
Working with a mentor is a challenging experience. It forces the issues of time and priority to this task. I would thoroughly recommend that to any agency/charity wishing to achieve PQASSO. In particular Barrie Wyatt is to be highly recommended. He was professional, knowledgeable, friendly but determined that we make progress. We are very grateful.
Andy Rozwadowski Chair of Trustees, Building Circles of Gloucestershire