Quality Assurance Framework

Guided by the Ombudsman Act 1973 (Vic) and associated legislation, the Ombudsman’s role is to ensure fairness for Victorians in their dealings with the public sector and to improve public administration.  
 
As an oversight body, we are a means of quality assurance for government and other jurisdictional agencies. As such, we must be a model exemplar in our work and execute our functions to the highest standard. The best way to ensure that we maintain excellence is to have a conceptual framework that guides our consistent commitment to, and practice of, high quality work.
 
The Ombudsman is committed to high-quality management of complaints and investigations. Essential to this is a culture that promotes and models continuous improvement and accountability in the performance of the Ombudsman’s functions.
 
VO’s legislation, policies, procedures and guidance materials should be read in conjunction with this document.

What is the scope of the Framework?

 
The QA Framework articulates four key elements of VO’s statutory functions: decision making, service delivery, record keeping and considering human rights.
 
Decision making
  • Delegations of the Ombudsman’s powers are understood and lawfully exercised by Statutory Functions staff.
  • Decisions are consistent with legislation, VO policy and procedures.
  • Decisions, including the exercise of discretion, are evidence based.
  • Procedural fairness requirements are applied, including but not limited to giving people a fair hearing and being conscious of actual or apprehended bias.
  • VO staff are alert to circumstances where matters should be escalated to more senior officers.
  • VO staff consider available options and their impacts, and take proportionate and judicious action.
Service delivery
  • Approaches, complaints and investigations progress in accordance with VO’s Service Delivery Charter and KPIs.
  • Policies and internal guidance materials enable:
    • Preparation of concise, accurate and clear written documents
    • Effective communication with the public and the public sector, and other external parties.
  • The actions of VO staff are guided by, and demonstrate, the organisation’s values of integrity, responsiveness, impartiality, accountability, accessibility and effectiveness.
Record keeping
  • Decisions made and actions taken by VO staff are appropriately recorded in Resolve (and, where appropriate, supported by TRIM records).
  • VO systems facilitate compliance with Public Records Office Victoria requirements.

Consideration of human rights in the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic)

  • VO staff are trained in interpreting and applying the Charter to our work, including accessibility for people with a disability and responding to challenging or unreasonable behaviours.
  • VO policies, procedures, and organisational plans (such as the Accessibility Action Plan and the Reconciliation Action Plan) incorporate human rights considerations to enable VO staff to identify and address Charter issues in complaints, investigations and portfolio work.

What is achieved by using the Framework?

 
Through the QA process, we:
 
Ensure fairness and improve public administration
  • VO staff deal with approaches, complaints and investigations lawfully, fairly and independently.
  • Procedural fairness requirements are followed.
  • Conflicts of interest are declared and appropriately managed.
  • VO reports on and makes recommendations to remedy misconduct and poor administration.
  • Reasons for decisions are clearly provided and documented.
  • Complainants are given the opportunity to seek an internal review or complain about how we delivered our service.
Enhance accountability
  • Public resources are used efficiently.
  • Regular reports on complaint trends, compliance with KPIs and audit results support organisational learning, and are published on the VO intranet, and included in VO’s annual report.
  • Effective supervision is provided to assist staff, monitor complaint handling, provide feedback and identify trends.
  • Service delivery timeframes are met and reasons for delay are recorded.
  • Record keeping, data entry and file maintenance standards and requirements are met.
Lead best practice in complaints handling and investigation
  • Staff comply with legislative requirements (including when exercising delegated powers) and confidentiality obligations.
  • VO staff receive training on Statutory Functions responsibilities and excellence in administration.
  • VO staff tailor their communications to meet the needs of complainants, witnesses and subjects.
  • VO templates are used consistently and judiciously.
  • Statutory Functions processes are documented and regularly reviewed to ensure that they are clear,
  • VO staff at all levels understand and comply with VO’s legislation, policies, procedures, and guidance materials
Protect human rights
  • All communication is courteous, respectful and audience-appropriate.
  • Correspondence and reports are written in plain English and are consistent with VO’s style guide.
  • VO staff are alert to, and assist, individuals with particular needs.
  • VO staff act in accordance with the Charter.
  • VO staff respond appropriately to challenging behaviours from members of the public.

How do we use the Framework?

 
VO follows the Australian/New Zealand Quality Assurance Standard[1] and uses a Plan–Do–Check–Act cycle to structure the process of how we undertake quality assurance activities.
 
To ensure that the high quality of our work is maintained and enhanced, QA draws on relevant VO legislation, policies, procedures, guidelines, business rules, decision making and actions, and our values.[2] These sources are subjected to the Plan-Do-Check-Act process outlined in various international standards for quality, compliance and business continuity.
 
High quality work relies on and is defined by being accountable for our decisions and actions. Our quality process is applied to both internal and external accountability mechanisms.

