In this article we will concentrate on the strategic processes which are needed to help us in the VCSE sector to begin the transformation which will benefit our beneficiaries and our organisations.
Establishing, developing and overseeing strategy is the remit of the board of a charity. Boards need to be supported in identifying the strategy to drive their mission, develop it during the different stages of the organisation and oversee its management by those to whom they delegate that responsibility.
That strategy should include the use and regular review of technology to make the delivery of services and activities more efficient. It should also aim to decrease the time spent on repetitive routine tasks which could be automated.
Our data – owning, showing and sharing
Civil society organisations gather lots of data, usually at the behest of funders. Boards need to appreciate what data the organisation is collecting. They should encourage management to use, share and combine it with other data so the acquired knowledge can be used to make better decisions.
Organisations like the charity DataKind UK works with data scientists (people who examine and analyse data). These data scientists volunteer their time with Datakind to help other charities understand and use their data better. There are also schemes like Pro Bono OR whose members, operational researchers, volunteer to help organisations to make operational improvements using data. A similar organisation, Pro Bono Economics, helps charities understand and improve their impact and value, also using data.
Strategic digital footprint
But strategic digital footprint isn’t only about data. It’s also about raising your digital profile through accessible social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
In RnR Organisation we are constantly encouraging VCS CEOs, Trustees and others working in the sector to be more active online. Using platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook make such activity more accessible and cost effective.
Supporting trustees on social media
Organisations and their management need to explore how they can support trustees to use these digital platforms.
Are trustees on LinkedIn? If they are, are they leveraging their contacts to support the organisation? This includes not just financially but also by opening doors, by creating or supporting partnerships, by communicating about the brilliant work done by the organisation and its staff?
Are trustees in groups that are relevant to the organisation where they could lead or contribute to discussions? Do they reblog posts from the organisation’s website? Do they keep an eye out for opportunities and send them on to the management?
Are trustees on Twitter? If they are, are they retweeting the organisation’s tweets to their contacts, thereby increasing the reach of the organisation? Are they sharing organisational and topical news, making new contacts, raising awareness of the issues faced by the charity’s beneficiaries?
On Facebook, where many voluntary organisations and community groups find a natural home, trustees could be equally active. They can post event photos, spread organisational news amongst their networks, publicly respond to organisation invitations and invite others to get involved.
Facebook is a great place for new people to find out about your organisation, and trustees could be involved in this.
Using technology to develop a framework for a strategic process
And what about the governance meetings themselves? Are they just events where decisions are already made and trustees just go along and sign where they’re told to?
Or are they events where participation, including by those not in the room, is encouraged, including through using social media? Live tweeting VCS meetings is not very common, but the public sector live streams some of its meetings so our sector must consider this as an option. It can help us recruit new members, volunteers and trustees who are growing up in an age where this is the norm.
How many boards use video conferencing such as Zoom, Skype or Google Meet Hangouts to enable people to participate in everything, maybe excepting the most sensitive matters?
RnR Organisation was delighted to see the involvement of WM Funders Network (WMFN) in the 1st national data4good conference in 2018.
We saw it as a potential opportunity for others attending the conference to influence WMFN members in how they may use data in their own organisations. During the event, some funder representative attendees expressed an increased interest in the uses of data, even if their organisation hasn’t currently got staff resource to engage in such development.
Smaller funders, data and data sharing
Smaller funders do not always see the benefits of data, and data sharing, and WMFN also has members for whom the cost of paying to attend events like this might be an issue. Combining attendance at this important event as part of their annual membership package was a bonus for them.
Engagement opportunities for conference delegates
Access to fifteen local funder representatives meant the opportunity for other conference attendees to, amongst other things:
Expose funders to messages about what conference organising partners and other delegates would like them to do with their data and the data from their beneficiaries Encourage funders to share their data and demonstrate how to do it Encourage funders to get charities/groups they fund to share their data Encourage collaboration (WMFN will continue to support member organisations in the West Midlands, including around data, and other regional funders networks could do likewise) Impact evidence of including smaller funders
Future steps with funders and data for good
As conference partners and others have written about the merits to the sector of getting more funders to share and explore their data, thus supporting the decision to encourage funders to attend the conference, this decision enabled a wider and better-informed breadth of discussion to take place.
We hope to see an increasing number of funders at future data for good events.
There is good impact evidence to back up the participation of small funders with information in articles like these:
We’ve been talking about charity data for a few years, working to increase data literacy and data sharing in and around our sector. We were one of the nine partners in the first Data for Good conference in Birmingham in 2018.
The conversation around data and it’s use by charities is developing so we decided to collate some of the resources we have come across and/or used. We’d be pleased to hear about others.
Sources and links to information on data about and for charities
Charitybase – free, open source database, API and web app which provides public information on the activities, locations and finances of the 168,000 charities registered in England and Wales.
CharityChoice – charity directory, providing detailed information on over 160,000 registered UK charities
Grantnav, 360 Giving – supports organisations to publish their grants data in an open, standardised way and helps people to understand and use the data to support decision-making and learning across the charitable giving sector.
Housing Databank June 2019, Shelter – brings together government data on housing need, supply, affordability and other issues at a local, regional and national level.
UK Civil Society Almanac 2019, NCVO , 2019 – definitive resource on the state of the voluntary sector. The Almanac produces insights on what voluntary organisations do, their income and spending, workforce, volunteers and the sector’s impact
360 Giving – charity which helps UK funders publish open, standardised grants data, and empowers people to use it to improve charitable giving.
Charity Digital – charity which helps other charities accelerate their missions using digital technology
Datakind UK – charity which supports charities and social enterprises large and small to work on and with their data using data science
NCVO – infrastructure organisation which champions the voluntary sector and volunteering
NPC – charity which supports charities, philanthropists, funders and social enterprises to maximise their social impact.
Operational Research Society – charity which helps inform strategic, tactical and operational decisions as well as assisting in the design of public policy.
Pro Bono Economics – charity helping charities and social enterprises improve their impact and value
Royal Statistical Society – charity which advocates the key role of statistics and data in society, working to ensure that policy formulation and decision making are informed by evidence for the public good.
