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.
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
Net Squared Midlands is relaunching on September 20th 2018 with a new development plan for bi-monthly meetups.
Net Squared Midlands, organised by Pauline Roche and Ted Ryan from RnR Organisation, is a tech for social good group with regular free events for people interested in using the web or mobile technology for social good. It’s part of a global NetSquared movement of innovators in more than 70 cities around the world, including Birmingham.
Ted said: “In developing Net Squared Midlands, we aim to build a sector that knows how to use technology more efficiently in order to help their beneficiaries, explore the specific issues and activities not financed through many tech for good funding streams, increase the efficiency and productivity of our sector e.g. automate repetitive tasks, and to build a creative and collaborative digital mindset in the sector”
Sam Reader, of new tech startup Wondr, who has recently become a member of Net Squared Midlands, said: “I think what RnR Organisation is doing, to help charities and non-profits is a great approach and very meaningful. Our team are also passionate about connecting people with others, to share useful information for positive action so I look forward to being involved with Net Squared Midlands.”
Net Squared Midlands is one of 4 themed areas of work undertaken by RnR Organisation, under the Tech for Good and Data for Good banners. They also publish a free monthly e-bulletin (Digital WM News), organise the unconference for voluntary sector infrastructure organisations (VCSSCamp), and Pauline chairs the regional funders network (WM Funders Network).
Digital Leaders Week is a national celebration of opportunities, challenges and support for the digital transformation of Britain’s businesses, public services and society. Listing over 120 events (77% outside London) with 10,000 free places RnR was happy to help share, inspire, inform and build the UK’s Digital Confidence.
We were delighted to be in Sandwell in June during 2018 national Digital Leaders week to facilitate the second iSandwell Camp, this one focussing on Digital Champions.
With over 30 participants from the public and voluntary sectors we looked at how we use our digital skills at work and at home, the need for digital in the region, where we get our digital skills and information from and perception of the issues in Sandwell in regards to digital exclusion.
We then set the scene to where we are currently are with the Sandwell Digital Champions network, seeing the iSandwell Camp event as a chance to put the brakes on and engage with the community to ensure we are on point, welcoming feedback on the existing role description.
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.
These series of essays seek to explore the concept of transformation within public realm provision, deconstructing the process into components, identifying issues, terminology and methods that have formed current practice and process and arguing in a public realm provision transformational process.
The term ‘component’ is used to identify the complexity of public realm process, acknowledging that there are a variety of ‘parts and processes’ within the services delivered through public realm funding.
Each component is explored, activity identified, and terminology examined within current and potential provision.
This first essay (Component One) provides an outline of definition and issues within a transformational process.
Subsequent essays will explore:
Current and Possible public realm ecosystem (Component Two)
Supply chain development (Wave Impact) within public realm funded programmes (Component Three)
Link between term used within commissioning and tendering and the ‘absolute’ definition (Component Four)
The final essay (Summary) will bring together all the issues outlined in the first four, exploring how they can influence transformation within public realm services.
Other RnR blogposts and publications will be referenced throughout the essays – these are relevant to the issue being explored within any specific component.
Component One – Definitions and issues
Public realm, public service, transformation, and the issue of palimpsest.
Public service to public realm
The first element of this component is the terminology we use throughout this and subsequent essays outlining other components in transformation.
The primary task in a service transformation process is distinguishing the service provision, the funding source, and the describing terminology used in such a process. In projects that are part of a ‘welfare provision’ it may be obvious who is providing the funding; it has, however, become more difficult to identify who is providing the service.
The creation of internal markets, private finance initiatives, academies, commissioning, tendering and contracting have created a wide variety of service provision.
The strategic development of provision is still the remit of national government, through a departmental delivery system. Some activities are the responsibility of local government, but such roles have diminished due to funding structures. Increasingly, the local authority structure is used to deliver national government policies through commissioning and contracting, as part of the ‘open and free market’.
The principle of commissioning within public expenditure increases the number of organisations involved in service and project delivery, thus widening the ‘public sector’ concept to accommodate neoliberal principles that an open and free market increases choice and maximises the ‘benefits’[remuneration] of public expenditure.
Services are delivered through commissioning and procurement processes, or by selling off services through a bidding process through a variety of ‘conduit vehicles’. Organisations or companies are still funded by public funds, but are they public services?
The ‘market’ delivered activities are still referred to as public services, irrespective of the provider or the route of any excess/profit from the activity.
