Using the tool in your organisation
Benchmarking/ Bench learning



What does CAF - Common Assessment Framework - mean?
CAF is a common European quality framework that can be used across the public sector as a tool for organisational self assessment and continuous improvement. It has been jointly developed under the aegis of the Innovative Public Services Group (IPSG), an informal working group of national experts set up by the Directors General in order to promote exchanges and cooperation where it concerned innovative ways of modernising government and public service delivery in EU Member States.
Why should I use the CAF?
CAF is an excellent starting point for an organisation in its way to quality. Being a self-assessment tool it also has the advantage of involving the people of an organisation and of bringing forward their own views. Furthermore, it shows the following benefits:
• it is relatively easy to handle,
• it demands less resources (the use of the model is free of charge) and
• it introduces a common language to organisations wishing to benchlearn and exchanging good practices using CAF.
What are the advantages of self assessment for the organisation and its stakeholders?
The CAF is a means to help public sector services to use quality management methods, in order to improve their performance effectively, efficiently and continuously . It provides an assessment focused on evidence as well as a tool to achieve consistency of direction and consensus among all the stakeholders on what needs to be done to improve the organisation.

Additionally, the CAF allows to measure progress over time through periodic self assessments and provides a link between goals and supportive strategies, in order to focus improvement activities where it is most needed. Finally, the CAF is a way to create enthusiasm and inspiration among civil servants by involving them in the quality improvement process.
Are there any "footbridges" between CAF and EFQM?
The basic design of the CAF was developed in 1998 and 1999 on the basis of joint analysis undertaken by the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM), the German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer (which organises the International Speyer Quality Award for the public sector in the German-speaking European countries) , EIPA and the network of experts from the Member States of the EU.. The CAF is thus based on the Excellence Model owned, developed and promoted by EFQM, but self-assessment using CAF is a less rigorous process than a full assessment against the EFQM Excellence Model and more adapted to the specificities of the public sector. For public organisations (or any organisation with a public mission) it is therefore perfectly possible and even recommended to start with CAF and to move to EFQM at a later stage if one wishes to do so.

Furthermore, EFQM rewards organisations having used CAF and being able to provide evidence of improvements being implemented through its first level C2E "Committed to Excellence", the so-called bridge between the CAF label of "Effective CAF User" and EFQM. For further details on the CAF label and the Procedure for External Feedback, please consult our webpages.
Is it useful to use CAF in an organisation that is ISO 9000 certified?
It is certainly possible to use the CAF for self-assessment in that context. CAF is a quick and relatively easy-to-use tool which can be used alone or in conjunction with other quality management tools as a "health check" or as a means of identifying areas for improvement on all aspects of the functioning of an organisation. CAF is the bracket around all other quality management tools in use. CAF asks if your organisation runs process management, ISO, agreement on objectives etc. In the case of an organisation that is ISO 9000 certified, the use of CAF could broaden the view on the organisation and also help to identify possible partners for benchlearning projects.
In how far can we adapt CAF to the specific context/ environment of the organisation?
- To which extent are the examples compulsory?
The basic structure (9 criteria, 28 subcriteria, and scoring system) should be respected by the CAF users, but the examples and the process of self-assessment are free/ flexible. "Translation" and "adaptation" of CAF to the organisation or the sector that is promoting self-assessment are therefore not only possible but desired and helpful. In several Member States such initiatives have been taken. On European level, a specific version for CAF and education exists since 2008.

The purpose of the examples is to help an organisation to find relevant elements for self-assessment. Even though in some approaches (e.g. Germany) scoring is done for each and every one of the examples, the suggested way of proceeding is to use the examples as a source of inspiration: you use those examples you consider relevant and you add examples which are especially relevant for your specific context/ environment/ organisation
Is applying CAF enough to improve the performance of the organisation?
CAF will help you to establish strengths and areas of improvement and is a powerful instrument to initiate a process of continuous improvement. It gives you an initial impression of how the organisation performs, it allows for the improvement actions to be focused where they are most needed and it shows how the organisation improves over time, if the CAF is applied a second time.

