Quality assurance approaches

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Two different approaches are commonly used for quality assurance. These are known as the compliance model and the continuous improvement model. The PDSA cycle fits into the latter model.

The compliance model

In general, the compliance model involves:

  • A written system of policies and procedures (a quality management system) which tightly defines how organisation functions should take place
  • Regular checks on compliance - ie that activities have closely followed the policies and procedures. These checks (often called audits) often take place annually.
  • A system of reporting on compliance - e.g. in the minutes of meetings.

Who's responsible? generally, those in management roles monitor compliance with written policies which include procedures and processes for reporting on quality assurance.

The continuous improvement model


As its name suggests, this model focuses on ongoing review of quality and development of improvements. The model was originally developed by Dr Deming and based on the work of his mentor, Walter Shewhart (The W. Edwards Deming Institute, 2016).

Who's responsible? in general, all staff work collaboratively on quality improvement through regular meetings ('quality circles') to discuss issues and changes needs for improvement.

The PDSA cycle shows a continuous improvement process involving four stages:

  • Plan: a plan is developed
  • Do: the plan is implemented
  • Study: information is gathered on the implementation and its effectiveness reviewed
  • Act: changes are identified from the information gathered.

Note that the cycle is an endless loop!

OP icon activity.gif


Find out about the quality assurance processes in your own professional context:

  • What processes are there in relation to teaching and learning (eg evaluation by students) and how do they operate?
  • What processes are there at institutional level (eg course approval) and how do they work?
  • To what extent are the two models described above (continuous improvement and compliance) reflected in your institution's quality assurance processes?

We suggest you gather together copies of any relevant policies or guidelines for future reference.


Extra resources

If you'd like to find out more about different models of quality assurance and how these have developed over time, check out:

  • Quality Assurance


The W. Edwards Deming Institute. (2016). PDSA Cycle. (2016). The W. Edwards Deming Institute. Retrieved from https://deming.org/management-system/pdsacycle