Where are England’s charities? by Dan Corry, 16th Jan 2020, npc – author uses data to ask if the current distribution of charities around the country is what we would want in an ideal world and explores what government, funders and charities could do about it.
Technology and the understanding and usage of data can help us in the VCSE sectors. Digital tools and approaches can help us work better, sometimes freeing us up to spend more of our valuable time helping our beneficiaries, sometimes allowing us to make better decisions and work smarter.
The concepts we need to get more familiar with in the sector include digital, data, transformation, ownership, impact, collaboration and sharing.
We all need to work smarter – digital technology and data will help us to do that. We need to increase the digital and data literacy of everyone, but especially those in our sector.
We are not the only ones in society doing the work that we do but there is no shortage of need and time is not on our side. If we do not transform our organisations, there are other organisations, without our understanding of local community needs, who will come into the ‘market’ and say they can do the job better than us.
We need to reclaim our mission and prove the need we serve, using technology and data, including our own, to improve our processes and prove our impact.
Transformation using technology is in the best interests of our beneficiaries and our organisations.
We are constantly having to rely on data produced by the statutory sector. We work to encourage the VCSE sector to understand, value, use and share our own data, amongst ourselves and with trusted allies.
We attended a datadive run by the charity Datakind UK in June 2014 where data scientists gave up a weekend to examine the data of 4 separate charities, eventually producing dashboards or data visualisations which helped each charity show its impact.
Net Squared Midlands, a tech for good group, part of a global network of people interested in using web or mobile technology for social good, organises meetups where VCSE organisations can meet and get support from digital advocates who want to support work in the sector by sharing their technical skills.
103,000 (52%) charities have all five skills (up 4% since 2017).
2.4 million (58%) SMEs have all five skills (down 1% since 2017).
Less than half (49%) of SMEs in the West Midlands have all five Basic Digital Skills – the lowest of any region.
In the third sector, charities from the South West and Wales have the lowest Basic Digital Skill levels (45%) – this is flat year-on-year.
60,000 (30%) charities and 655,000 (16%) SMEs have low digital capability.
only 18% of SMEs and 8% of charities have taken the step to optimise their services for mobile use.
Since 2014, charities’ growth in digital usage has surpassed that of SMEs. Some of the largest changes include:
Nearly one-third (29%) of charities now use Cloud-based IT systems, this is 15 times more than in 2014.
Two-thirds (65%) of charities are now accessing Government Digital Services, more than seven times as many as in 2014.
There are now nearly one million SMEs and charities on ‘the cusp’, with four of the five Basic Digital Skills, up 34% in one year.
Tools and resources
There are many tools, resources, organisations and events to do with technology for non-profits, many of them available to us in the VCSE sector at low or no cost. Many of the tools and resources are designed and maintained by people who believe in tech for good, including volunteers.
We also recommend organisations and events like VCSSCamp, the unconference for voluntary sector infrastructure organisations (CVSs and Volunteer Centres etc) at which you can network with and get support from other organisations in the sector who are also engaged on this same transformation journey.
We have allies in this work, people who work in the public or private sectors but who also want to ‘give something back’.
Organisations like Datakind UK bring together charities and data scientists to enable the data scientists to examine the charities’ data and help them understand the patterns in the data which will help them do a better job.
Meetups like those organised by Net Squared local organisers attract ‘techies’ who are civic-minded and want to work with us to help us find solutions.
What technology many charities need
As far back as 2015 a national charitable funder ran a pilot programme which was to help charities use technology to create change in the lives of certain groups in society.
The funder was clear that there were a number of things this programme would not cover and these were:
Upgrading of internal IT systems
Large-scale capital costs
Updating of websites and routine social media campaigns
Exploration events or hack days
Staff or volunteer training
Capacity-building to make an organisation more ‘digital ready’
We think this is a handy list of work which does need to be funded by some funder(s) and we continue to work to identify and seek dialogue with, and share information about, funders who will fund these areas.
What are the tasks you need to do? Of these, what are the time-consuming ones which could be automated?
How much time do you spend answering the same queries over and over, organising events, arranging meetings, travelling to meetings, keeping up to date, managing projects, updating documents, finding out what your members think?
How much money do we pay for simple website maintenance and updates?
Tools like Eventbrite, Doodle, Skype/Hangouts, Google alerts, Trello, Google Drive and Survey Monkey can save us time and money in times like these and we should be using them more. Links to these and other tools can be found in Charity Catalogue, a curated list of useful resources for UK charities brought to you by a committed group of volunteers and the SCVO Digital Team
“The voluntary and community sector (VCS) has accommodated the move from early computers to flat screens, to laptops, blackberries, smartphones, iPads etc etc. We have accommodated changes in programme applications – online, monitoring through prescribed databases and spreadsheets, and reporting on pre-set and template programmes. Smart/digital systems, big/open data, ‘Smart Cities’ programmes are all processes and programmes that will benefit the sector in developing, delivering, monitoring and reporting services.
The question for the VCS is not about whether, or how, we engage in ‘digital by default’ [see Government Digital Service], but how do we proactively lead/shape our involvement within the ‘technological journey’.
While the public sector is planning reforms and changes based on technological developments, there are growing concerns over our sector’s ability to take part in and respond to the continued changes”.
In the other articles in this series we look at the strategic and operational processes we in the sector need to be aware of and implementing if we want to achieve the transformation to ‘digital by default’ that is so badly needed.
The mapshows all 13,653 charities that were registered with the Charity Commission in September 2016, and had registered with a postcode that falls within the West Midlands.
The layers tab on the right allows for filtering by category of activity (proportional by income), the search function on the left searches by charity name.
The layers are ordered by frequency of type (with 82 umbrella bodies and 2383 religious orgs).
James Bowles made this map following a suggestion by Pauline Roche from RnR Organisation.
Pauline recognised how useful such a map would be, not only for all the charities on the map, but also for existing and potential funders, including individuals who might want to support a charity in their area.
We aim to develop and support a more creative and collaborative mindset amongst people working in and governing the VCSE sector so that they know how to use the internet and digital technology more efficiently in order to help their beneficiaries. This should also increase their efficiency and productivity e.g. automating repetitive tasks. We are also hoping that by the end of the project they will be more able and willing to use freely available digital tools and software.
