Scottish National Standards for Information and Advice Providers: a quality assurance framework

Scottish National Standards for Information and Advice Providers: a quality assurance framework 2009.

2. Standards for Planning

These Standards aim to ensure that all members of the community have access to high quality information and advice. The planning of services is a key component of developing a quality service.

Standard 2.1

All service providers must be clear about the remit of their service and the boundaries of their service.

The effective delivery of a service and the ability of that service to assess its work depends upon the service establishing clear strategic aims and operational objectives.

To comply with this Standard, Type I providers will be required to produce a statement that identifies the strategic aims and operational objectives for the service that includes:

  • Why the service is provided
  • Who the service is for and
  • The type of service to be provided

All of those involved in the planning, management and delivery of the service should be able to summarise these aims and objectives.

In addition, Type II and Type III providers will be required to evidence:

  • The type of service to be provided, including any criteria for selecting different types of intervention and
  • What each type of intervention aims to achieve, for example, why you have opted for a telephone service, or why you provide outreach as well as office based services

TIP One local authority serving a large geographical area where many people living in rural communities have difficulties accessing services worked in partnership to devise and deliver a homelessness advice phoneline. Using a variety of funding resources the partnership of the Council, the local advice network and Citizens Advice Direct provide a free and impartial telephone advice and information service. The service uses a combination of paid staff and volunteers. One important lesson they learned was the need to be very effective in promoting the service. They found that ongoing promotion of the service to council staff encouraging them to pass on details of the resource to clients who approached their offices was a useful way of raising awareness in the client group they were aiming to help.

The effective delivery of a service and the ability of that service to assess its work depends on establishing clear objectives. What it does and why it does it, who it is for and what it hopes to achieve are the fundamental questions that any service needs to answer.

Service providers should also regularly review the remit of their service and the boundaries of their service. The objectives of services may change over time. In some cases, this can be over quite a short time period, for instance where a specific need has been identified, action taken and the specific need has diminished. For other objectives, the time frame may be much longer. Regular review can:

  • Refocus the service on what its primary and secondary objectives are
  • Be used as an opportunity to examine the relationship of the service to the external environment, for instance on new and changed levels of need to which the service may wish to respond and
  • Ensure that its vision is understood, by clarifying its objectives, restating its aims and communicating the outcomes of this review to all stakeholders and partners

The statement does not need to be long but it should incorporate the service's aims and objectives. It should be underpinned by the values of the service and should be informed by the service's understanding of local needs.

Developing the Statement

If a service does not have a statement defining the service and establishing clear objectives, this should be undertaken as a priority. There are a number of publications that can guide services in this process. Services will need to decide who is going to be involved in this process - is it a task for the management committee or board alone; will staff play a full part in the process; how will other stakeholders be included in the process and what are their views? It may be appropriate to involve different interests at different stages.

Standard 2.2

All services must undertake a regular exercise to determine the profile of their local community and any special needs that may exist.

Services should be relevant to the needs of the community that they serve.

All service providers seeking to comply with this Standard will need to demonstrate that a community profile is maintained and updated at least once every two years.

TIP Where different agencies are serving the same community it may make sense to share community profiling information or to pool resources to create a community profile.

A community profile should provide the service with indicators of:

  • Income deprivation
  • Work deprivation and
  • Housing deprivation

The degree of depth required in the community profile is dependent upon the Type of service provided. Type I providers will be expected to gather demographic data on:

  • The number of people who are workless and claiming benefit within the service's catchment area
  • The number of households in receipt of Housing Benefit / Council Tax Benefit / Income Support
  • The number of people from minority ethnic communities and
  • The proportion of households in owner occupation, private rented accommodation and social housing

Type II and Type III providers will be expected to gather additional demographic information on:

  • The number of people over 60
  • The number of lone parent families
  • The number of single households
  • The number of people with long term limiting illnesses
  • The proportion of households in owner occupation, private rented accommodation and social housing
  • The number of homeless persons
  • The number of households lacking two or more basic amenities
  • The number of people in rent arrears / Council Tax arrears
  • The take up of Working Tax Credit
  • The take up of Child Tax Credit and
  • The take up of Pension Credit

These categories may be adjusted depending upon the community that the service aims to target. For example, a Young Persons project would not be expected to gather data on the number of people over 60, but may be expected to gather more detailed information on the profile of young people in its area.