Internal accountability

 
VO internal accountability mechanisms include:
  • oversight by senior officers
  • audits
  • reporting against KPIs
  • staff development through the Performance Development Process (PDP)
  • peer reviews and feedback
  • communities of practice
  • internal reviews
  • internal compliance monitoring (Glasshouse report)
  • incident reporting.

Oversight by senior officers

 
Staff can refer to the Process Maps, descriptors of QA measures and VO’s policies, procedures and business rules which outline the key decisions and points in a complaint/investigation where senior officer oversight is required.
 
Oversight of cases by senior officers is ‘business as usual’ QA and includes:
  • Assistant Ombudsman/senior officer sign-off for specific correspondence based on delegations and/or sensitivity and risk of the matter
  • reviewing memoranda and correspondence
  • providing ongoing case advice and mentoring
  • fortnightly/monthly reviews
  • monitoring of interviews and telephone calls
  • ensuring the appropriate running of the portfolio
  • reporting to the Executive.
New staff on probation do not exercise their delegations until their manager has assessed their performance to be at a competent level.

Audits

 
Auditing provides an important, independent quality assurance mechanism. It allows for trends to be identified and for an objective means of feedback to staff members. It also provides for an objective measure which highlights strong performance.
 
Audits are undertaken as indicated by audit plans, which detail both team and whole of Statutory Functions audits. Staff and audit officers should refer to the plan and the audit templates for the quality and compliance criteria for each audit function. Where possible, audits are undertaken by a staff member with no previous involvement with the case or reporting obligations being audited. VO may also engage external auditors to conduct quality assurance audits of VO’s procedures and practices.
 
The results of audits are provided to the Assistant Ombudsman for that team who is then responsible for providing feedback to staff on their performance. The Assistant Ombudsman, PAI provides regular reports on audit results to the leadership group.

KPIs and reporting

 
Performance information, including key performance indicators (KPIs) help organisations, including the Ombudsman, understand how well they are performing against their strategic objectives. Aggregated statistical information is reported internally to all staff in meetings, and on the intranet via Evolve. VO also reports annually to government on its performance against specific service KPIs, referred to as ‘BP3 measures’.[3]
 
KPI reports are an important accountability measure and help Parliament, the community and the Ombudsman to:
  • assess the Ombudsman’s performance in achieving desired outcomes
  • ensure value for public funds
  • facilitate strategic planning
  • analyse and enhance resource management
  • highlight areas for improvement
  • benchmark performance against other Ombudsman offices
  • monitor trends and determine the impact of, and adjust for, factors such as change in complaint numbers or functions
  • link the strategic vision of the office to operational reality.
There are limitations to the use and reporting of KPIs. They are primarily quantitative in function and must be considered against individual circumstances, resourcing and other projects to provide a holistic and accurate picture of the performance of VO. Audit tools assist in identifying the causes of failure to meet KPI targets, and support us to devise strategies to address these.

Staff development through the PDP process

 
All VO employees are required to complete a PDP Plan and participate in the PDP process.
 
Performance standards which make up a staff member’s ‘progression criteria’ have been introduced, in line with the VPS Enterprise Agreement 2016 and the Ombudsman’s Strategic Framework. These include achieving performance targets, demonstrating public sector values and behaviours, and applying learning and development.

Peer reviews and feedback

 
VO values diverse sources of knowledge, and supports all staff to be thought leaders. All teams in Statutory Functions engage in peer review. Informal consultations with peers are encouraged for all staff, to include a variety of perspectives in decision making that is often highly discretionary. Led by operational staff, frequent peer reviews are held whereby cases are nominated by staff for discussion.
 
Written guidance on the nature of peer feedback being sought is circulated prior to the review, so that staff can be well informed and have time to prepare to offer their considered suggestions to the case owner. Written records, including preparatory material, and feedback given in the review, are recorded in the case file. To maximise a spread of views and expert input, staff from different teams across Statutory Functions are invited to give their views. Such collaborative efforts are based on VO’s understanding that all staff work together to achieve good outcomes for the Ombudsman.

Communities of practice

 
VO is committed to developing staff through a coaching model. Communities of Practice enable knowledge and lessons to be shared through facilitator-led sessions. Portfolio teams are the most prominent embodiment of our commitment to this approach. Each portfolio focuses on one Victorian Government department. All Statutory Functions staff belong to at least one portfolio, based on interest, expertise and corporate need.
 
Portfolio members scan Resolve at regular intervals to identify common issues in complaint/investigation handling, which can then be addressed by office wide training and learning. This is particularly useful following the publication of reports into systemic issues (for example, WorkSafe, kinship care, child protection) where there is a risk to the office if staff do not identify and act on issues identified through those reports.
 
Being subject matter experts, portfolios are the primary source of intelligence about jurisdictional agencies, and conduct checks on our data quality. Each Portfolio Manager, for example, leads:
  • Resolve scans of incoming complaints concerning the relevant agency
  • community of practice training to address knowledge gaps
  • reporting of identified trends or issues to the leadership group, and
  • regular briefings to the Executive on emerging strategic and operational issues.

