COA 2020 Edition | Digging Into Our New Standards

February 11, 2020

This is Part I of a series on the Council on Accreditation (COA)’s 2020 Edition updates. Visit Part II here.

On January 15, 2020, we released an enhanced and refined set of private, public, and Canadian standards on our website. All of the work was done with a single goal in mind: to increase the value of accreditation by focusing on those practices and activities that will have the greatest impact on the people and communities COA-accredited organizations work with.

Our goal: To increase the value of accreditation by focusing on those practices and activities that will have the greatest impact on the people and communities COA-accredited organizations work with.

Our approach to the work

The COA 2020 Edition was the culmination of a review of the literature on organizational effectiveness and valuable feedback from our volunteers, organizations, and partners who provided critical insight into which aspects of COA’s accreditation process and standards were impactful to organizations and their clients, and which were not. 

Our mission at COA is to partner with human and social service organizations to strengthen their ability to improve the lives of the people they serve. Our belief is that in order to have the greatest impact on clients, the entire organization—from Human Resources to Finance to those directly delivering services and beyond—must be working together to fulfill that organization’s mission. COA’s 2020 Edition was designed to highlight and strengthen that connection.

Refocusing the Self-Study process 

In service of focusing accreditation on the standards that promote the development of effective, mission-driven organizations that are equipped to meet the needs of their clients over time, we have refined the standards to:

1. Give organizations more time to devote to those practices that have a more direct impact on clients, and

2. Allow organizations to spend less time compiling evidence and more time improving practice.

This is reflected in the 2020 Edition in multiple ways.

Firstly, in the years of work leading up to the 2020 Edition Standards launch, we sought to tighten what we ask of organizations. We eliminated or combined redundant standards within and across sections. We reorganized similar content whenever possible, and we eliminated overlap with state and government regulation.

We also sought to clarify expectations and delete what wasn’t needed. One way this was accomplished was by minimizing Interpretations within the standards including converting those that were informational in nature and not required into “Examples,” deleting those that were unnecessary or outdated, merging required interpretive language into the standard whenever possible, and adopting naming conventions to clarify when Interpretations only apply to specific service types (e.g. FEC Interpretation). Another was by moving research notes out of the standards and into the Reference List for each section.

Finally, we made a concerted effort to alleviate evidence pain points identified by our organizations and volunteers. This included:

  • Deleting all narratives in both the AM/SDA sections and the Service sections
  • Deleting requests for “descriptions of services” from the self-study evidence
  • Minimizing requests for meeting minutes and clarifying the quantity that is needed when appropriate
  • Standardizing how we ask for training documentation
  • Standardizing how we ask for information on caseload or workload
  • Removing requests for documentation of legal compliance
  • Eliminating Data Sheets from the service sections except where they may be provided as an optional resource for reporting information when desired
  • Eliminating redundant evidence or documentation requests from across the various stages of the accreditation process

This all means that organizations seeking reaccreditation will see significant reductions in the volume of requested evidence. It is our intention that the staff time and resources gained from these reductions can be redirected to the practices that have the most impact on the individuals and families served.

2020 Edition Reduction Statistics

Homing in on Administration and Management (AM) standards

With the 2020 Edition, we wanted to clarify and strengthen the connection between Administration and Management (AM) standards of practice and mission fulfillment.

With that in mind, we reviewed all five of the administration and management standards, which include Human Resources (HR), Financial Management (FIN), Performance and Quality Improvement (PQI), Risk Prevention Management (RPM), and Governance (GOV), to identify and in some instances enhance the standards and evidence that will be used to assess the role each part of an organization plays in supporting impact or achieving its mission.

For a detailed breakdown of the important role each part plays in this, download our fact sheet here.

Highlighting the most important practices

As organizations familiar with our accreditation process know, Fundamental Practice (FP) standards are those standards that an organization must meet in order to achieve accreditation. With the mission impact-focus of the 2020 Edition, we have expanded the categories of FP standards to include practices that promote organizational effectiveness. FP categories now include: Health and Safety, Client Rights, and Organizational Effectiveness.

Fundamental Practice Categories Table

It all comes together with strategic planning

An organization’s mission serves as the benchmark by which organizational effectiveness is measured, and strategic planning is the vehicle by which an organization can move towards closing the gap between where they want to be (their mission) and where they are today. Outcomes data coming from PQI activities, HR data coming from the annual assessment of workforce needs, and risk prevention and management activities are all examples of information that feeds into the strategic planning process.  Strategic planning, in turn, informs each decision that an organization makes, from budgeting decisions to hiring and personnel development decisions, with the ultimate goal of closing its mission gap.

This is why we have introduced a new Core Concept standard on Logic Models into every service section of the 2020 Standards. These standards guide organizations to think systematically about:

  • The client outcomes they hope to achieve
  • The ultimate impact each of their programs is intended to have
  • How the program will utilize its assets and resources to achieve its goals

In other words, we’re hoping to help organizations work smarter, not harder.

These logic models denote an exciting advancement in our standards from previous iterations. To learn more about them, check out Part II of this blog series: COA 2020 Edition | FAQs about the Logic Model.

For more information on the changes in the 2020 Edition and who they affect, download our overview here. Accredited and in-process organizations can also access two recorded webinars with in-depth information in their MyCOA portal (under the tools tab). If you are new to COA and have questions about the standards or process changes, feel free to contact us!


About COA

Founded in 1977, the Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit organization that accredits human and social service providers. Our mission is to partner with human and social service organizations to strengthen their ability to improve the lives of the people they serve.