Type II and Type III services will also be expected to produce an annual statement identifying any specific advice needs anticipated for these communities. This should be incorporated into the Service Plan required in Standard 2.4 (page 19).

Services should be informed by the needs of the community or communities that they wish to serve. In planning a wholly new service, an extension of existing services, or any change in provision that relates to the overall objectives of a service, providers should conduct research into the profile of the community it serves, levels of need, existing service provision and likely future demand.

TIP There are other factors which impact on advice needs. For example, research indicates that high levels of crime in an area increase demands for housing and money advice.

It is worth noting that these demographic categories have been selected as they are seen as reliable indicators of advice need, and that information is readily accessible and held by local authorities. When gathering this information services should be aware that it is likely to be held by other people and huge resources should not be needed to access other people's information.

Standard 2.3

All service providers must develop long-term plans that cover a period of three to five years.

The maintenance of a quality service that is able to apply its resources in response to local needs is dependent upon that service planning for the future.

To comply with this Standard, Type I providers will be required to evidence:

  • An outline forward plan or strategy document that anticipates future resources and service patterns

This should be supported by evidence in the form of, for example, management committee minutes, that those responsible for the planning and management of the service monitor the service against this plan at least annually.

In addition, Type II and Type III providers' forward plan should include:

  • Estimates of future need
  • Consideration of the availability of other services in the locality

The maintenance of a quality service that is able to apply its resources in response to local needs is dependent upon that service planning for the future. Planning helps to:

  • Set a sense of purpose and direction
  • Establish priorities
  • Establish how resources should be allocated
  • Provide a framework for evaluating proposals and opportunities and
  • Provide a framework for more detailed operational or work plans

The following 'hierarchy' of planning may help clarify some of these issues.

The Strategic Plan focuses on longer-term questions, set in the framework of the service's aims and objectives. It seeks to answer questions such as 'Where do we want the service to be in five years' time?' and 'How does our vision of where we want to be reflect on our mission (our aims and objectives)?' Preparation of a Strategic Plan provides an opportunity to establish the context within which the service operates. Strategic Plans are prepared at less frequent intervals, and are reviewed at stages during the life of the plan.

The Business Plan focuses on the activities, systems, skills and resources required to achieve the objectives set out in the Strategic Plan. They are often prepared for a shorter period, usually around three years, but with considerably more detail in the first year. They are subject to continuous review through regular monitoring activity.

The Service Plan (see Standard 2.4, page 19) is prepared for each year, along with the annual budget, and will include the items noted in Section 1.5 (see page 135). As discussed in that section, individual work plans are developed on the basis of the overall Service Plan for the year's activity.

The Standard does not aim to be prescriptive in respect of forward planning by stating that all services must have both a strategic and a business plan.

There are useful publications that can guide services through the strategic and business planning processes. We include a summary process below.

Forward planning will start from the basis of defining or reviewing the mission statement and reviewing the achievements of the service over the last defined period, which may be the period of the last forward plan, if the service has one, or another period, specifically chosen.

It can be helpful to start the process by involving those responsible for planning, managing and delivering the service in an environmental review which undertakes a SWOT analysis of the service (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). This can help clarify a wide range of issues that face the service.

The next stages will involve defining where the service wants to go, for instance new service development, extending existing services, changing services, ending services and so on. It is important to look at the balance of activities in the service matched against its aims and objectives. For instance, it may be a good idea to develop an education project on advice, but how will this type of development impinge on the main activities of the service in delivering advice and information? Will it extend the work that can be done, or will resource constraints mean that some existing work will no longer be carried out? How will this impact on the level of need that exists in the community?

This process should then lead to setting priorities for the future.

TIP Developing an education project using a housing situation and covering issues of money management, debt and welfare benefits is an opportunity to work with other advice providers to understand and agree your respective areas of expertise. Developing this kind of working relationship will help you to meet Standards 4.3 and 5.7.

Once the service has defined where it wants to go, it will need to define what it needs to get there - the overall resource needs of the service projected into the future. It will need to look at finance, skills needs and the costs of achieving the skills required to develop and maintain services into the future. Investment decisions, such as new computer systems or a move to new premises, also form part of the plan.

TIP Good practice suggests that whilst planning may seem to be a resource demanding activity, particularly for smaller services, the investment in planning does pay off enabling the service to avoid the stresses of crisis management and enabling it to meet its defined aims and objectives in the most efficient and effective way.