To encompass the myriad of processes of delivery of services we in RnR Organisation use the term ‘public realm’ services, services whose source of finance is derived from the ‘public purse’. We use this term so that we can discuss the transformation of ‘products or services’ delivered by organisations to beneficiaries, irrespective of the organisation or process that delivers the service. The service remains within the public realm, accessible in the same way, or with some changes. It is not, however, a public service delivered by staff employed through a public body. It is delivered by a variety of organisations and companies, some of whom may be community run social enterprises, reinvesting any excess, or others where part of any ‘public’ funding is retained as excess/profit, not employed for its project function but distributed to shareholders or owners.
Acknowledging this difference is not just one of semantics but an acknowledgement of the changes in the public funding pathway. Whereas local Authorities and councils used to provide a wide range of services their role has, over several reforms, been modified into that of a facilitator /provider of commissions.
Transformation clarification of public service remit
The second element explores the potential for innovative or novel transformation, given the reforms that have taken place over the past twenty years.
As if the reforms undertaken by the Thatcher and subsequent governments were not enough, the term ‘transformation’ continues to be used within an almost continuous process of restructuring services.
The current ‘transformation’ agenda therefore exists within an environment which views public services, developed and provided by national or local government departments, as a thing of the past.
Public realm funding, national government expenditure, however, continues to be spent, in silo departments, within a linear decision-making process, ensuring that political strategy and values are implemented to operational programmes into the ‘market’ through a commissioning process Fig 1
Fig 1 Current Model, linear Process
So what exactly is being transformed? Who is leading that transformation, and what is the perceived outcome of such reforms? Given the austerity budgets since 2011 it would be simple enough to suggest that a neoliberal, free market, public expenditure reductionist agenda is in the ascendancy.
Transformation, in such a climate, and after such major reforms and the ‘selling off’ of services, would seemingly finish what is left of public sector delivered funding, if not public realm services all together.
Yet, in this potentially darkest hour for public realm services, we would contend that there is an opportunity to truly transform how national and local government services, as well as other publicly paid-for services can be delivered, thus utilising public funding and transforming the role of public bodies as enablers and facilitators
Historical context, terminology and purpose
To begin the exploration of such a transformation we need to ask three questions to address the historical context, to challenge some terminology and to identify a remit/purpose.
What are public services? a brief one paragraph explanation: Beginning with the 1601 Poor Law, financed from property owners, the process had a geographic focus of parishes in those days – not to alleviate poverty, but to control the ‘lower orders’, and to reinforce a sense of social hierarchy. There were amendments throughout the subsequent centuries, expanded by the creation of Local Authorities and associated Acts that added responsibility for roads, water, electricity, gas and education. Their growth and subsequent decline is well documented.
Who are the stakeholders? Are we customers? Both these terms have been recently adopted and are widely used within service planning and delivery. Do individual stakeholders have different perceptions of public services, what is delivered and what, as recipients, is expected? Can a beneficiary of a service, a customer, also be a participant in delivering that service?
In public realm services the answer is yes, but most planning provides a distinct separation between provider and recipient. In the way the two terms are used is there a difference between stakeholder and customer? We would argue that there isn’t.
By adopting such unclear terminology there is a danger of developing services within restricted ‘stakeholder/customer’ categorisation, separating/compartmentalising those involved into those who deliver, and those who receive. It becomes a deficiency service model, with recipients, people who have defined problems that need resolving, and people with the skills to resolve them. In developing such programmes within ‘silo department’ funding sources, stakeholders/customers/providers become compartmentalised into simplistic pigeonholes: problem, provider and recipient. Funding follows this formula.
There is no scope in this model for considering how to fit ‘stakeholders/customers’ into more than one category, to consider the possibility that an individual may participate in more than one role within a service – a provider can also be a recipient and can fit into a number of categories.
More difficult in ‘welfare services’? Given the breadth of public expenditure it may be more difficult within ‘welfare’ provision to identify role(s) and remit(s). While infrastructure projects, roads, water etc. are easy to define within measurable outcomes, delivery of welfare services, personal development, care, etc., can be more subjective. Services are developed to ameliorate identified issues and problems – services designed within a deficiency model.
Compartmentalisation of problems leads to subjective deficiency definitions, and thus provides project titles such as ‘Troubled Families’, ‘People with Multiple and Complex Needs’, ‘Disaffected communities’ etc. These are projects developed within a deficiency/ ‘medical model’, delivered by staff frequently recruited from a specific social class, potentially delivering a ‘we know best’ programme.
