Quality standards environment

Over governed, over regulated, overwhelmed – the quality service environment for NGOs
The 2010 Productivity Commission Research report into the Contribution of the Not-for-Profit Sector focussed on the regulatory and compliance requirements for not for profit (NFPs) organisations generally, and on incorporation, taxation, fundraising and funding related reporting in particular. It highlighted the extraordinary compliance burden for NFPs that arises from what it described as ‘inconsistent, overlapping and redundant requirements across government agencies and levels of government’ reflecting the fact that many NFPs work with ‘multiple government agencies and within complex multi-tiered regulatory and funding environments’. (p338)
The issue of compliance requirements related to quality and service standards got a bit lost in the sheer volume of other regulatory regimes. However, NFPs providing human services and (fortunately) their government funding providers, are all too aware of the impact of quality standards on their organisations.
With over 50 sets of quality service standards applying to various service types across the country, many funded organisations are subject to multiple sets of standards. In our recent snapshot survey, 75% of organisations receiving State or Territory government funding were completing assessments for multiple sets of standards.
So where do all these standards come from?

Quality and service standards can be grouped into:  

  • Generic organisational standards operating at national level and accepted by government agencies (for example, Quality Improvement Council, Australian Business Excellence Framework, ISO)
  • Generic community services or health organisation standards developed for particular States (for example, Queensland's Human Services Quality Framework, Tasmania's Quality and Safety Standards, NSW's Good Practice Guidelines, Victoria's Department of Human Services Standards)
  • State and Territory variations on national standards (Disability service standards and Out of Home Care for children are good examples). While State/Territory differences may be minor, they create havoc for organisations operating across State/Territory boundaries
  • Service specific standards developed at either State or national level (for example, accreditation standards for Aged Care residential services, Community Care Common Standards, National Community Housing, State Child Care Licensing requirements)
  • ‘Cross industry’ standards – standards developed within other industries that apply to an aspect of an organisations service delivery (for example, Food Safety, Registered Training Organisation accreditation)

The underlying causal factors for this highly overregulated environment have been the zealousness by government agencies in developing a set of standards for every funding program and the inclination by both government agencies and the NFP sector to specify ‘unique’ detail for every service type, and attempt to embed this in quality standards.

… And how do we get rid of them – recent developments
The impact of NFP sector lobbying, an understanding of the administrative load and cost within government (for both government and funded agencies) and the Productivity Commission’s detailed conclusions has finally created a mood for change. The rhetoric of government funding administrators has moved noticeably in the last few years from ‘partnership’ with a distinct underlying ‘control and direct’ agenda to one of reducing overall regulation, focussing on outcomes and ‘letting NGOs get on with it’.
At a practical level, most governments at State/Territory level and the Commonwealth government have ‘red tape reduction’ programs under way, with only some tackling the multiple standards issue.
The Queensland Department of Communities successfully negotiated across six of its service standards to produce the Human Services Quality Framework introduced in 2012.
The Victorian Department of Human Services has brought three of its service standards together in a single set introduced in 2011. This single set of standards will also make use of recognition of a selection of generic accreditation systems for core organisational requirements rather than having its own duplicate set.
The Commonwealth Government replaced standards for the Home and Community Care (HACC) program, two Packaged Care Programs for Aged Care and the National Respite for Carers Program with the Community Care Common Standards.
So we do seem to be heading in the right direction on one level.
However, as fast as standards are rationalised, they are often being ‘reborn’ in another corner – the disability services, chid care and homelessness sectors are all in the process of the development or implementation of new ‘quality frameworks’, with the impact on service standards compliance yet to be seen. Even the rationalisation of four standards under the Community Care Common Standards is having the impact of a new set of standards for many in the HACC funded sector.