Both strategic and business planning require time. It is important at the start of the process to set out a clear timetable and build in a realistic amount of time for each stage of the process. This is particularly important if the service wants to ensure that the process can include all relevant contributions, from staff and from committee members. Despite the time demands the planning process is an empowering process within a service and can increase the effectiveness with which services pursue their objectives.

Standard 2.4

All services must produce an annual service plan that seeks to ensure the best match between the needs of service users and the resources available to provide the service.

The effective delivery of services is greatly assisted by the careful planning of services. The service plan is part of the forward planning process, but specifically focuses on the current strategy for the service.

Type I providers seeking to comply with the Standards will need to produce an annual service plan which:

  • Identifies current resources
  • Identifies the service that will be provided, including location and hours of operation and
  • Identifies the service's relationship with other service providers in their locality

Type II and Type III providers will need to ensure that their annual service plan also:

  • Specifies methods of service delivery including office based, surgeries, home visits, telephone enquiries, and so on
  • Identifies the estimated number of service users by Type I, Type II and Type III and
  • Identifies the service's relationship with other service providers in their locality

This should be supported by evidence in the form of, for example, management committee minutes, that those responsible for the planning and management of the service monitor the service against at least once every three months.

TIP The service plan should be summarised and available to service users and potential service users.

The service plan should follow and be consistent with the service's Mission Statement or Statement of Aims (see Standard 2.1, page 138). As with the earlier section, the service plan is needed in order that the service knows what it is doing, why it is doing it and how it is going to do it.

Careful planning means looking at the skills and the resources that are available and employing them as effectively as possible to meet the needs of the service users, to ensure that the best quality of service can be provided within the given resources to the greatest number of people. It is a recognition of the priorities of a service in the deployment of all its resources, financial, physical, and human, including the best use of the skills of individual staff members.

Effective planning also helps to identify gaps in resources. These gaps can be filled in a number of ways. The extension of a service through effective planning does not necessarily mean that new financial resources are needed. It should mean that a service is using its existing resources more efficiently and effectively, possibly through changes in working practices, through partnership working with other services or in a number of other innovative ways.

Planning may show that shifting resources from one area of the service to another can achieve more effective delivery to particular need areas. It can also identify areas where a pooling of skills and resources, for instance between services or by eliminating duplication of services, can ensure a more focused or wider service. Planning helps to set the objectives and targets which are essential in monitoring and evaluating that service.

Home-visiting services or mobile advice services may be part of a service plan. It should be noted that whilst these methods of delivery can improve access they are resource intensive. Such services therefore need clear guidelines on who the service is for. For example, is it for the housebound or for all those who cannot easily reach the centre because of lack of transport?

The Standard sets clear guidelines for what needs to be included in the service plan. The service plan enables services to set individual work plans for staff and volunteers as appropriate. It is an opportunity to establish targets and where these are being set for individual staff, they should be developed as part of the service plan. Increasing the level of skills available to the service through the recruitment of new staff and volunteers should be included, as should training plans.

The plan should be developed and published on a regular basis. In many services, staff members will develop the service plan. This may be a process undertaken by senior staff in a larger service (for instance by the management team); it may include specifically requested inputs from staff with specific responsibilities. In smaller services, it may be a designated task for one member of staff, or undertaken by the staff team together or in partnership with the management committee.

It is the responsibility of the Board or management committee to receive and approve the service plan, because it involves the strategic direction of the service and carries resource implications. Management information should be provided regularly to the Board on the progress of the plan, for example, in meeting any targets set or any adjustments required to respond to emerging needs or pressures.

Standard 2.5

All services must regularly review their work against the aims and objectives for their service and make the results of these reviews available in a publicly accessible format at least once a year.

The maintenance of a quality service requires that those providing the service monitor and evaluate their work and integrate any findings into the future development of their service. All services complying with Standards 2.1 to 2.2 (see pages 138 to 139) should have developed mechanisms for review. This Standard seeks to ensure that services are accountable in their planning and review to their stakeholders.

All providers seeking to comply with this Standard will require:

  • Documented evidence of collation of service statistics, analysis and consideration by those responsible for planning the service and
  • Documentation available on public accessibility of this information (for example, inclusion in Annual Report, Service Review, and so on)

TIP Many services are confused about the difference between monitoring and evaluation. For the purposes of this guidance:

  • Monitoring is both a tool for evaluation and a way of providing essential management information. It is defined as the collection and recording of information relevant to the operation of the service. It enables regular feedback to be provided on the outputs of a service, but cannot assess the quality of outputs or outcomes of a service's work.
  • Evaluation is an overall assessment of the performance of the service in meeting its aims and furthering its values. It can vary from the evaluation of specific activities or parts of a service through to the review of the service as whole.