We are exploring essential issues and activities not currently supported by the major tech for good project funders.
We envisage that the objectives will impact on the VCSE Sector in the following ways:
Developing capacity to ensure an organisation becomes ‘digital ready’ or digitally improved
Providing or developing appropriate staff/volunteer training
Exploring and increasing organisations’ digital footprint to include updating individual websites and engaging in routine social media campaigns
Organising and running Exploration events or Hack Days to aid development and delivery of activity
Reinforcing/increasing capacity/usage of current system.
Exploring need for upgrading of internal IT systems
Developing project / economic reasoning for (large scale) capital investment in IT
We will achieve the delivery of the Project 2020 objectives through these three themed areas:
Nissa and I explored the most effective use cases for the Yoti app (which verifies legal identities or key personal details, like age) among UK charities.
We also explored the use cases for Yoti Keys, Yoti’s offline solution, which is a product in development that enables charities to register and subsequently identify people accessing their services without needing a smartphone, documentation or connectivity.
You can find more information about Yoti’s social purpose here.
How charities got involved
We told people who worked for charities based and working in the UK that we’d love to hear from them.
We were particularly interested in hearing from them if they had a need to legally identify people.
We also wanted to hear from people who could potentially use the offline Key to help prevent people from having to tell their story every time they access a service, or to help their organisation better manage and monitor people’s interactions with their service .
What happened next
The research ended in late September 2018, with a first look at our findings coming out later that year.
Nissa’s insights from the research were published here.
Yoti continues to work towards delivering the best possible products and services for UK charities. More about their social purpose here
As identified in Component Two, public realm ‘transformational’ activity, within the Linear Process, focuses on a commissioning and tendering process and the development of a supply chain of services.
This third component explores the complex and often perplexing issues generated by public realm service ‘transformation’, and how such transformational activity impacts on other sectors and service delivery is not as simple or straight forward as identified in Fig 1i
Fig 1i Linear process transformation of fund allocation
Within the ‘transformation’ process, great emphasis has been placed on creating an ‘open market’. The term ‘market’ is used to describe the development of an ecosystem that is efficient and engages external, non-public realm organisations in the provision of services through the tendering and commissioning process. This process, it is argued, provides better value for money, an efficient service within the public realm ethos, and is free at the point of delivery.
The methodology of the ‘transformation’ process, the data used to commission activity, the due diligence and fit for purpose assessments undertaken by public realm organisations has an impact on the development of an eco-system, and therefore the supply chain, to deliver services. There is an additional, wider issue, as to how these methodologies are used by other external funding bodies to measure and assess commissioned or grant funded activities within their own programmes.
This ‘wave impact’ therefore has a wider and more significant impact on the eco system:
The way data is collected and used by funders, Public realm and other funding bodies.
The development and provision of services created through funding, commissioned or external processes attracting new organisations to seek such funding where they had not considered it before and generating mission drift within organisations who modify their purpose and activity to be eligible for funding.
Within all this melée there is the confusion of voluntary and community sector (VCS) and volunteering.
In some cases, not all, the ‘transformation’ agenda, driven by a reduction in public expenditure, augmenting a ‘more bang for your buck’ philosophy, drives communities and VCS organisations towards what was described as a ‘Big Society’ ‘volunteering’/community responsibility/management process, through which communities and VCS organisations are encouraged/nudged/obliged (through fear of loss of resource or service) to maintain the system through unpaid volunteers replacing paid staff.
Restricted data – Linear Process
Commissioning and tendering, and thereby any funding to organisations, determines how public realm services are developed and designed. Commissioning activity is based on data that is held and gathered by public realm organisations.
The data which is accumulated and analysed is seldom shared or published (in a format that can be analysed) and is primarily focused on perceived deficiencies, users or recipients of services, symptoms or conditions that require to be managed or resolved. While data is gathered from ‘service providers’ which may be VCS or community organisations, the linear process has no procedure to gather additional data from such organisations, whether or not they have a funding relationship with them.
As stated previously public realm data can be defined as restricted data, internally gathered, collected from current service provision. It is data derived from measuring current activity outputs. Data that monitors delivery and services from identified [funded] groups to specific cohorts: elderly people, children, people with disabilities etc.
This data of their own provision is internally analysed within current public realm (quantifiable) measurement processes by public realm staff. Even though one department/section may commission, and another monitor, it is still within public realm linear processes.
Service provision data focuses on those who receive services, addressing identified problems, acknowledging how the system has corrected or supported an individual in improvement. This data focuses, as the provision does, on the adverse, deficient, conditions and, therefore, the need for intervention. The collected data therefore, justifies the need for the system of intervention, presenting the outcomes and outputs in a digestible structure.
Some datasets may identify a wider cohort within an area or with identifiable needs. Service provision data only measures who in the cohort has received support or identified a requirement for support.
Other, general, data may identify general services that cohorts may require, and plan delivery based on a preventative programme.
Such data may be published in journals other media but not in an accessible format – as a PDF or a jpeg etc. Such data is generalised and cannot be easily analysed or compared with data from other community sources.
Data that drives these and other service provision remain within the restricted data principle, seldom shared in an accessible format and rarely utilising other community sourced data.
Public realm data focuses on resolving, or in some cases preventing issues. The data is augmented and underpinned by quantitative research and/or qualitative case studies and stories. Such studies remain within the boundaries of Linear Process and current service provision, and thus are developed within restricted parameters.
The data provides us with scenarios of the ‘familiar’, programmes that address ‘deficiencies’ or needs, behaviours or practices. It does not provide us with a wider perspective of the issues from other sources outside the linear process provision. The data and the case studies only provide us with a view of need, people who have ‘fallen into the water’ and need assistance or rescuing. It justifies a status quo existence for services that resolve problems, even if people continue to fall into the water.
“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” Desmond Tutu
Restricted data therefore continues to reinforce deficiency model provision, plans for continually pulling people from the water, and restricts supply chain development to prevent them falling in.
Because of the nature of restricted ‘data gathering’, systems to prevent individuals from ‘falling into the water’ are not explored. Systems that may explore and utilise any inherent community skills or data are not funded as they generally, do not fit tender specifications.