It should therefore be seen as the start of a continuous improvement process and will not in itself improve the performance of the organisation. The most important thing to be done as a result of the self-assessment is to take measures. For CAF to make sense it is necessary to make an action-plan on the basis of the self-assessment results and to implement the improvement actions defined!
How long does it take and what is the cost of a self-assessment process based on CAF?
The different surveys on the use of CAF show that 2 to 3 days seem to be rather short to do a decent self assessment whilst 2 working weeks or more is too long. The ideal time schedule for a CAF self assessment does not exist because too many variables are at stake such as the objectives of the management, the time and resources invested, the availability of data etc. But for the majority of organisations 5 to 6 days seems appropriate (the self-assessment group usually spends ca 6 half days for consensus meetings, to which individual preparation time needs to be added).

The very large majority completed the CAF application in 3 months, including the preparation, the self assessment itself, the drawing of conclusions and the formulation of an action plan. Three months seem to be an ideal lapse of time to stay focused. Taking more time raises the risk of a weakening engagement of all parties involved. Furthermore, the situation might have changed in between the start and the end of the self assessment. In that case, the diagnosis isn't accurate anymore.
How can I obtain information about CAF in my country?
On these pages, you will find a list of the CAF national correspondents . Furthermore, EIPA gathers information on CAF users in Europe and has carried out three surveys on the use of CAF in Europe (in 2003, 2005 and 2011). All this information is made available on the website. If you wish to register yourself as a CAF user, you can do so at:
Can I be certified as a CAF user?
Most quality management tools have feedback schemes to evaluate assessments that have taken place in an organisation. In 2009, the CAF network has launched the CAF External Feedback Procedure (PEF). The goal of the CAF External Feedback is not to validate the scores, looking for actual proven results or assessing the overall quality of the organisation; the main goals are strengthening the confidence of an organisation, giving advice on how to perform better the next time using CAF or other quality models and additionally also to increase visibility of the organisation on national and international level. Within the course of the PEF, experts from outside – the CAF External Feedback Actors – will visit the organisation and gather evidence on how the institution has prepared, implemented and followed up the CAF self assessment process. After going through this process the organisation will or will not receive the label ECU, which is standing for an Effective CAF User. This label however will be limited in time. Detailed information is available on our website.

Using the tool in your organisation

Which organisations can apply CAF?
CAF is an excellent starting point for any (public) organisation in its way to quality. Previous experience with / knowledge of quality management" is not required. A certain level of maturity however helps to deal with quality issues and to be critical about oneself.
When is the right time to apply CAF?
It is always the right time to apply CAF. It can indeed be used at any time for different purposes: from simple health check" to a full action plan / internal reform programme. The CAF should however not be used for nasty" purposes (cutting back on finances or staff) or in periods of serious turbulence".
Is the implementation of CAF feasible for a public organisation confronted with serious problems in its functioning?
CAF can certainly help to overcome some serious problems by involving the staff but they should be handled in the context of a broader organizational assessment as CAF is an holistic TQM instrument.
How to convince colleagues and managers?
One should be conscious of the fact that convincing everyone may be difficult or impossible (at least in the beginning). Key players - a critical mass - need to be won over (e.g. personnel managers; financial managers; leaders"). Without the full support of the management, you should not consider starting such an exercise. A way to obtain their engagement is to focus on "What is in it for people / management": find convincing arguments. Subsequently support can develop/grow on a larger scale (quality rarely starts in the whole organisation....).

Please note that support for quality very often evolves from a sceptical approach/ attitude to a certain degree of enthusiasm at the end of the CAF implementation.
Are there success factors and what are the pitfalls?
An obvious success factor is the decision by management to introduce self-assessment, with a view to dealing with the results and for the subsequent follow-up. If not based on a clear decision, it is doubtful that self-assessment will be a long-term success. But precisely because of the process, i.e. a continuous improvement cycle, and through concrete realisation, quality management becomes noticeable and evident. The CAF can create and promote an appreciation for quality.

Through self-assessment, communication and information problems often come to light which generally can be cleared up very quickly. Indeed, a certain administrative culture is a condition for meaningful self-assessment with the CAF instrument. Openness, tolerance, trust and the certainty that those assessing and those being assessed do not have to be afraid of disadvantages and restrictions on account of what they said during the assessment rounds, is essential.