Dichotomy in the development and delivery process
The deficiency model delivery and the development of stakeholder/customer involvement creates a dichotomy in the development and delivery process. Providers’ input and views can outweigh those of the recipient, thus reducing the impact of stakeholder involvement, making any co-design and production activity meaningless.
Later components in this series will explore the role, not of distinguishing between recipient or providers, but rather of recognising and developing individuals as ‘assets’ within communities, and incorporating such practice, and ultimately resources, in developing a neighbourhood (community) support process and provision.
Transformation – an issue of palimpsest1?
The last element acknowledges that no transformation of public services takes place on a blank canvas, but on an existing blue print that is drawn and re-drawn over the years. Current service provision bears the marks of historical development and delivery, previous processes and incarnations, the potential, perceivable and the unachieved, impossible to remove or wipe clean.
Public sector reform/transformation is undertaken within the data it gathers from the silos, data from its services, related to problems it has identified, and solutions it wishes to impose. It is influenced by fiscal constraints of public funding – such activity is promoted as reform and restructuring which is potentially disproportionally influenced by those employed to deliver the process, protecting both their status and their income.
Terms such as ‘co-design’ or ‘co-production’ are used to augment ‘stakeholder’ involvement in service development – but it’s service development that remains fiscally restricted, silo data-driven and output orientated.
We believe that true reform, even within fiscal restrictions, is possible, if driven by decision making using a wider range of processes and data. Such reform or transformation has to be built on previous and current activities, but the ‘components’ outlined in this series of essays form the core of a re-thinking, the transformation of provision.
We believe that participants in such delivery should be from as wide a range in society as possible and include the process of accumulating as much data and ‘skilled assets’ as possible, in order to redraw any current ‘blueprint’ of how public realm expenditure impacts on individuals, not only at a service delivery level but also at a neighbourhood and community level.
A very old text or document in which writing has been removed and covered or replaced by new writing – something such as a work of art that has many levels of meaning, types of style, etc. that build on each other;
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.
…along with Anna Walters, Head of GRC at Zenzero Support and Victoria Masso. We had been invited to prepare responses to the questions “Do we have an inclusive Tech Community in Greater Birmingham? If you think we do, could you explain how/why we do? If you don’t, can you think of a way we can be more inclusive?”
At the event, we didn’t have enough time to get into the whole subject due to time constraints so here’s the full text what I would have said – I’d love to hear what you would have said in response!
Tech community in Greater Birmingham and inclusion
Yes, I think parts of the community are inclusive in that it includes the Silicon Canal working groups Diversity in Tech and Women in Tech, and the 200 Silicon Canal Ambassadors. Many of the physical locations are quite accessible and some of the events include a variety of speakers, not just the usual suspects.
But no, I think other and more parts of the community are not inclusive in that the community and our events does not reflect the diverse demography of the communities in the Greater Birmingham area, and some events and meetups are held in inaccessible venues.
How can we be more inclusive?
So, in and around a smart city like Birmingham, how can we be more inclusive? I have some suggestions:
For under-represented people in tech and our allies:
Join relevant meetings and networks to gain and give peer support e.g. Ada’s List, a global community for women* in tech (“*by women we mean all women (trans, intersex and cis), all those who experience oppression as women (including non-binary and gender non-conforming people) and all those who identify as women”), based on principles of inclusion, empowerment and diversity.
For tech groups and organisations:
Recognise that not everyone can afford to pay to attend events, so, unless the event is free and in an accessible, welcoming venue anyway, offer a sliding scale for tickets according to what people can afford, from free to top whack, trusting people to pay as appropriate; and if you’re providing free refreshments, beer and pizza appeal to some demographics, but why not try offering prosecco and cake instead – and monitor what happens?
When recruiting to tech roles, use inclusive recruitment practices – this post and this one provides some pointers if you’re not sure what that looks like
Diversity data – start gathering data on diversity in your group or organisation to help you measure the impact of diversity, and then talk about it internally and externally, and share it widely amongst your networks
Sign up to the Tech Talent Charter – this employer-led initiative brings together industries and organisations to drive diversity and address gender imbalance in technology roles.
For everyone in tech
Rather than sticking to your tech comfort zone with people like yourself, places you know well, and things you can already do well, seek out unfamiliar people, places and experiences, in order to learn, share and grow, and make the Greater Birmingham tech community a better place to be, for all of us. And when you do this, please tweet or blog about it!