20 years of excellent service at Aalter municipality thanks to ISO 9001

Municipality of Aalter has been using ISO 9001 for 20 years

ISO 9001 is the number one standard for quality management and the most certified standard in Belgium. And for the municipality of Aalter, it has meant excellent service and satisfied citizens for 20 years. How does the municipality apply the management standard? And how can the ISO 9001 Master Track get you on the right path towards a quality management system in your organisation? Find out here.

For almost 20 years, Aalter has been a textbook example of quality service provision. In 1998, then-mayor Pieter De Crem came to the conclusion that his municipality would benefit from ISO 9002 certification. And that's how it all started. Aalter received the certificate in 2000, as the first municipality in Belgium to do so, just over a year after it took its first steps towards ISO 9002. Since then, the municipality has been successfully using the standard, now called ISO 9001. In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the certification, we asked Luc Jolie, General Director, and Els De Wulf, Quality Officer, about their experiences.

Why was it so important for you to obtain and maintain this certification?

Luc: "We consider it very important to provide the best possible service to the people who live in our municipality. The ISO 9001 certificate proves that we make every effort to do so."  

Els: "By working with ISO 9001, we started thinking more strategically about the organisation of our services. We've deliberately put the citizen at the centre of all our processes, and, where necessary, we've set up improvement processes so we can respond even better to their needs. Not an easy task, because the municipality of Aalter has a total of 450 products specifically aimed at our users."

The ISO 9001 certificate proves the importance we place on providing quality service to the people of Aalter.

How is ISO 9001 reflected in your day-to-day work?

Luc: "With every new project, our first reflex is to apply the quality standard. But we also apply ISO 9001 in our daily processes. We are constantly evolving: where we used to keep our inventories in physical folders, we now use visual flow charts that are linked to a CRM package. This helps us increase employee engagement and means we can more easily find our way through the more than 1,000 products our municipality offers."

Els: "Using ISO 9001 has also caused a mental shift among the employees. Everyone strives to keep quality high, both in general and within their own unit. To reinforce this, we even have a 'quality think tank', which meets monthly to discuss what can be improved."

Luc: "We also encourage our people to build their own expertise in the quality management system and provide everyone with the necessary documentation: for each unit, there's a brochure that's updated annually. New employees get a copy and an explanation as soon as they start working. The brochure for each unit is essentially a version of the quality manual and the multi-year plan."

Do you find that ISO 9001 adds value?

Els: "Absolutely! Thanks to the new processes we've implemented because of ISO 9001, we can provide faster and better answers to questions from the people of Aalter. The standard has also helped us to be better prepared for all kinds of possible scenarios, from fraud to power outages, and has given us a framework to reduce risks for our organisation to an absolute minimum."

Luc: "The quality management system was also a useful tool during the merger discussions with the municipality of Knesselare. We used ISO 9001 as a starting point to compare and evaluate all our processes and products side by side: what is good, and what is less so? What needs to be changed? What can be improved? The end result is a clear, quality service we can be proud of."

The ISO 9001 quality management system was invaluable as a guide during the merger discussions with the Knesselare municipality.

To what extent has ISO 9001 become embedded in your organisational structure?

Luc: "We apply the standard at every level of our organisation. To check whether it's respected, we use tests specific to our six target groups: young people, the working population, seniors, economic policy, social policy, and associations. Each test examines whether the policy is adequately tailored to the needs of the target group. In this way, we can guarantee that the focus is always on the citizens of Aalter – in everything we do."

Els: "ISO 9001 has led to very concrete improvements through those tests. Take our leisure services, for example. We used to publish a separate brochure with the activities on offer. Now, we have an integrated brochure that presents extracurricular childcare, playground activities, teen activities, sports camps and the library. A lot easier (and faster) for parents looking for activities or care for their children during the school holidays. We've even gone one step further and integrated the enrolment modules too: all leisure services now use the same software."

As a municipality, you're subject to the Decreet Lokaal Bestuur. Does that overlap with ISO 9001?

Els: "ISO 9001 helps us meet the obligations of the Decreet Lokaal Bestuur ('local government decree'). For example, the decree requires every local government to have a quality manual and a complaints system. The quality standard has given us a framework to address those issues."

Luc: "Actually, ISO 9001 goes one step further than the Local Government Decree. After all, the decree only focuses on organizing the operation of a municipality, while the quality standard also helps you plan for the future. So the standard is a lot better suited to a long-term vision, since ISO 9001 audits both organisation and policies. That encourages us even more to continuously evaluate and improve our processes."

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