Quality, audit and standard setting are major issues on the present day nursing and health care agenda Considerable time, energy and resources have been invested in developing and implementing a range of different quality and audit systems, yet there is limited evidence to date to suggest that they are having any significant impact in terms of changing practice and improving patient care This paper will present the results of a study undertaken to evaluate the implementation of three of the most common nursing quality systems used in the United Kingdom Monitor, Qualpacs and the dynamic standard setting system (DySSSy) In each case, the focus was on identifying key factors in the process of implementation that could predict positive programme outcomes – defined in terms of acceptance by clinical nursing staff and perceived impact on the quality of patient care The study adopted a three-stage evaluation design, with three distinct levels of investigation and analysis, and utilized a range of descriptive and exploratory methods In total, 14 sites implementing one of the three nursing quality systems were studied Additional data, derived from individuals' experiences of implementing quality in nursing, were used to enhance and validate the findings The results indicated a number of important system-related, contextual and practical issues of implementation These were underpinned by two key factors, defined as ownership for quality and action to improve However, most present day nursing quality programmes appear to be failing to embrace these two concepts simultaneously The paper will conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for future developments in nursing and health care quality improvement