DIVING IN to Continuous Quality Improvement: A CQI Primer

Today’s guest post is from Clarke Hill, Director of Quality Improvement at BGCA. Her team is known around the office as the KOALAS! 🙂

You might have heard of Continuous Quality Improvement or CQI. Maybe your Club is participating in a CQI process such as the Weikart Center’s Youth Program Quality Intervention, or maybe this the first time you are seeing this term.  CQI is a term you will  hear a lot more of over the coming years, because it is an important process that will help all of us achieve our goals of providing young people a High Quality Club Experience.

So what is CQI? 

Simply put, CQI is a quality improvement system that includes an ongoing process of assess, plan, and improve.  At an organization using CQI effectively, staff and leadership work together to improve the quality of their services through collecting data, creating improvement plans based on the data, and implementing a systematic improvement process.

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Why is it continuous? Shouldn’t we improve everything immediately?

The reality is we all likely have multiple areas that need improvement.  If we try to take on too much all at once, we will not be successful and likely discontinue the CQI process because it is “too hard,” when actually WE made it difficult by setting unrealistic expectations for our organizations and staff.  Creating three SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) Goals that fall on a spectrum of difficulty is a great first step.

What does my Club need to do to prepare?

While the process does not need to be overly complicated, there are several things to consider before starting your own CQI efforts.  In order to be successful, your organization must be willing to learn new practices and allow staff to learn as well.  So often CQI systems fail because an organization creates a high stakes environment where quality improvement work is part of performance reviews, and staff can be disciplined for not succeeding.  To truly allow for quality improvement, staff need to feel safe trying out new things.  There will be road bumps, barriers, and failures along the way, all of which are good learning opportunities as long as the organization has a CQI culture built on transparency and respect between leadership and staff.

What does CQI look like in practice?

The Continuous Quality Improvement Cycle

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Credit- Rachel Williams, BGCA

Assess Phase – During this phase your organization will collect multiple sources of data.  Some examples include Member Surveys (NYOI Club Experience), Staff Observations (Youth Program Quality Assessment), Pulse Checks, and/or other metrics (average daily attendance, demographics, program attendance). You will want to decide on your sources and create a schedule for when you will collect the data (i.e. when will you conduct member surveys or staff observations).

Plan Phase– Once you have collected everything, look at all the data sets together.  This process should involve a large portion of your staff.  In particular, make sure you include youth development professionals that work directly with young people.  We often forget this voice and it is vital to our success.  Based on what is found in the data, Club staff will create an improvement plan that includes SMART Goals with clear action steps. The improvement plan should include a realistic deadline for goal completion.

Improve Phase– This is often the longest phase of the CQI process.  During this time your organization will execute any action steps in your improvement plans, such as staff training, curriculum development, resource development, etc. You will also track your progress and measure your success.  Well-developed SMART goals include a system for tracking and measuring, which is vital to successful CQI efforts. Additionally, during this time you will want to celebrate along the way.  To keep staff motivated, it is key to celebrate small success when they happen and have a plan for recognizing staff achievements. Celebration and recognition often fall by the wayside, however staff motivation is instrumental to quality improvement.

Once you have implemented the three phases you will assess your goals and decide if you met them.  If you met every goal, you can move on to your next CQI cycle.  If there are some goals that need more time, they can be adjusted and moved into your next CQI cycle.

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How will this benefit my Club? 

The most obvious benefit is improving the experience of our members.  We want every young person that walks through the door of a Boys and Girls Club to have the highest quality programming available to them. Research has shown that increased program quality leads to increased youth outcomes.  Not only will youth enjoy their time at the Club more, they will also achieve higher outcomes.  We have also seen that Clubs that participated in CQI increased their NYOI measures.

Another benefit that may not be so obvious is staff morale.  Organizations that implement CQI successfully have a culture of transparency and respect between staff and leadership. Additionally, a CQI system should focus on the process of improvement which makes it less personal and takes “blame” off the staff members individually.

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How do we get started? 

There are lots of tools and resources in the Great Futures 2025 Resource Center on BGCA.net which are broken down into the three phases of assess, plan, and improve. If you are not currently using a staff observation assessment, the Youth Program Quality Assessment is available for free download on the Weikart Center’s website. You can also find all of our ClubX Blog posts on NYOI, the Club Experience, and data in the NYOI tab at the top of the page.

What has been your experience with CQI? How have you trained and celebrated with your staff? What questions do you have? Comment below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email ClubXBlog@bgca.org to share!


Clarke Hill has been with BGCA since October 2017 and has worked in youth development since 2000. Her work at BGCA focuses on how to lead Clubs through Quality Improvement. When she’s not at work she is most likely reading or cooking! 


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