Support programmes may be funded through other external sources but the data collected by these programmes may not be incorporated into public realm linear process analysis. These programmes may be dealing with people who ‘get by’, those who may have the same experiences/‘traumas’ as others but who don’t ‘fall into the water’.
Not sharing data and not utilising the immense amount of data held by non public realm organisations restricts the information available to those developing tendering specifications and commissioning services so the development of the ‘market’ is hindered even further.
The use of this data by external funders to justify their programmes only adds to the restrictions placed on innovation and community/asset initiated programmes. Justification for applications and, in some cases, relating the application to identifiable need, focuses applicants towards using the accessible elements of the restricted data.
Supply Chain Development Wave Impact: Exploring the complex and perplexing…
The ‘transformation’ process outlined in Fig 1i visualises the perceived relationship change, related to funding, between public realm and VCSE organisations. The colour coding identifies the linear process (yellow) and the proposed transformation activity (blue). As the transformational process has been developed within the public realm linear process the relationships that emerge are far more complex than this diagram, with significantly more impacts than outlined in Fig 6 (See Component Two for Figs 2-5)
This visualisation retains the blue of transformation but incorporates brown as the purpose of transformation. Tender specifications and commissioned activities is product development (Component Four).
The increased encouragement that VCS organisations should move away from grant funding to a mixture of external/blended finance, mixing loans, contracts, earned income or payment by results is starting to dominate the potential participation of VCSE organisations within public realm service delivery.
Fig 6 Supply chain modification – the perplexing complexity
In any of the transformational visualisations, fiscal management remains centrally controlled, within the linear process, at a national and local commissioning level. Delivery outputs continue to be derived from restricted, organisational/in situational gathered data.
While there have been major cuts to public realm funding in the past 5 years, expenditure is still significant, and the commissioning of statutorily-required services and subsequent support activities from public realm funding has an impact on VCS* or private** sector organisations or companies.
This ‘wave impact’ is manifested in a variety of forms
Administering the new process
Product development and innovation
External funding for community activity engagement
Administering the new process
The historical use of grants restricted access to such funding support. The increasing legislative requirement to ‘commission/tender’ services has acted like a wave, emitted from the public purse, attracting and developing a considerable number of organisations interested in developing and delivering services. The change to commissioning has had an impact on the structural, fiscal and governance formats of previous recipients as they modify their practices in order to be considered part of a ‘supply chain’ to statutory public realm ‘market’ activity.
Contracts and tenders were reduced in number and increased in financial magnitude to reduce public realm staff monitoring commitments. Large commissions entail an increased focus on fiscal and organisational capability for compliance and delivery of a contracts. A process that focuses on the size, form and structure of organisations who submit tenders, checking their governance, due diligence, cash flow, skill capability, etc. Funders only contract with regulated ‘incorporated bodies’ that fulfil due diligence tests within the commissioning process.
The message is often clear – smaller organisations need not apply.
The current process tends to develop/identify ‘supply partner/preferred supplier’ (fig6). These become lead organisations in the process as they are deemed able to successfully deliver services within commissioning and tendering requirements, having passed the relevant assessments.
As commissioning and tendering is an ‘open’ process, groups that are proficient in tender applications have a better chance of being awarded funding. While due diligence/contract compliance assessment would look at the governance and administrative and delivery process, it may not have been so thorough in exploring and examining the organisation’s staff skills and development of programmes. They may however partner with appropriate community organisations, with relevant experience, and access to target communities.
While this ‘transformational’ process has the potential to widen participation in delivery, community engagement through VCS organisations can be restricted through due diligence rules, and a public realm ‘deficiency’ view of their capability to deliver. VCS organisations have been offered ‘capacity building’ programmes to ensure they have the capabilities to deliver public realm contracts. Policies and processes mirror public realm practices, necessitating VCS organisations to mirror public realm. This reduces the VCS to a ‘sub department’ of public realm rather than an asset or representative of the community it serves, of interest or of geography.
VCS or community focused innovation proposals may fail as they are not fully compliant with a tender specification. They may have been developed within and by specific communities to address specific issues but do not comply with fiscal and due diligence assessments that might be too strict or restrictive.
The creation of the ‘market’ has increased distortion to the creation of a supply chain/partnership.
The commissioning and assessment process has had the effect of increasing mission drift, entailing some VSC organisations to modify their mission and, in some cases their governance as they ‘chase funding’. They modify their activity to respond to the restricted data used to identify need, and may thus reduce the unique data they, as community organisations, produce and retain.
The transformational process is forcing a rigid business development model on VCS organisations, forcing them to function in a more entrepreneurial manner, ignoring the fact that many have functioned in a business manner within the voluntary and charitable sector for years. They are now expected to develop services, often within a public realm remit, and to generate several sources of ‘blended finance’ to become sustainable.
This process puts forward a straight forward fiscal and operational model to be developed by organisations. Transformation of the VCS process by the VCS itself provides business opportunities to develop models within the sector that do not necessarily focus on tendering and commissioning.
Organisations are offered ‘Capacity building’ implying a deficiency of skills within VCS organisations. It however fails to address two fundamental issues.
Firstly, that many organisations were created to address social and welfare issues, the purview of public realm activity, and may have little experience, or interest, outside this remit. Such activity is often charitable/not for profit and requires external funding as beneficiaries cannot fund the process. Developing a sustainable business model for such activities is difficult.
The second are structural issues. Smaller organisations often have greater access to those who need such support. Blended finance and multi-funded programmes require size and capacity to deliver, and such growth is not always possible. Engagement with such community groups is often lost within the operational process of tendering and commissioning.
Consulting ‘stakeholders’ – developing and utilising the partner supply chain
Communities and community organisations (VCS organisations), and other potential provider partners are engaged within tender specification development. Often couched as ‘co-design’, ‘co-production’ and partnership development, it is accommodated as part of tender specification development, but fiscal restrictions and tender compliance, through assessment by public realm bodies, remains the dominant process.
VCSE organisations engagement within this ‘transformation’ through co-design/production, tender application or social capital investment often requires them being required to engage in ‘capacity building’ programmes.
