How PQASSO works

Quality areas

PQASSO is built on 11 topics or quality areas. These are the building blocks an organisation needs in order to be able to operate to a high standard.

  1. Governance
  2. Planning
  3. Leadership and management
  4. User-centred service
  5. Managing people
  6. Learning and development
  7. Managing money
  8. Managing resources
  9. External communications
  10. Working with others
  11. Assessing outcomes and impact

PQASSO breaks down each topic into three levels. This enables organisations to assess how they are doing and plan a clear path for development in each area. Self-assessment involves different people in your organisation discussing how well you are doing against the indicators and whether any improvements are needed.

Each area includes a series of indicators which show broadly what your organisation should be doing to meet its desired level of PQASSO. Each area also includes examples of sources of evidence which offer some ideas about where you might look for evidence to demonstrate that your organisation has met the indicators.

PQASSO offers a staged approach to implementing quality through three levels of achievement. All organisations should cover the requirements of Level 1. More established or complex organisations may then decide to move on to Level 2 and then Level 3. In each quality area, the standard itself is clearly defined and applies to all organisations. To work through the quality area, you ask yourself if you meet the indicators at the level you are working, and you set out plans to make any necessary improvements.

PQASSO may be used in a variety of ways, including as an organisational healthcheck or to help guide organisational development and growth. Organisations implement PQASSO by assessing themselves against standards and indicators using evidence to support judgements made. PQASSO also offers an external accreditation: the PQASSO Quality Mark.

Read the guidance documents on PQASSO indicators for more information:

Find out more about the assessment process and the essential documentation. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any questions about PQASSO. 

How can PQASSO help you demonstrate outcomes?

PQASSO helps you to place the outcomes of your work at the heart of your organisation and project activity. It focuses on how you plan and also on the evidence you provide of the results and benefits of your work. This means having a clear framework of what you want to achieve – your aims and objectives, your planned outcomes and intended wider impact – and a corresponding plan for what you monitor and evaluate.

PQASSO's results quality area is divided under four different headings – user results, people results, organisational results and community results.

  • User results asks for evidence of user outcomes and also asks for other results, such as user satisfaction, reach and access to services.
  • People results addresses the results of your human resources practices; it asks for evidence, for example, of the benefits of training and development, the results of health and safety practices and whether staff and volunteers feel properly supported, valued and committed to the organisation.
  • Organisational results requires evidence of the results of organisational processes, such as its financial health, or how it has benefited from partnerships.
  • Community results refers to the benefits of your work over and above your service user outcomes, for example, how you benefit the local economy by employing staff and engaging volunteers, or by reducing its environmental impact.

How does PQASSO deal with equality and diversity?

Some PQASSO standards relate specifically to equality and diversity.

  • Specific aims and intended outcomes are based on needs of users, including minority groups.
  • User groups are clearly defined and targeted to prevent unfair discrimination or exclusion from services.
  • The organisation plans, promotes and delivers its services to that it is fully accessible to its users.
  • The organisation monitors access to its services and benefits in light of its equality and diversity policies and plans.
  • Positive steps are taken to understand and respond to the specific access needs of users and to improve access to information and services.
  • Recruitment and selection processes are clear and fair, and follow all equality and diversity requirements.
  • Premises are secure, welcoming and accessible and meet the requirements of disability discrimination legislation.

How can PQASSO help with governance?

It is surprising how many organisations make significant mistakes when it comes to governance, for example, operating outside of their own policies and procedures, and even in some cases outside of charity and company law. Ignoring your governance or being ignorant towards your governance requirements can cause a number of problems including operating in a risky way, lack of transparency, and even operating illegally.

Using PQASSO does give organisations a framework within which to review and improve their governance, but you also need to understand your own requirements.

  • Read and review your charitable objects (they are at the top of your governing document); make sure that all the work you are delivering is still within these charitable objects.
  • Read carefully ALL rules in your governing document, and make sure you implement them in practice. From electing and resigning trustees, to quorums, eligibility for trusteeship, sub-committees, roles of officers, and so on. Many of these requirements are not set out by law, they are set out in your own governing document.
  • Make sure all proceedings are undertaken in a transparent way (meetings, decisions, conflicts).

What level of PQASSO should we apply for?

You can apply to be assessed at any level of PQASSO depending on the level you have attained through self-assessment.

If you do apply at Level 2 or Level 3, you will be expected to demonstrate that you have met all the indicators at your chosen level and those of the levels below. However, you do not need to have achieved the PQASSO Quality Mark at Level 1 before applying to be assessed at levels 2 or 3.

PQASSO levels

We are often asked if Level 1 of PQASSO is the first of the three levels, and if this means that Level 1 is the introductory or basic level. This is not the case. There is also sometimes a view that if an organisation is using PQASSO, then they should be working towards what are perceived to be the ‘higher’ therefore ‘better’ levels. This is also not the case.

PQASSO was designed with 3 levels to give organisations of varying size, culture and operating practices the right ‘fit’. For many organisations, limited staff capacity, resources or simply organisational culture or working patterns, means that Levels 2 and 3 are just not a suitable ‘fit’.

Most PQASSO users, as well as PQASSO Quality Mark awardees are Level 1 – it is the most common and popular level by far.

Achieving PQASSO Level 1 reflects an organisation that is legally sound, operating efficiently and effectively, is meeting its aims and objectives and is generally fit for purpose. A Level 1 organisation is not a basic organisation, but is an organisation that is working at a recognised level of quality.

Once they have achieved Level 1, more established, larger or more complex organisations might decide to progress to Level 2, and then possibly Level 3. Decisions to progress to Levels 2 or 3 will depend on your aspirations as an organisation and the resources you have available. Level 3 in particular is challenging and is intended for organisations which have well established systems in place, which are well resourced, and which aspire to being leaders in their field.

PQASSO lets you set your own pace

The key message about the three levels of PQASSO is that you set your own pace, deciding which level or levels you want to achieve. This will depend on your organisation’s own priorities and the resources available to you. 

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