Nearly every change meets with resistance. Positive changes are often blocked, even if they entail advantages for the staff concerned. Resistance usually arises from fears that people do not (dare to) express. Any change, however small, is at first considered a threat. It can only be dispelled through open communication and by creating the greatest possible transparency. That is why providing detailed information about the purposes from the very beginning is of great importance if self-assessment is to be a success.
How much and what type of external support are necessary/ needed?
CAF is a self-assessment tool, but experience tells us that assistance and support are needed in most organisations. Many administrations need support throughout the whole process (not just initial training). For support you might contact your national CAF correspondent (see website). If you go for more rigorous and precise assessment, external assessment will without any doubt be required, unless you have sufficient in-house expertise in the field of TQM.
What is the role of external assessment?
As a neutral person, an external consultant can lend unbiased and impartial support throughout the entire CAF implementation. Qualifications: methodological know-how (e.g. presentation skills, project management etc.) and experience with the CAF instrument. He or she should not take part in the assessment itself but watch over a methodologically correct implementation.
What does consensus mean and how to achieve it?
Consensus means above all shared understanding. It can be achieved through for example
• intense group discussions until you reach agreement
• arbitration by the chairperson of the self-assessment group

The self-assessment group can focus on
• the background to different views/assessments
• the evidences/indicators used by different group members to support their assessment
• the scores attributed by different group members
There is no best way to achieve consensus but one should not put the major focus on the scores. By reaching a consensus, the self-assessment group creates an added value to the individual appreciations and brings the consolidated result on a higher level then just the sum of the individual opinions.
 Is CAF an objective instrument for self-evaluation?
CAF contains both an element of objectivity (fact-based approach) and subjectivity (individual knowledge and experience count). Balancing and bringing both together is the key! Practice has shown that the CAF reports contain more than enough reliable conclusions for the management and the staff to work on, that bring the organisation on a higher maturity level.
Can CAF be applied in a unit? If so who is considered the leadership (Criterion 1)?
Yes, CAF can be used in a unit if the unit is in some way autonomous and manages all 9 criteria of the CAF (e.g. HRM, Strategy and Politics etc.). Before starting the self-assessment it is necessary to define who is considered to be the leadership (leader of the unit or leader of the whole organisation). In addition, it is also necessary to define the different stakeholders such as the citizen/customers, the partners, etc.
Can I eliminate examples and sub-criterions in the self assessment process?
The basic structure (9 criteria, 28 sub criteria, and scoring system) should be respected by the CAF users, but the examples and the process of self-assessment are free/ flexible.
If a territorial based organisation, like a local authority, has in their core business all of the initiatives established on criterion 8 how to evaluate this criterion?
In that case, the results should be evaluated in the sub criterion that evaluates the goal achievement: 9.1


What is the role of scoring?
We have noticed that there can be a strong focus on scoring in some administrations although some decide not to use scores. Furthermore, many administrations tend to score too high.

Methodological support may help to overcome these pitfalls. The score-system for the enablers criteria is according to the PDCA-cycle. The score is asking for steps of implementation, not for marks. The scoring system is meant to be simple (for example in comparison with EFQM) but there are many grey areas and uncertainties. It helps organisations at the end of the analysis of a sub criterion to look back and evaluate if the analysis was done seriously enough to enable a scoring or should be better worked out. Taking into account the wish of experienced organisations for a more sophisticated scoring system, the CAF currently offers two scoring systems: the classical and the fine-tuned scoring.
Do I have to score on every sub criterion?
The basic structure with 9 criteria and 28 sub criteria should be respected. In that perspective, it is considered that every sub criterion has its place in the holistic view of the organisation and should therefore be taken into consideration.
Do I have to score on every example?
The purpose of the examples is to help an organisation finding relevant elements for self-assessment. The suggested way of proceeding is to use the examples as a source of inspiration: you use those examples you consider relevant, and you add examples that are especially relevant for your specific context/ environment/ organisation. The discussion on the evidences related to these examples will help you to establish a score for the sub criterion as a whole. We therefore advise you not to score on the individual examples.

Benchmarking/Bench learning

We have applied the CAF and wish to compare with other organisations. How do we proceed?
The CAF certainly is not a rigorous instrument that could be used for a hard performance benchmarking. Also, in most cases the use of the CAF will be without external support, so the self-assessment is not a 100% reliable for comparison. However, the CAF will support a process of learning - and the focus is indeed on sharing experiences and on learning, and not on benchmarking against a given standard or against the "best in class". Organisations will mainly have the opportunity to find partners that they would like to share experiences with in order to mutually improve their operations and results.