‘Capacity building’, delivered or commissioned by a public realm funding body, passes on engagement protocols, fiscal and process compliance through workshops and training, assuming that public realm or other grant funding organisations have superior skills, and knowledge of governance and management processes, to those possessed by trustees/board members and staff of VCSE organisations. This process, with little acknowledgement of any skills, knowledge, understanding or experience that VCSE organisations may have in developing, delivering or innovating projects, is a purely project compliance exercise.
The ability of community groups to create or co-create/produce ‘products’ that respond to identified need are limited to the ‘product’ complying with tender specifications and due diligence checks. Thus co-production can stifle innovation due to non-compliance with the tendering specification.
While the ‘transformed’ commissioning process has the facility to utilise other processes e.g. co-production and co-design, and to view the impact of funding on other agendas, community cohesion etc., the inability to view the community as ‘assets’ rather than a provider, incorporating potential support into service is a barrier to true co-production.
Product development and innovation
The administrative change from grant funded programmes to commissioning, as part of the public realm ‘market’ development, with its attached more rigorous compliance rules, has had a negative impact in the way public realm funding responds to VCS sector innovation. The commissioning-focused public realm funding has subsequently excluded some organisations that were previously grant funded.
While VCSE organisations are expected to ‘transform’ and become more business-like for the various funding streams, there remains a ‘delivery disconnect’ in organisations’ abilities to develop and implement business plans, generate innovative ‘products’ and services, and develop sustainable funding streams for activities that were traditionally public funded as they are not economically viable.
The innovation potential of VCS organisations and community groups can be stifled within the Linear Process Commissioning process. VCS or other organisations/companies may seek external funding to develop these innovative or appropriate responses to identified community needs.
VCS organisations and community groups respond to issues/needs that they, as groups or communities, may be aware of. This issue/need may not be highlighted in (restricted) public sector data collection, and, therefore, not included in any tendering specification.
VCS organisations are expected to develop the ‘blended finance’ model proposing and developing products for the ‘market’.
The ‘market’ within the ‘transformational process’ expects VCS organisations to develop activities within a ‘value proposition’ to describe the need, their solution and to quantify their ambition and capability.
While VCSE organisations can develop a ‘value proposition’, there is a potential disconnect to their charitable and community purpose as they ‘mission drift’ into areas that can be funded.
Community focused groups, established to address identified need, are forced into ‘mission drift’ if tender specifications or other funding processes cannot accommodate their needs and purpose.
Organisations develop wide and all-encompassing development plans that fulfil a range of funding streams, rather than develop specific proposal within their skill set or charitable/community purpose.
While groups can adapt their services for the new opportunities, they may not be able to adapt or modify their existing skill set, established and developed to meet their established needs, to fit the tender outline, commissioning brief or funding criteria.
Products are developed and focused on potential funding streams while innovation may be stifled as the innovative product cannot be funded, or needs to be ‘hidden’ within a product that can be. Development limits its true transformational impact.
Fig 7 Supply chain connect – still complex, still perplexing
External funding for community activity
A fundamental issue in the complexity of public realm and VCS relationship in the transformational process is the role that external (non public realm) funding plays in supporting VCS and community organisational services development and activity and delivery – purple in fig 7.
‘Restricted institutional data’ is increasingly influential in external grant funders’ methodology of planning and evaluation (identification of need, project impact evaluation, data collection and monitoring) and strategic aims.
The question “How does your project fit in with local national or regional strategies?” appears in a variety of funding applications, and the ‘proof of need’ question relies on reasoning justified with institutional data as well as local data. Which is given the greater weighting in assessing applications?
There is an increasingly close working relationship between funding organisations, public realm, large/national grant-giving trusts and charitable grant giving organisations whereby some public realm funding is administered by these bodies. The objectives of such funding are public realm and, while there may be elements of innovation/creativity and piloting of projects, the final assessment of success falls within the linear process.
While organisations can seek funding from other sources for activities, the strategic outcomes that influence public realm commissioning, and the data that influences such commissioning, are beginning to impact on external funding.
VCS organisations/charities/community groups have always sought funding from a variety of sources to deliver their objectives.
The increasing pressure to develop blended funding models places additional pressures on the administrative and support processes within VCS organisations that are not recognised within the transformational process being proposed.
VCS organisations can develop business plans and value propositions to deliver identified and proven need. The economic constraint on the sector can interfere with their ability to deliver such activities within a blended finance structure, which drives them back to safe grant / public realm funded programmes.
Three such issues are
The variance in timings related to funding programmes, funding rounds and periods. This has an impact on cash flow, project projections and expectation, product/service delivery projections. VCS organisations cannot borrow against prospective income to either develop or pilot activity. Developing one programme while running another, from another source of funding is not possible. Programmes do not get developed or weaker business plans are developed.
There is often a variance in terminology (outcomes, outputs, impact etc.) between funders. A one size value proposition / business proposal is not always possible as one funder may accept terminology while another may not acknowledge the use of some words to fulfil their requirements.
There are extensive capital investment restrictions within funding programmes that restrict VCSE organisations’ ability to invest in IT management systems. This has a negative impact on the digital and data development of the organisation, thus creating barriers to them operating more productively and contributing to wider data collection process.
Funders will only fund certain capital elements (IT) related to their programme. VCS organisations have problems in borrowing for capital investment, capitalising the expenditure and representing it within applications or programme development costs, as the private sector would do.
In some (many) cases innovative products/ services and activities are developed through external funding.
Once success in deliverability is proven, the innovating organisation can develop business plans, value propositions and explore blended funding or other external funding to maintain delivery.
While the products/services/activity were not within public realm commissioning framework, once it has been proven there is a danger of ‘innovation assimilation’ into commissioning specifications, against which a wide range of organisations can tender. The VCS organisation that developed this process/model/ service may not win the tender. The innovating organisations has very little power over such activity – it is difficult to copyright or claim intellectual property rights over innovative activity.
This innovation assimilation perpetuates and expands the endemic silo mentality, within public realm, linear process, structures, towards the VCS organisations and transformation within that sector.
While public realm funding has been reduced over the past eight years it still has a significant impact on the non-public realm social welfare eco system.
