Those of us working in the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) share a desire to deliver quality services to our service users. In that respect we are no different from those working in the private or public sectors.

But how do we know when we are delivering quality services?

This series of blogs looks at the need for quality and quality standards in the VCS.

  • Part I considers the need for quality and quality standards
  • Part II looks at the cost and benefits of implementing a quality standard
  • Part III compares the most common quality standards used by charities
  • Part IV looks in more detail at PQASSO, the most commonly used quality standard in the VCS

More for less

Most charities are facing up to a life of doing more with less, choosing what to stop doing, or trying to convince funders that they should win a contract or receive a grant. There is a need to demonstrate value for money. It is generally accepted that this means being more:

  • economic (doing things cheaply)
  • efficient (doing things well)
  • effective (doing the right thing)

But it can be too easy for despair, complacency or resignation to take over rather than taking action and adapting to the current economic and social climate.

What is quality?

 

“Quality is about meeting the needs and expectations of customers”

according to tutor2u. Two other definitions I find helpful in understanding quality are:

“The standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something”

and

“A distinctive attribute or characteristic possessed by someone or something.”

From a practical point of view I would add that quality is about trying to do better in terms of services and the way an organisation runs. Quality should be:

  • An ongoing journey, not a destination
  • An assumption that good internal systems lead to good external services

Quality should not be:

  • A tick in a box or a one-off exercise
  • Something done to you

Why does quality matter?

  • ‘The aspiration of public sector commissioners is to achieve excellent services which are high quality and represent good value for money.’ – extract from National Audit Office presentation (taken from a Charities Evaluation Services paper)
  • Clients expect and deserve it
  • The personal pride we take in our organisations and the services we offer

Additionally I’d argue that quality should:

  • Improve effectiveness and efficiency
  • Improve satisfaction of users, staff and volunteers
  • Improve satisfaction of funders, commissioners and society
  • Deliver services consistently
  • Provide a framework for demonstrating impact.

What are Quality Standards and Quality Management Systems?

A quality standard, according to the Charities Evaluation Services is

“An agreed level of service or organisational performance that should always be met”

A Quality Management System (QMS), on the other hand, is

The management system used to direct and control an organisation with regard to quality”

according to the International Organisation for Standardisation. I prefer the businesballs.com definition which simply states that a QMS is

“A set of co-ordinated activities to direct and control an organisation in order to continually improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its performance”.

In other words a QMS is the practical day to day things that an organisation and the people in it do in order to meet the quality standards they have agreed to achieve. To be successful those actions need to become embedded and become an attitude or a philosophy embraced by all members of the organisation.

Ingredients of Quality

From my experience, important ingredients of quality are:

  • Doing things right first time, but learning from mistakes when they occur
  • Understanding user requirements and providing reliable services that consistently meet them
  • Understanding what is done well, and what needs improving
  • Measuring and understanding performance
  • Continually improving
  • Continually adapting to meet new demands and changing circumstances
  • Effective communication
  • Recognising and rewarding success

Adopting a quality approach to running charities requires management and trustees to lead change and improvement.

Is the concept of quality hype?

I have argued that adopting quality and, in particular, implementing a quality standard should add real value to an organisation. But:

  • Is the claim valid?
  • Are quality and quality standards really worthwhile or just gimmicks that consultants use to make money?
  • What are the costs and benefits of implementing quality standards?

Part II of this series will consider these questions, but in the meantime please let me know your views and experience.