"You jest about what you suppose to be a triviality, in asking whether the hen came first from an egg or the egg from a hen, but the point should be regarded as one of importance, one worthy of discussion, and careful discussion at that."
There has never been any debate in my mind about the accreditation chicken and the quality egg. Clearly the egg must have come first: a mutated variant of the original chicken-like parents, a new progeny; an egg which will hatch and be the first of the chickens. Chickens which will go on to begat chickens and more eggs and roasts and omelettes.
Just as the egg must have come first it is important that a 'quality' mindset precedes accreditation. Accreditation is the outcome of quality, never the other way around.
Often when I am asked by an organisations to assist them to "do quality" or "obtain accreditation" some sort of discussion will ensue about my experience working with a specific set of accreditation standards. It's at this point I wish I had the wit of Tom Lehrer and could recreate an accreditation oriented version of The Elements song (if you have 86 seconds enjoy this witty ditty). Can you imagine a response where I begin to sing, "There's ISO, BEF, QIC, and Mental Health; EQuIP, AUQU, ISQua, SEF and Disability; Employment Service; HACCP food..." etc.?
If an organisation delivers its services using principles which promote a quality service then meeting accreditation standards will follow as a natural consequence. This is a good outcome. Most non-profits will have defined a mission and values which inspire or describe the idea that the organisation is wanting to provide quality services. Most boards have a vested interest in ensuring that the organisation does the right thing by its members, customers and stakeholders. In this sense 'quality' isn't a process, but rather a fundamental objective and outcome which should underpin everything a non-profit does.
So what is a quality service? In my mind there are five key principles.
A review of this list will only reinforce its similarity to another iterations of the common pillars of an accreditation framework.
A coherent service makes sense to the people who access it. The service fits them, rather than the other way around. It is logical, meaningful, valued, valid and relevant. Coincidentally during the Tom Lehrer era another thinker began to describe the concept of Model Coherency (Wolf Wolfensberger, late 1960's).
Respectful services are just that: respectful! Valuing the individual, their rights, responsibilities, safety and opinions. Responsive services are able to bend and flex to accommodate the nuances associated with different people and contexts. Accountable services follow all those corporate and administrative processes associated with good management of resources and risk.
Systematic services are those which build into their processes mechanisms which enable the organisation to check that their daily activities meet their objectives and standards. Within a systematic service the concepts of Plan Do Check Act and DICED are integrated into normal operational activities.
I strongly believe that if you design and document organisational processes with the principles of quality in mind that accreditation will be a natural consequence. When an organisation takes a set of accreditation standards and develops policy and procedure to meet them the result is often superficial. The words in the documents indicate the correct concepts, but the activities of staff don't necessarily reflect that which is written on paper. When this disparity exists it sends a clear message to staff and stakeholders that achieving 'ticks' in the auditor's checklist is something we do on top of delivering real services. It shows that an organisation is not interested in the fundamental principles of quality services.
Achieving accreditation is a valuable outcome, but the more important aspect of embarking on an accreditation pathway is that it tests whether or not our organisations provide a quality service. It allows agencies and stakeholders to systematically evaluate the organisation's performance and to be assured that it's leaders remain engaged with opportunities to improve.
At the end of the day usually the people who access services from organisations are not interested in the accreditation standards which have been met, but they will be very clear about how well the organisation does or does not perform. They will measure performance against how well the organisation does in relation to their expectations. They will be interested in quality.