It forms and shapes the ‘market’ it has created and has the ability to modify its own requirement through ‘consultative’ practices, co-design and production, that have the potential consequence of creating an environment of little motivation for VCS organisations to develop innovative models and share data to prove need as they may not reap the public realm benefit from their work.
*The term VCSE is used as a generic term covering Community Groups, Registered Charities, Social Enterprises, CIC’s or any other form of group that are considered ‘not for profit’. They are organisations that do not pay a share dividend or profit to individuals, but recycle such profits/surpluses within the organisation or, in some cases, to other ‘not for profit’ organisations.
**Private sector is considered as organisations that redistribute profit to shareholders, individual owners or individuals within an organisation in terms of bonus payments.
Having identified issues and terminology in the first component (Component One) the next two components aim to both deconstruct structures that are related to those issues, as well as exploring structures that ‘traverse’ public realm structures, which may be funded by public realm finances but are often seen as an addition to public realm processes of delivery and are therefore not viewed as equal.
Transformation is therefore imposed upon these ‘traversing’ structures, transformation that may not necessarily benefit such structures but is either for the benefit of, or the fiscal restrictions within, the public realm.
The ‘traversing structures’ are seen as part of a supply chain to public realm services, not as integral components but additions and ‘bolt on’ services.
The first part of this paper therefore explores what we have called the Current Process, linear development. Fig 1 provides a visual interpretation of current decision-making process, a basic outline as to how service decisions are made. Fig 1i explores a visualisation of engaging the ‘traversing’ organisations, predominantly voluntary sector organisations and community groups as part of what is can be called a supply chain.
The second part begins to explore the possibilities of a different view, a view that widens the character of voluntary and community organisations, expanding on the principle of placing individuals, community activists (assets) at the core of community and potential service provision development.
It does this by exploring different, yet complementary, views of community role and engagement within service provision.
Community Development and Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), can operate within and separate from public realm provision. Some proponents of ABCD believe it should operate separately from statutory deficit / deficiency model provision, focusing on neighbourhood / community need. The fundamental differences are outlined through Dan Duncan’s diagram, fig 3, and further references are provided.
RnR Organisation’s Three Field Development,fig 4, and Poc Zero’s Ring of Confidence,fig 5, explore constructs of a possible ecosystem, developed in Birmingham, both models/initiatives designed to aid asset-based involvement in service provision. We appreciate that these initiatives are transferable to other areas, as well as acknowledging that other organisations may have similar processes.
PART ONE The Current, Linear, Process
The Current Process, referred to as the Linear Process.(Fig 1) provides a visualisation of the issues expressed in Component one.
The visualisation identifies the process as linear in format, fiscally restricted and output driven. The process is initiated through political policy which, in turn is turned into strategic policy, strategic development and finally operational implementation, all developed within fiscal constraints, public funding.
Service delivery has changed over the past 15-20 years from an in-house, or grants to external organisation delivery, to that of services delivered by public and non-public sector organisations being undertaken through a process of written tenders and commissioned work. Tender specifications and commissioned activity is driven by data – this data identifies the need, it is predominantly collated within public realm data sets and is, therefore, often restricted data and silo focused. The data is retained in specific departments and not necessarily shared amongst, or even known by, other departments.
Such data sets are seldom shared externally, outside the public realm organisation, or published in a format that encourages sharing or enables any other party to develop interpretative models that may produce an ‘innovative’ solution to an issue. While the publishing of personal data would not be acceptable, anonymised data published under an open license could widen partnership and engagement of other parties.
Fig 1 Current Model, Linear Process
Not only is commissioning undertaken within restricted data boundaries, it is also fiscally restricted, primarily, but not solely, through political decisions at a national level. Policy and process, established by national government and implemented at a local level, ascertains the amount of money available to fund services identified through the data.
The commissioning and tendering process is aimed at ‘opening’ or ‘creating’ a market. The term ‘purchaser’ is used to describe functions within a commissioning and tendering process, attracting ‘products’ or services through tender applications, assessed against fiscal constraints and output expectations.
While this process purports to encourage product development and innovation and, to this end, it may use these terms within any tendering of commissioning documentation, products that fall outside, or do not clearly comply with outputs outlined within the specification will not be commissioned. New products/processes, developed and proven through additional funding (external funding), may be assimilated into the process.
However, because of fiscal and output constraints, the restricted data, and resultant tender definition of product ensures the linear process influences and impacts, not only public realm structures and services, but also the interaction between public realm and other differently funded organisations.
Reforms within the public realm to accommodate political and fiscally ‘encouraged’ changes are titled ‘transformation’.
Because this ‘transformation’ is delivered within the linear process through commissioning and tendering, it has an impact on how the public realm interacts with the funded supply chain – organisations that are funded to deliver services.
Transformation ‘encouraged’ in the public realm is cascaded to voluntary and community organisation. These have been developed to resolve local/neighbourhood issues, and are funded to undertake this activity. This happened historically through grant processes but they now find themselves having to compete in a tendering and commissioning process.
The public realm linear process develops and delivers its internal transformation, within its own palimpsest. Fiscal restrictions encourage a (Fig 1i) ‘we deliver what we can afford’ mentality, and subsequent tendering and commissioning framework. Groups, organisations or companies, used to one set of rules, have to adjust to tendering against these measurements i.e. not only the change from grant funding to commissioning but the, sometimes, misinterpretation of tendering guidelines and legislation, large contracts and the widening number of applicants for commissioned activities due to shrinking public and charitable funding)
Fig 1i Current Model, Linear Process with proposed transformation agenda
While this process may be adequate for supply of services to the public realm (although there is a wider debate about public realm staff skills in writing appropriate tenders) such a process has limited achievement in developing new or ‘innovative products’ into a market where the funder, public realm commissioners, decide the finance available, the market provision, the output/numbers to be delivered and the cost of delivery.
The current process does not comply with any product development principles – it is not a market, as the funders retain complete control over the fiscal structure, quantity, circulation and therefore project/product delivery. Public realm expenditure, within the current process ‘open market’ principle, has an enormous impact, on other sectors of economic activity. This impact is neither incorporated within the design of services nor managed strategically to support any outcome / output process.
This is explored in greater depth in wave impact (Component Three)
While it is called a market, it is not. New providers, innovative solutions, have little chance of influencing commissioning if they do not fulfil the criteria of the tender specification which, in itself, is designed through restricted data, institutionally based and biased.
