Regularly assessing the products, services, policies, practices, and procedures used by justice organizations is critical to assuring effectiveness and efficiency.
“Quality assurance,” often referred to as “QA,” is a term that is frequently used in grant stipulations/funding sources and within a variety of organizations, including justice agencies. “Quality” can be good or bad; however, when combined with “assurance,” the focus is on a high standard or degree of excellence. “Assurance” has several definitions, with the most common descriptors being “a promise” and “confidence.”
Confidence in the efforts and work of public and private justice organizations is essential to public safety. Justice organizations are frequently expected to prove effectiveness and efficiency to community members, stakeholders, and policymakers. Being able to demonstrate, with confidence, a high standard of excellence, aka quality assurance, should be top of mind for all justice agencies. In addition to identifying effectiveness and efficiencies, quality assurance measures should inform current and future funding decisions.
Research and practice have repeatedly demonstrated that practical tools and practices fall far short of their potential when sufficient quality assurance techniques are not in place.
Common Challenges with Quality Assurance in the Justice System
One of the most significant challenges experienced by organizations is inconsistent application and performance of preferred practices and procedures.
When practices and procedures are first deployed, training is typically provided to direct the implementation of most courses, systems, services, and products. There are times, however, when deployment may be as simple as a standard operating procedure being shared via shared communications channels yet not formally discussed with staff members to expound on intentions and expectations. Even the best-drafted written communication can be misinterpreted and, subsequently, improperly enforced.
If initial training is provided, it is often not repeated. Therefore, as new people come aboard, they don’t often receive the in-depth overview that others on the team receive. For instance, new employees may be trained by a well-intended colleague who may not provide the appropriate training because of their interpretation or lack of structured/ongoing training. Given the large amount of training required by justice professionals to maintain certification and comply with state, federal, and tribal laws, becoming overwhelmed by training expectations is not uncommon. Yet, training is absolutely critical to hiring efforts, ensuring the retention of good employees, and to continue to maintain the resources and/or funding needed for effective performance and outcomes.
With software solutions, failure to regularly train and/or provide frequent assessments of the solution can result in workarounds utilized by employees. These workarounds often create unnecessary work for employees, can compromise data integrity, and may quickly have unintended negative consequences for everyone in the organization.
When quality assurance can’t be measured, it is difficult to prove that even minimum standards and expectations are being met. Balancing necessary training, programs, resource delivery, and shift management in organizations that continue to experience staffing shortages requires intentional and strategic measures to ensure quality services, products, practices, policies, and procedures.
Strategies Supporting Quality Assurance in Justice Organizations
Justice organizations have a responsibility to ensure their practices are effective and meet or exceed minimum standards. One of the best quality assurance steps a justice organization can take is to deploy evidence-based services, products, practices, policies, and procedures.
Since evidence-based programs/products typically include key performance indicators (KPIs) that allow agencies to easily measure and monitor their outcomes and indicators. By developing outcomes and indicators as a team, utilizing data and evidence-based practices to inform decisions helps to build buy-in and utilization.
Training–initial and ongoing–remains one of the most criticized and frequently imposed expectations of justice professionals. It is also one of the most easily measurable strategies because, when adequately delivered and tracked, agencies can show the percentage of employees trained, pre- and post-knowledge, and whether or not an employee performed taught methods.
Below are a few necessary strategies justice organizations should take to ensure quality assurance:
- Establish Needs and Goals
- Conduct an assessment of staff and community needs, as well as safety and certification requirements
- Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals
- Procure Evidence-Based Practices and Resources
- Purchase and/or design practices and resources that are evidence-based and proven to garner positive outcomes
- Consult with other justice organizations to learn about their experience with evidence-based practices and tools
- Identify and Engage Key Employees
- Review organizational structure and determine which employees will have a direct role in the training and implementation of services, products, practices, policies, and procedures
- When possible, hire a dedicated employee or vendor to focus on implementation, ongoing knowledge and training, and regular review
- Training and Implementation
- Create a strategic plan that includes the training (initial and ongoing) schedule and subsequent implementation
- Piloting a new tool or practice within a small group in the organization may help to identify and eliminate quirks as well as to adjust to best meet needs and goals
- Frequent Review and Adjustments for Fit and Purpose
- Quality assurance review/examine practices to identify and correct divergence from policy or protocol
- Continuous quality improvement and adjustments ensure practices and procedures are performed consistently and to achieve high-performance standards and outcomes
By implementing intentional and structured goals, quality assurance reviews, and strategies, justice organizations are better able to:
- Unmask and eliminate deficiencies
- Identify and redirect practices that are out of alignment with the desired/trained behavior
- Work toward mastering essential skills and exceeding outcomes as opposed to simply obtaining compliance
- Gain and maintain community, stakeholders, and policymakers’ confidence in the organization’s ability to provide quality services
“Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution.” —John Ruskin, Victorian-era writer, philosopher, art critic, and polymath.
Related Resources from Carey Group
Strengthen your organization and improve your leadership skills and ability to implement and maintain healthy, productive organizational strategies: contact a Carey Group consultant who can connect you with effective, research-based policies, practices, and leadership tools.
Decades of experience demonstrate that aligning justice systems around evidence-based policies and practices offers the greatest promise of success. Carey Group offers services and products for justice system professionals, from evidence-based consulting to interactive workbooks that help improve the mental health and lives of people with involvement in the justice system.
Carey Group’s evidence-based training and consulting services address the needs of the justice system and behavioral health professionals. Training is an essential tool for keeping staff, supervisors, leadership, and stakeholders up to date with emerging knowledge and expectations for improved outcomes. Carey Group offers in-person, online, and self-directed courses on evidence-based practices, motivational interviewing, core professional competencies, case planning and management, continuous quality improvement, coaching, and the use of behavior-change tools and supervisor resources.