Quality Research

Thanks to Anastasia of the Charities Evaluation Services, I recently came across some research conducted by Ellie Brodie and Georgina Anstey (NCVO) with Tim Vanson (Office of Public Management) and Richard Piper (NCVO) entitled Quality Assurance in the Voluntary and Community Sector – http://www.ncvo-vol.org.uk/news/ncvo/perceptions-use-quality-standards-voluntary-community-organisations .

Incredibly the research identified over 130 different quality standards being used by the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) with PQASSO being the most widely used and IIP being the most well known. The report stated that using quality standards benefitted staff, stakeholders, funders or commissioners and beneficiaries. External benefits included being in a stronger position to respond to tenders and reassure stakeholders that ‘all is well’, and internal benefits included providing a tool for organisational improvement and reflection, benchmarking against other organisations, providing a framework for consistency and internal audit, and increasing organisational impact.

However, the report emphasised strongly the perceived drawbacks of implementing a quality system, the main one being resources. Other drawbacks reported included a view that quality standards measure processes rather than outcomes, benefit external organisations (e.g. commissioners and people working in ‘the industry’ of quality) rather than service users and are ‘live’ for a limited period of time. So even PQASSO (which was designed specifically for the sector) is seen as “a marginal activity when compared with other methods of improving the quality of a VCO or its services”, even though it was “viewed positively for encompassing both organisational processes and outcomes”.

The research findings are what they are, but it is my opinion is that they highlight the need for more needs to be done to promote the concept of quality in the sector. I intend to address some of these concerns over the next few weeks because it is my experience that whilst a slavish approach to quality can be unnecessarily resource intensive it doesn’t have to be. Quality is definitely a case of one size does not fit all, and quality systems can and should be applied in a way that is appropriate to the organisation, whatever its size. But in the meantime what are your views and experience?