Additional community engagement is undertaken in the linear process through a variety of ‘customer’/patient, community liaison [consultation] activities. The majority of these practices, Housing Liaison Boards, Stakeholder experience consultations, ‘Expert by Experience’ ‘Expert Patient’ activity, Ward Committees etc. are professional-led consultation processes, following an organisational structure or ‘medical’ model method of engagement. Each of these processes treats the community participant as a recipient of services only, with no cognisance given to any of their skills in their ‘real life’ beyond the consultation process.
The terms co-design/co-production are frequently used to describe wider participation in the development of services but the terms of engagement are strictly within the parameters of the organisation/funders.
The ‘open market’ principle within the linear process and transformation of services entails the development of a supply chain, partnership or community development within the commissioning and tendering process. Partnership engagement and community development is often couched as a consultation process and may not lead to commissioned work.
This process takes place within the deficiency model – it does not acknowledge the skills within a community or target group that may aid some or all of its commissioned objectives and outputs. Instead, ‘capacity building programmes’ are developed and provided in order to ‘ensure’ that VCSE organisations or community groups develop skills to be ‘efficient’ in delivering within the linear process, if they are successful within the tendering process.
PART TWO – Community Engagement – principles and models
Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), people and communities
This section identifies different hypothesis and models to that of the Linear Process i.e. for community engagement to be effective and efficient, it must hold the view that ‘everyone is an asset’.
Individuals, and therefore communities, are the core of public realm funded activities. The majority of ‘social welfare’ provision perceive such individuals, through linear process restricted data, as having needs that need resolving i.e. the ‘deficiency model’.
The social welfare element of public sector expenditure, health, care (and education) tend to view, and therefore plan, services for ‘people and communities’ (those with ‘needs’), as recipients or beneficiaries of services. Services are planned within a deficiency model, identifying ‘problems’ to be resolved, services to be provided and skills for the participant/recipient to learn or acquire. Problems and issues are identified through closed data analysis of restricted data, with services provided for individuals by ‘professionals’
An engagement/development ‘asset based’ approach to communities, target groups etc., could have a much greater impact through the acknowledgement of the skills and experiences of participants. Identifying individual and organisational learning and training needs, engaging in decision making, utilising locally-sourced data and intelligence, and accommodating these resources in a new decision-making process, could have a quantifiably positive impact on outputs and outcomes related to identified needs.
An ‘asset-based’ model, where communities play a more active role in the design and delivery of services from which they and others will benefit, is potentially far more productive than the linear process. It does, however, require a significant public realm paradigm shift in planning and delivering services and activities for it to have noteworthy effective on community engagement and impact. Such a model provides an opportunity for statutory services to be enriched and enhanced by acknowledging and harnessing inherent and/or latent skills within communities. It changes a deficit model of resolving perceived ‘deficiencies and difficulties’, into an asset-based model, acknowledging the role that individuals and communities collectively can play in designing, developing and delivering programmes to address mutually agreed issues. (fig 3)
As a point of clarification, the term ‘community’ is used to describe a common bond of interest, issue, culture or geography, acknowledging that such ‘communities’ are as diverse in skills and engagement as they are broad in interest and culture. They may be organised in ‘constituted groups’ (charities, incorporated voluntary organisations etc.), faith based or unincorporated groups, etc. They may wish to deliver services, to be involved in the planning or just to support people in their ‘community’.
Asset-based, as well as community development activities, tend to try and value all individuals, their skills knowledge and experience and believe they can add something to transformational activity. Conversations, listening and talking are core activities in acknowledging and utilising community ‘assets’ i.e. people.
The paradigm shift required by public realm organisations and institutions in modifying their approach to community is highlighted in Dan Duncan’s ‘ABCD, Toolkit’– a practical manifestation of Asset Based Community Development, The New Paradigm for Effective Community Impact.
Fig 2 New paradigm for effective community impact, Dan Duncan
The table in Fig 2 provides a clear distinction between a Needs/Deficit Based model, as delivered within the Linear process, and an Asset-Based process.
The Asset-Based approach is more often associated with community engagement provision. It is not beyond the bounds of reason to believe that such principles can be incorporated into a new design process for public realm services. While community and asset developments often focus on localised, neighbourhood, activity and shy away from participation in wider service development, it does not mean that such a principle cannot be used to enhance service provision, as long as the public realm process acknowledges the equality of partnerships and skills.
Additional information concerning Asset Based principles can be found at
While community development and ABCD can be guiding principles of service development, two models of engagement outline how the principles enshrined within the linear process can be challenged and modified.
Acknowledging that any service development is primarily an amelioration process, these models explore interventions at various levels and by various ‘partners’
Both models explore partnership, the Three Fields Development (fig 3) identifying the compartmentalisation of support and the Ring of Confidence (fig 4) identifying distinct roles that partners can play in supporting an individual.
This model compartmentalises health and social care into three distinct components or Fields.
Field One – formal public sector (statutory sector) intervention – including Health provision, Care, Local Authority Services etc. These are developed and lead by ‘public sector’ professionals delivering statutory provision or essential services.
Field Two – the structured supply chain, including activities and services that support statutory services. Projects receive funding from a variety of sources, public realm as well as additional sources e.g. Big Lottery Fund, charitable trusts etc.
Projects are delivered predominantly through VCS organisations.
Projects and organisations form part of the statutory service supply chain and support partners. Projects are not standardised or enveloped by legislation [statutory provision] as are services in ‘Field One’.
Additional/external funding is however, increasingly related to needs identified through public sector data, and delivered with agreed milestones and outcomes.
Field Three – community activists and volunteer support, as individual assets, within community organisations or service provision. Individuals are involved as volunteers, providing support to beneficiaries of programmes, and they may also be beneficiaries of a service, linked to and supported by a community focused service provider.
Fig 3 The Three Field Model.
RING OF CONFIDENCE (Fig 4). – The Ring of Confidence™, developed by our colleagues in pocZero, acknowledges the ‘support’ surrounding an individual at any time in their life. In the diagram below, the blue circles denote statutory services while the others denote community services.
