Quality assurance and the board

In the past decade quality assurance (QA) has become a major focus in the community sector. The contracts used by funding bodies now require more accountability from the services they finance and the people who review and accredit organisations have higher expectations. As a result most community organisations now spend a lot of time and use significant resources to comply with the standards set by funding bodies.

Quality assurance means that a community organisation must have, and follow, well-documented policies, processes and procedures that demonstrate it meets the appropriate standards relevant to the programs it offers. This means more work documenting processes and keeping them current. It also means ongoing monitoring and improving of the quality assurance systems that have been developed.

Quality assurance that demonstrates compliance with the disability, family services or other relevant standards has now become a part of doing business in the sector. Yet the service usually has to bear the additional cost of employing a QA manager and the use of staff time without any additional funding or support from government.

From the perspective of the board of a community service, quality assurance is largely a matter for the CEO and operations. However, all board members need to be aware of QA and its impact on services and costs. Board members also need to be involved in both understanding the key aspects of QA in the organisation as a whole but, in particular, ensuring the board practices QA itself.

The board might encourage the CEO to establish working teams to review the key processes for service delivery and move toward best practice in a structured and organised way. Board members should encourage the review and improvement of the organisation’s service delivery and supporting operations as well as ongoing continuous quality improvements.

What are the benefits of QA?

The benefits of QA can be considerable and include the following:

An increase in the accountability of every person in the organisation through better documentation and tracking of their work outcome.

More focused and acceptable services to clients, improved ways of finding out what clients want and how the services delivered are the best possible with the available resources.

Improved financial management which can be continually improved.

Monitoring of board policies and directions and the board can see they are being acted on.

Major changes in the underlying culture toward a more focused and structured approach by staff.
It is argued service standards are improved by QA leading to increased overall client satisfaction and could mean a better achievement of the mission and vision when applied to community services.

A word of warning

Although the QA system is borrowed from commercial enterprise the benefits for a community organisation are quite different. For example, a community service has a limited opportunity to recover the costs of QA through higher prices or increased sales. Rather, the board can only hope the QA creates such good quality that cost problems are reduced and in the service is run significantly better and secures continuing funding.

The benefits to a community service of QA can be unclear unless the system is in line with the goals and needs of the organisation and it is approached carefully and cost effectively. In some cases QA can lead to excessive documents, limited innovation and flexibility and a great deal of time and money spent recording actions for the sake of the auditor and not enough actually delivering the service.

Managers can be held hostage to the threat of an auditor and lose the spirit of the QA process. In this case the focus is on keeping the documents up-to-date and not getting the best quality results. It is even possible the managers and staff are so busy that the QA system is copied from another service or falls into the hands of a coordinator who rarely seeks out the opinions of the staff, but sets up a system that will work for the auditor but not the client.

Conclusion

The intent of quality assurance is that quality is improved and the organisation in the community sector uses it to ensure they meet the required quality standards. In this context, QA should be supported and indeed followed by the board. However, the board should also be aware that QA can have a cost, and in some situations, turn an organisation into a bureaucracy.

It is critical that boards encourage quality in the attitude, skill and management of the staff. The organisation must be client driven and set up to minimises costs and maximises benefits. The board needs to monitor QA and ensure the benefits and the costs are clearly identified and debated. Otherwise QA can become a millstone rather than a milestone in the service’s progress.


USEFUL LINKS

A Code of Governance for the Australian Community Sector  (ourcommunity.com.au)