The NDIS Quality Indicator Guidelines are the basis for assessments and audits of businesses and organisations working with and supporting Australians with disabilities.  During the last few of years, I have audited many services that have a clear intent to provide the best services they can to people with disabilities and they can readily demonstrate what quality means in practice.  At the same time, I have also audited a number of services that appear to be unclear about the role of quality in their support practices or are focusing more on compliance. Still others believe the marketing hype that says something along the lines of ‘buy our product and you will be guaranteed of getting through your NDIS audit’ because ‘getting through an audit’ is all they think they need to do to provide NDIS services.

Businesses and services wanting to provide supports to people with disabilities have to meet the requirements of the NDIS Quality Indicator Guidelines.  These Guidelines clearly refer to the word ‘quality’, not ‘compliance’.  If the Government just wanted the focus to be on compliance, then surely they would have been called ‘NDIS Compliance Indicator Guidelines’ – but they aren’t.  From my understanding of these Guidelines, I can see many opportunities for services to step up and into a place where significant and positive differences can be easily evidenced in the lives of people with disabilities.

But what does the word ‘quality’ really mean? Various dictionaries refer to it as the standard by which something is measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something; a high standard; a characteristic of something or someone; as well as how good or bad something is.  It doesn’t matter who you talk to though, everyone has a slightly different understanding of what ‘quality’ means to them. For example:

•    Quality is an experience of the customer.
•    Service quality perception comes from your service process design and the customer contact impressions.
•    A degree of excellence.
•    Conformance to requirements.
•    Reliability comes from achieving quality standards.
•    Quality is fulfilling the customer’s purpose in a way that matters to them.
•    Quality simply means delivering to the customer what they expected.
•    Quality means doing it right when no-one is looking.

When auditing NDIS services through the lens of the Quality Indicator Guidelines, I am looking at the approach used by the service to provide valued responses to people with disabilities.  I am particularly interested in factors such as:

•    How the needs and expectations of customers (people with disabilities) and other interested parties have been assessed and acted upon.
•    The processes and responsibilities necessary to attain the desired outcomes of both internal (staff, business operations, etc.) and external customers (people with disabilities, family members, etc.).
•    The effectiveness and efficiency of processes applicable to the internal as well as external customer.
•    How complaints and incidents are managed, recorded, reported and reflected upon for further improvements.
•    How resources necessary to attain the desired outcomes and quality objectives are being used.
•    The service’s commitment towards establishing and applying a process for continual improvement, not only of its internal operating systems but also for its service delivery practices.
•    The difference, ideally including improved outcomes, the service and its operations makes in the life of the customer (person with disabilities).

When we talk about compliance, I believe we are talking about a very different approach to a focus on quality.  In my opinion, compliance is the process of striving to meet baseline or minimum requirements that have been determined either internally by the service or externally by an authoritative entity such as government.

Compliance is really about looking at consistency for a step in a process.  It doesn’t tell us whether the processes make a difference or not, or add value or not.  On the other hand, the practice of quality management in service delivery is more about coordinating all of the processes to achieve an intended result.  The emphasis here is on guiding a system of processes so that they align and maximise the opportunity for a system to meet a defined or intended outcome.

Simply thinking that complying with the NDIS Quality Indicator Guidelines will be adequate to get through an audit is actually nowhere near the truth and nor should it be.  At the end of the day, people with disabilities should experience better lives as a result of engaging with services, not be worse off.  Attention to quality management practices needs to take a pivotal centre stage position, not only in the preparations for audit but for all service delivery practices undertaken each and every day.

Thinking ahead:

1.    What approach does your service take in preparing for audit?
2.    Who do you think provides excellent service delivery for people with disability?    What makes them stand out from the rest?
3.    If you want to honestly and courageously look at whether you are providing quality services or are focusing on compliance to the exclusion of quality, give Kathy a call on 0417608261.