So what does "accountable" mean? It means different things depending on who is asking the question. Think about the way people purchase a service or product. Some people want to know everything about their purchase. These people will research every aspect, poring through information from Consumer's Report to word-of-mouth from present and former customers. They will then determine if the cost for the service or product is truly a fair investment for the potential result. Then, there are those people - usually most people - who just want to be sure that the service is of a quality standard to fulfill their needs without any research into the subject. These folks usually rely on word-of mouth coupled with a few basic and agreed upon standards for measurement.
The Balanced Scorecard
In the early 1990's Dr. Robert Kaplan and Dr. David Norton of the Harvard Business School developed a strategic management and measurement system called "the Balanced Scorecard." Recognizing some of the weaknesses and vagueness of previous management approaches, the balanced scorecard approach provides a clear direction toward what companies should measure to "balance" the financial viewpoint. The balanced scorecard is a management system - not just a measurement system - that enables organizations to clarify their vision and strategy and translate them into action. Then, it provides feedback around both the internal business processes and external outcomes in order to continuously improve strategic performance and results.
The balanced scorecard suggests that the business leaders and employees view the organization from four perspectives: learning and growth, business process, customer perspective and financial performance. Then it prescribes that the business should develop metrics, collect data and analyze it according to each of the perspectives. The value of these measurements provides strategic feedback to show the present status of the organization from many perspectives for decision makers. The key areas are:
- Diagnostic feedback into various processes to guide improvements on a continuous basis.
- Trends in performance over time as the metrics are tracked.
- Feedback around the measurement methods themselves, and which metrics should be tracked.
- Quantitative inputs to forecasting methods and models for support systems.
Applying The Balanced Scorecard Concept To Emergency Services: ISO and CFAI
There are two key organizations that measure the quality and ability of a fire department: ISO and CFAI. The Insurance Services Organization (ISO) rating has been used over the past 50 years predominantly to measure the strength and preparation of a fire department's resources (physical and human) to deliver its service to the community. Its significant use is tied to the community through the discount an insurance company gives to businesses in the jurisdiction that the fire department protects. The lower the ISO rating from one to 10, the better the quality of the service as it affects the department's ability to protect the community.
The mission of CFAI is to assist fire and emergency service agencies in achieving excellence through self-assessment and accreditation. The purpose of CFAI is to support continuous improvement and enhancement of service to the community. CFAI seeks to understand the underlying reasons for the success of a department as well as provide a roadmap to achieving service excellence. The model for this process includes ten performance categories:
- Governance and administration
- Assessment and alanning
- Goals and objectives
- Financial resources
- Physical resources
- Human resources
- Training and competency
- Essential resources
- External system relationships
Among these ten categories there are 255 performance indicators, 118 of which are core competencies, such as water supply, prevention programs and staffing levels. Presently, there are 113 fire departments that have received the prestigious accreditation designation. CFAI is blazing a trail of quality and credibility for the fire and emergency services.
However, CFAI should consider developing a "balanced scorecard" conceptually along the lines we have discussed in this article. This would be a sort of "shorthand" so that any citizen, business or institution within a department's jurisdiction will know how accreditation relates to the quality of the protection from their department 24 hours a day, year after year. Perhaps there is a way to describe measurements for each of the 10 key categories so citizens and local public officials can understand how the department in their community applies them directly to the protection it provides. These are simply ideas to consider as we continue to refine the CFAI process in the near future.