Internal reviews

 
Complainants and respondents may request a review of the outcome and/or merits of the responsible VO officer’s assessment and handling of a case. VO’s ‘Complaints about the Ombudsman’ policy and procedures explains how such requests are to be handled. The Internal Review Group is responsible for dealing with internal review requests relating to VO’s statutory functions.
 
The purpose of conducting an internal review is to check that the original case was handled in compliance with the Ombudsman’s statutory obligations, policies and procedures, and to ensure that service standards were met. The Internal Review Group provides specific feedback to the original case officer, considers systemic issues, and proposes solutions to be implemented. The Coordinator of the Internal Review Group provides regular reports to the leadership group on how the group is operating, including any organisational learning that may arise from feedback from the public on how their issues were handled by VO.

Internal compliance monitoring (Glasshouse report)

 
The leadership group regularly consider reports on KPIs, internal reviews and audits. This is to ensure that it has visibility of the internal performance of the Ombudsman’s statutory functions, and that trends and common themes are considered and improvement projects implemented. The leadership group also reviews our report on our internal compliance with recommendations for administrative improvement that VO has made to other agencies.
 
This report is called the “Glasshouse report”, a name which captures the realisation that as a leader of administrative excellence, we must operate as if in a glasshouse, wherein the quality of how we work is visible to our stakeholders. The Glasshouse report checks that our practices are consistent with our best practice recommendations, to address the risk that we lose influence if we do not practice what we preach. This report is coordinated by the Assistant Ombudsman, PAI.

Incident reporting

 
VO’s incident reporting policy details staff and managers’ obligations to report and assess any incidents. Such events may include (but are not limited to):
  • unauthorised disclosure of confidential information
  • failures of key technology systems, including Early Resolution Team (ERT) operations
  • breaches of statutory requirements
  • threatened or actual harm to staff or contractors or visitors
  • non-compliance with procedures and business rules where there is potential for damage to the Ombudsman’s reputation.
Incidents are reported and analysed to ensure VO learns from them and identifies opportunities to reduce the likelihood of further occurrences.

External accountability

 
The Ombudsman is accountable to the Victorian Parliament and to all Victorians for our services. The Ombudsman provides visibility and accountability of her functions through the release of the Annual Report and other public reports. The Ombudsman also publishes its policies, announces investigations and conducts outreach work to facilitate greater transparency and public accountability. The Ombudsman is required to report specifically on the BP3 measures.
 
There are also external review mechanisms including the Accountability and Oversight Committee and the Victorian Inspectorate.

The Accountability and Oversight Committee


The Accountability and Oversight Committee has a number of functions under the Ombudsman Act, including:
  • monitoring, reviewing and reporting to parliament on the performance of the Ombudsman
  • examination of any reports by the Ombudsman that are tabled in Parliament.
It also has a function under the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003 (Vic) to monitor, review and report to Parliament on the performance of the Victorian Inspectorate regarding Ombudsman officers.

The Victorian Inspectorate

 
The Victorian Inspectorate has oversight of the Ombudsman under the Victorian Inspectorate Act 2011 (Vic), to a limited extent.
 
The Victorian Inspectorate may (whether in response to a complaint or as an own motion) investigate the conduct of an Ombudsman officer in respect of:
(a) the exercise of coercive powers
(b) compliance with procedural fairness requirements
 
The Ombudsman is required to notify the Victorian Inspectorate of uses of its coercive powers, including confidentiality notices and summonses, and to provide copies of recordings and transcripts of all interviews conducted as compulsory appearances.[4] The Ombudsman also has obligations under the Ombudsman Act to notify the Inspectorate of allegations of misconduct by an Ombudsman officer.

Responsibility for Quality Assurance

 
Ensuring quality work is the responsibility of all Victorian Ombudsman staff.
 
The Assistant Ombudsman, PAI is responsible for the coordination and oversight of QA and attendant audit programmes for Statutory Functions.
 

[1] AS/NZS ISO 9001:2016, Quality management systems – Requirements.
[2] VO’s Strategic Framework and Governance Framework outline VO’s organisational purposes, corporate planning and commitment to good governance. These support, and are in turn reinforced by, this QA Framework. The work of VO’s Audit and Risk Management Committee also assists QA processes through its focus on financial management, performance and sustainability, including risk management and procurement.
[3] It is a requirement of the Financial Management Act 1994 and the Standing Directions of the Minister for Finance and associated rules that VO has external reporting. These are the BP3 Measures which are set out in Budget Paper 3: Service Delivery.
[4] Under the Ombudsman Act, a ‘compulsory appearance’ includes attendance before the Ombudsman in response to a witness summons and any interview conducted by an Ombudsman officer where the interviewee is examined under oath or affirmation.