At any one time, an individual may receive support from a variety of services, or they may receive none at all, but the services are considered to be available.
Such services and support will alter throughout the lifetime of an individual so, while the titles attached to the circles (components) within the ‘ring’ may change, the relationship between the components and the support offered to or received by the individuals will not change.
Both Three Field™ and Ring of Confidence™ models appreciate the potential role of community/asset based development as part of a paradigm shift in planning and delivering the necessary changes to public realm systems thinking as part of a transformation of services.
Fig 4 Ring of Confidence™ (pocZero)
A third, intermediary model, BOXES OF SUPPORT™, provides a link between the two separate models. The ‘boxes’ represent public realm services and community support identified in both the Three Field™ and the Ring of Confidence™ Models.
The Boxes Of Support™ acknowledge and compartmentalise support available to and/or required by individuals throughout their life or at specific stages within their life. The boxes identify ‘cogs’ to the ‘components’ identified within the Ring of Confidence™ and a clarity to constituent parts of each of the three fields.
The ‘boxes’ offer the basis of a ‘supply chain’ to be developed as part of a comprehensive ‘offer’ of support to individual throughout their life. While the Three Field™ Model and Ring of Confidence™ represent the nature of support for individuals the Boxes of Support™ identify specific elements of that support, statutory, community, family or volunteer.
Boxes outlined in Fig 5 are not comprehensive but indicative of the type of support that is available. The Boxes of Support™ concept acknowledges that, throughout an individual’s life, engagement and support with agencies and ‘communities’ can differ, therefore the content of the boxes can change or undertake a different role at different or specific stages.
It is crucial that, in any development or transformation provision, the support to individuals is the acknowledgement of the role of the ‘content’ of all the boxes, and the potential co-ordination of some of the boxes, and an acknowledgement of communication between the boxes supporting the individual.
Fig 5 Boxes Of Support™
These models acknowledge that community and asset-based activity can be developed, and often is, separate to public realm strategic service development. The models provide an outline that constructively facilitates and utilises community and asset engagement in the development, design and implementation of services, compartmentalising specific supports that encircle an individual as they come into contact with support services.
Compartmentalisation of services enables more specific categorisation of activities, enhancing programme planning activity, clarifying the specific and constructive role which assets and community organisations can play.
These two models are local to activity in and around Birmingham, and there may have been other structures designed by other organisations in other areas. Component 5 [as yet unpublished] identifies baseline processes that should be adopted in developing community engagement processes within a community and asset-based ethos.
It is essential to acknowledge that, while the ‘assets’ may be primarily unpaid volunteers, their role in any development should not focus on or emphasise the ‘free staff’ that may become available to a service, filling gaps created by cuts to services. Neither should the emphasis on community engagement focus on the role of public realm employed community development staff, or staff with a ‘community brief’.
Traditional public realm community engagement programmes, and staff remain focused on delivery within the Linear Process, within its ethos and objectives. This is not community/asset-based engagement.
The emphasis should be placed on the development or engagement of individuals who live in, or have a connection to, a community of geography, interest or culture. The process should utilise and acknowledge the skills and knowledge of the ‘assets’ in developing support and activities within communities, neighbourhoods/localities, and playing an active role in service identification, design and delivery.
Visualisations within this post are to be published soon by RnR Organisation in a series of essays that explore public realm transformation
The visualisations explore the systems within public realm process of decision making and its influences on other sectors, primarily the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS).
Within this post the visualisations are in 4 sections though they may appear in a different order in forthcoming essays
This section (1 of 4) identifies what we call the current linear process of public realm decision making and its subsequent impact on transformation of VCS engagement within ‘product’ development and innovation of services (Fig 01).
The second visualisation (Fig 01i) identifies how the linear process affects the development of ‘products’ and services, with subsequent visualisations (Figs 01ii & 01iii) exploring how public realm transformation is driving and ‘informing’ product and service development within VCS organisations and the voluntary sector.
This section (2 of 4) explores alternative views of ecosystems of support
The Ring of Confidence™ (Fig 02i) developed by Poc Zero, outlines agency support to an individual.
Boxes of Support™ (Fig 02ii) was developed by RnR Organisation, in discussion with Poc Zero, as an addendum to the Ring of Confidence™.
The next visualisation is Dan Duncan’s ‘New Paradigm for Effective Community Impact’ (Fig 02iii). This identifies the fundamental difference between needs and deficit-based provision, delivered through the linear process, and an asset-based approach that focusses on people being the core to developing ideas and activities. With additional resources available from ABCD Institute.
The last two visualisations (Fig 02iv & Fig 02v) provide a different view of the Three Field Model ™, identifying how commissioning and the linear process affects current practice within Field One (Statutory provision), Field Two (Places to go) and Field Three (Community assets).
This section (3 of 4) outlines processes that are included within public realm commissioning but, we would argue, not in their ‘absolute’ forms.
Product development (innovation) (Fig 03) is a term used frequently within commissioning processes, as are the terms design, co-design and co-production (Design Process, Fig 03i). The visualisations provide an outline of what we consider to be ‘absolute’ processes.
This section also visualises the data ecosystem. One visualisation (Fig 03ii) is our representation of the public realm data ecosystem – who holds data, where that data is used and how it can impact on products to market. This ecosystem includes campaigns for opening data, lobbying and campaigning groups.
The Open Data Institute (ODI) Data Spectrum (Fig 03iii) provides an outline of which data sits where, from Closed to Open, and the last visualisation (Fig 03iv) explores how the ecosystem and Data Spectrum can begin to be fused together, exploring how data can be utilised in public realm decision making process
This last section (4 of 4) begins to fuse all the elements in the previous 3 sections into visualisations that lead to a new decision-making process.
The first two (Fig 04 & Fig 04i) re-present earlier visualisations with slight modification.
The next two (Fig 04ii & Fig 04iii) explore issues related to data collection – by Field One organisations, from both Field Two organisations and Field Three ‘assets’
Following that there are two further visualisations (Fig 04iv & Fig 04v) exploring the fusion of the Three Field Model ™ and the data ecosystem and how that process can be used to gather data.
The last visualisation (Fig 04vi) identifies a service development, decision making, eco-system that brings together aspects of previous visualisations.