Part I and Part II of this series looked at the need for, and the costs and benefits of quality and quality standards. Part III looks at the choice available to organisations in the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS).

What quality standards are available to charities?

The simple answer is ‘lots’.

The study Quality Assurance in the Voluntary and Community Sector [referred to in Part II] identified over 130 different quality standards currently being used in the sector – see Appendix B of the report. The research focused on five major quality standards – ISO 9001, PQASSO, Excellence Model, Investors in People and The Matrix Standard, and found that PQASSO was the most widely used whereas Investors in People was the best known.

A summary of the main findings follows:

Positives

Negatives

Excellence Model

Encompasses both organisational processes and outcomes

Investors in People

Useful and not too bureaucratic

Sends a good message to potential employees

Only focuses on HR and people management

ISO9001

The standard that commissioners want

Attracts the most points on Pre-Qualification Questionnaires

Process driven

Too onerous

Not appropriate for the VCS

PQASSO

Encompasses both organisational processes and outcomes

The Matrix Standard

More impact-focused

Less onerous

As noted in the part I of this series, Voluntary and Community Organisations (VCOs) are increasingly expected to demonstrate to funders and commissioners their approach to quality assurance. Implementing quality standards is just one way of doing this, and the research found that 95% of organisations used user satisfaction and other feedback methods to improve the quality of their service or the running of their organisation, and 75% used staff development and evaluations. By contrast PQASSO and Investors in People were seen as “a marginal activity when compared with other methods of improving the quality of a VCO or its services”.

How do the main quality standards compare?

The following table attempts to illustrate the main components in the five quality standards and shows that the most comprehensive are PQASSO and the Excellence Model, with The Matrix Standard not far behind.

PQASSO

EFQM

IiP

ISO9001

Matrix

Exclusively VCS focussed

?

x

x

x

x

Leadership & Management

?

?

?

?

?

Legal & Governance

?

?

x

x

?

Financial Management

?

?

x

x

?

Staff & Volunteer Management

?

?

?

?

?

Process Management

?

?

x

?

?

Learning & Development

?

?

?

?

?

Outcome Focussed

?

?

x

x

?

Equality & Diversity

?

?

?

x

?

User Involvement

?

?

x

?

?

Environmental Responsibility

?

?

x

x

x


Do the standards have the drawbacks
mentioned in part II of this series?

I believe that if an organisation chooses a quality standard that is appropriate then the drawbacks can be at least minimised and in many cases overcome.

  • The time and resources required. Thoroughly embracing quality and implanting a comprehensive quality standard (such as PQASSO) takes time and effort. But read on to see that the results can be worthwhile.
  • Quality standards measure the wrong thing – processes rather than outcomes. Pick the right quality standard and you will be measuring all the relevant aspects of your organisation’s performance including both processes and outcomes. Indeed PQASSO provides a framework for monitoring and evaluation (but more on that in the final blog).
  • The time and resources taken can detract from service delivery. Clearly time and resources spent on one thing cannot, at the same time, be used on something else. But if the implementation of a quality standard is built into the normal routine of an organisation it need not encroach on service delivery; indeed the results of implementation should include measurably enhanced service delivery.
  • External organisations (commissioners and consultants) benefit rather than service users. Commissioners benefit because they can gain confidence that an organisation that has achieved a relevant quality standard. They are then more likely to award contracts or grants to that organisation, thereby directly benefitting the service users. And don’t use a consultant who costs more than the benefit he or she provides.
  • Quality standards have a short life span and can be little more than a tick box exercise. Quality standards can have a short life span and be little more than a tick box exercise, but only when misused. Properly used, and seen as a journey and not a destination, they can change the culture and performance of the organisation and bring ongoing benefits to both staff and service users.

It seems to me, therefore, that quality standards have an important role in improving service delivery, but that organisations need to implement them knowing why and what they hope to achieve.

The final part of this series focuses on PQASSO as the standard aimed exclusively at the VCS as well as being the most comprehensive of the standards.

  • What can you do to embrace quality?
  • Can you afford to invest in quality?
  • Can you afford not to invest in quality?