The voluntary and community sector is complex and diverse and is affected by changing demands from funders and from those in whose interests it works.
A significant amount of voluntary sector income comes either from government sources (local and national) or charitable trusts. This funding makes organisations more formally accountable and they are more likely to have to prove that their performance is of a high quality and to adopt more ‘business like’ management.
Voluntary organisations themselves also want to show that they are working to high standards and want to know how they can demonstrate the quality and consistency of the services they provide. Also the people who use voluntary organisations’ services also expect high standards and quality services.
What is a quality assurance system?
There are many definitions of this but one of the simplest is:
“A systematic approach to identifying and responding to the needs of your service users so that you can provide an appropriate service consistently and to agreed standards.”
Some larger voluntary organisations have developed their own internal quality systems but the community and voluntary sector are much more likely to adopt one of the ‘off the shelf’ ones which have been tried and tested, are recognised by funders and will be less time consuming than trying to develop their own.
Why invest in quality?
• Focuses on what the organisation is doing
• Brings people together to identify areas for improvement
• Demonstrates the quality of services to funders
• Improves satisfaction of service users, staff and volunteers
• Improves effectiveness and efficiency
• Motivates people to make visible progress
• To act as a dynamic tool for identifying where the potential problem are and empowers staff and volunteers to address them
• Sets improvement targets and priorities and monitors progress against them
Which quality assurance system to choose?
There a number of systems available – below are the most common with a brief description and contact details for further information.
PQASSO – (Practical Quality Assurance for Small Organisations)
This is designed specifically for small to medium sized community and voluntary organisations. It is a self assessment system where the organisation itself assesses its work and performance in 12 key areas.
It is fairly easy to use and can be done at your own pace. The workbook costs £98 and a CD Rom to compliment the workbook costs a further £55.
PQASSO can now be externally accredited, leading to the PQASSO Quality Mark and
is a nationally recognised award that offers users, as well as commissioners and funders, external verification of the quality and credibility of an organisation. The Quality Mark is also endorsed by The Charity Commission.
RCVDA can provide advice and support for groups wanting to use the PQASSO system.
Charities Evaluation Services
4 Coldbath Square
London EC1R 5HL
Tel 020 7713 5722
This is designed specifically for small to medium sized organisations without any paid staff. It is cheap (£34 including postage and packing), easy to use and can be introduced at your own pace. Again it is self assessment.
Birmingham Voluntary Service Council
Birmingham B5 6DR
Tel 0121 678 8888
RCVDA can provide advice and support for groups wanting to use the Quality First system.
ISO 9001: 2008
This is a group of standards that aims to help organisations achieve customer satisfaction by focusing on 'how things are done' . External assessment is carried out by a certification body. Although the standard was originally oriented towards the manufacturing sector, it has been developed over time to encompass both product and service organisations across all three sectors.
Many VCS organisations, however, are now having to look at ISO 9001 in order to qualify for a local authority tender or to achieve preferred supplier status. ISO 9001accreditation attracts the highest score on a PQQ (Pre-qualification Questionnaire) or full tender submission and is the only externally verified and EU recognised quality system (Office for Government Commerce Guidance 2007)
Whilst previously, there has been little take-up of this system in the voluntary sector this situation is now changing. More and more voluntary organisations are going the route of ISO 9001and RCVDA itself is currently in the process of developing and implementing its own ISO 9001:2008 quality system.
To find out more
Investors in People
This scheme concentrates on managing and supporting staff to help achieve your aims and does not look at all aspects of an organisation.
Like any employer, VCS organisations rely on people to provide products and services. Therefore, the most important investment any organisation makes is in the people who work (or volunteer) for it. IiP thus focuses on key aspects of an organisation’s capabilities as a good employer.
In particular it looks at:
- how an organisation develops and communicates its aims, values and goals to its staff and volunteers (including how staff and volunteers are involved in the group’s business planning process)
- how the organisation caters for its staff and volunteers’ learning and development needs
- how staff and volunteers are valued and respected
- how well managers manage and support their staff and volunteers (including what competencies and skills managers should have according to their seniority and level of responsibility within the organisation).
The Investors in People Standard is based on three key principles:
- Plan – Developing strategies to improve the performance of the organisation
- Do – Taking action to improve the performance of the organisation
- Review – Evaluating the impact on the performance of the organisation.
Unless you can obtain funding for IiP, it can prove quite costly. Assessor costs are around £550 + per day. For a small organisation, assessment will normally require 2 days (half a day preliminary visit, one day of interviews and half a day to write the report).
For larger organisations the interviewing period may require two days or more. On the other hand most organisations report that the IiP process has been invaluable in sharpening up processes, focussing on staff and volunteer needs and creating a learning organisation.
Investors in People provide a wide range of online tools to help organisations work with the Standard. These tools are currently free to use and available for download or use online:
Investors in People UK
7-10 Chandos Street
Tel 020 7467 1900
EFQM (European Foundation for Quality Management) Excellence Model
This was designed specifically for the business sector but work has been undertaken to adapt it for voluntary and community sector use. It is demanding and uses external assessment which bumps up the costs.
EFQM Excellence Model
British Quality Foundation
32-34 Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2QX
Tel 020 7654 5000
Investing in Volunteers
Investing in Volunteers is the UK quality standard for all organisations which involve volunteers in their work. The Standard enables organisations to comprehensively review their volunteer management and also publicly demonstrates their commitment to volunteering.
The organisation managing the process in England is Volunteering England.
for more information visit the Investing in Volunteers website
This is designed for organisations providing legal information and advice to the public and is free to those in receipt of public, local authority or charitable funding. There are 3 standards relating to Information, General Help and Specialist Help. The system is fairly easy to use but potentially time-consuming and involves external assessment.
Legal Services Commission
85 Grays Inn Road
London WC1X 8TX
Tel 020 7759 0000
Before you start deveoping any quality system
It is vital to plan very carefully before introducing a quality assurance system. It often seems like hard work but should reap many benefits for an organisation.
Factors to help:
• Setting up a small quality working group to ensure that the process is more effective (and it shares the load!)
• Making sure everyone is involved – trustees, staff and volunteers. This is vital, even from the planning stage.
• Encourage openness and honesty in problem solving
• Which system will best suit your needs
• Drawing up a plan and realistic timetable for working through the quality system you choose to implement
• Talk to other groups who are using quality systems
Don’t treat it as a paper exercise - you are looking for real improvements also Examine how technology and use of ICT could help - many quality systems are now managed electronically
If you would like further information, or would like to discuss some of the options available, please contact:
Ann Dale on. 01642 440571