Part I of this series on quality in the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) considered the need for quality and quality standards. Now we consider the question of whether they are worthwhile or just a gimmick that consultants use to make money.

Do quality standards make a difference?

“Working to a quality standard can bring both external and internal benefit for staff, stakeholders, funders or commissioners and for beneficiaries.”

So said a study entitled Quality Assurance in the Voluntary and Community Sector, This study of 300 charities was jointly conducted by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Office for Public Management and identified the following ‘External’ benefits:

  • Being better able to respond to tenders
  • Being better able to reassure stakeholders that “all is well”

‘Internal’ benefits include:

  • Providing a tool for organisational improvement and reflection
  • Enabling benchmarking against other organisations
  • Providing a framework for consistency and internal audit
  • Increasing organisational impact

However, the researchers also identified a number of drawbacks, especially the time and resources required – nearly 90% of respondents cited this. Other drawbacks include:

  • Quality standards measure the wrong thing – processes rather than outcomes
  • The time and resources taken can detract from service delivery
  • External organisations – commissioners and consultants – benefit rather than service users
  • Quality standards have a short life span and can be little more than a tick box exercise

It appears that some of the perceived drawbacks contradict some of the perceived benefits, and I would argue that, with the exception of the concern about time, most of the drawbacks identified are misconceptions that can easily be addressed. For example, quality should be viewed as an ongoing journey, not a destination and certainly not seen as a tick box or one-off exercise.

Part III of this series looks at the options open to charities who wish to consider implementing a quality standard:

  • What quality systems are used in the voluntary sector?
  • How useful are they perceived to be?
  • What are the differences between them?