An annual review should look at the work of the past year and evaluate it, to enable the work for the following year to be planned, building on the successes and remedying the failures of the past year. As noted above under service planning, each service should set priorities for the year ahead and identify the key targets which will indicate whether the service is continuing to meet the needs of its service users. The review is then built into this process as an integral part of the planning cycle.

The annual review will also inform the review process of the strategic/long-term plan. Aspects of the strategic plan can be assessed against the outcomes for the year, and longer-term assumptions can be adjusted as a result of this process. At the micro level, the annual review can also be used to adjust individual work plans and priorities and identify where any gaps in meeting the current needs of the service are occurring.

TIP Services need to accept that it may not be possible to review every element of the service at one time. It is important to identify those areas which are key to the service and those areas on which a special focus should be held in a particular year, for example education and outreach work, networking, research and publications. A rolling programme of review can then be developed which will aim to focus in depth on other areas of the service in subsequent years.

The review should look, however, at both service delivery and the administrative systems which facilitate and record interventions.

Areas that should be examined in the review process include:

  • The annual plan and how far it was achieved; what the shortfall areas were; how any specific targets were met or not
  • The functioning of administrative systems, including data collection methods
  • Individual work/caseloads
  • Customer feedback, including action taken as a result of complaints
  • Staffing records, including leave, sickness, training, and so on
  • Publicity and public relations
  • Policy and procedure compliance, particularly in respect of equal opportunities and courtesy, and so on and
  • Any special focus areas (as noted above)

Where staff alone are involved in the annual review process, a regular report should be written for those with overall responsibility for the planning of the service, such as management committees.

The review process should be part of a wider commitment of a service to ensure that it is providing value for money and that it is meeting need. It is important, therefore, that service providers find ways of ensuring that the outcomes of reviews are published and distributed. This may be through an Annual Report or through specific reports.

TIP It is important to remember that services are being provided for the benefit of users. The review cycle should also include an impact assessment of this aspect of your service.

Standard 2.6

All services must be subject to regular independent review and/or evaluation.

Reviews or evaluations are tools for ensuring the relevance, efficiency and effectiveness of a service. They are an essential management tool to ensure the ongoing development of a quality service and provide means of demonstrating an agency's competence to the public and other stakeholders.

For local authority provided services this could include best value reviews and equality impact assessments undertaken by another part of that local authority or by an independent contractor.

For local authority or registered social landlord services this could include The Housing Regulator inspection reports where these have looked in detail at the advice component - however, this would only be relevant for those agencies offering only homelessness related advice.

For Citizens Advice Bureaux this may include the membership review.

Other evidence may include where advice provision has been reviewed in a locality (for example, as part of a local authority review of advice provision). An individual agency should be able to demonstrate that the conclusion in such a review covers their agency and that any recommendations emerging have been reviewed by their governing body.

If an external review has not been possible, an internal review must involve, as a minimum, consultation with service users and other stakeholders.

A review should cover:

  • Service remit (see Standard 2.1)
  • Efficiency - the functioning of administrative systems, data collection methods, staffing records, case loads and value for money
  • Effectiveness - the extent to which the targets in the annual or business plans have been achieved and future plans for meeting any shortfalls
  • Impact - the outcomes of the advice on individual service users and the wider community and
  • Relevance - the views of service users and other stakeholders on the future priorities for the service

All reviews and evaluations (and summaries of reviews and evaluations) should be made publicly available.

Agencies that are audited through the National Standards accreditation scheme will be able to use the audit to demonstrate that they have reviewed the quality of outputs and the efficiency of their service. The audit will also seek to establish that they have systems for ensuring the continued relevance of their service. However, it does not make a judgement on how relevant the service is - prior to securing accreditation agencies will need to demonstrate that they have sought the views of service users and other stakeholders and that this evidence has been used in reviewing the remit of the service.

TIP One advice provider which has achieved accreditation has two Council link officers on the Board of Directors. The link officers have a role in monitoring the performance of the project against the service agreement and undertake an annual review of the service agreement acting as a first point of contact between the advice provider and its funders and working with them to resolve any difficulties.


Email: Phone: 0300 244 4000 Post: Central Enquiry Unit
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