Funders and data for good: regional funders network at the first national Data4Good conference

Background

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.

Reading

There is good impact evidence to back up the participation of small funders with information in articles like these:

Exploring the gold mine of funders’ data, 360 Giving 8 Dec 2016

5 ways data can improve your grant-making, NPC, 3 Nov 2016

What does it take for charities to harness the power of data?, Katie Boswell, NPC, 5 June 2017

Exploring Open Data On Charity Funding, David Kane, NCVO, 15 Dec 2015

Grant-making data and small charities, ACF, 22 June 2017

Wasting less and giving more: charities and funders unite with better data, Suraj Vadgama, ODI, 11 Jan 2017

How Funders Reduce “Nonprofit Starvation” with Tech Funding & Data Best Practices, Exponent Partners, Guidestar, 11 Nov 2016

Sharing Data Responsibly – How And Why Do Human Rights Funders Share Data? Tom Walker, The Engine Room, 27 Feb 2018

How philanthropy can support the growth of data for social good, Kendra Schreiner and Jordan Junge, Alliance for social investment and philanthropy worldwide,15 Aug 2018

Five principles for applying data science for social good, Jake Porway, Datakind, 1 Oct 2015

Charities and data in England and Wales

Photo by Alexander Sinn on Unsplash

Introduction

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

Blogposts

The best data resources for UK charities by Chloe Green, 5th April 2019, Charity Digital

Charities in the UK – Statistics & Facts by Daniel Clark, 17th Jan 2020, Statista

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) FAQs for charities, Information Commissioners Office

Databases/Directories

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

Organisations

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 whch 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.

Papers/Reports

Charities and the voluntary sector: statistics By Richard Keen & Lukas Audickas, 16th Aug 2017, House of Commons Library

Investment Spotlight report 2019 – examines the investment performance of the UK’s top 5,000 charities in terms of income and assesses the size of the charity investment market over the past 10 years.

Open data and charities: a state of the art review written for Nominet Trust by Wendy Hall, Nigel Shadbolt, Thanassis Tiropanis, Kieron O’Hara and Tim Davies, July 2012

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. 

Smart Cities: smarter VCSE

Tech and data for good

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.

Work smarter

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.

Data

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.

Digital skills

The annual Lloyds Bank UK Business Digital Index tracks digital adoption among small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) and charities.

From the 2018 report:

  • 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.

Allies

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.

Resource-saving tools

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

Voluntary sector and smart cities

In a blogpost written by us in September 2012, when Birmingham was establishing its Smart City Commission, we said:

“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”.

Future articles

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.

Events

Some events relevant to this topic:

What next?

If you or your organisation wants some strategic help to take any of these ideas forward, please contact us for a discussion about how we might work together.

 

OTHER ARTICLES IN SERIES:

Digital governance

How do you review your digital footprint?

Mapping charities in the West Midlands

The map shows 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.

James posted details of how he made the map here

RnR Organisation Digital WM™: Project 2020

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:

See our more detailed Digital WM™: Project 2020 plan in our Resources section here

What are your charity’s digital identity needs?

How could digital identification help UK charities to more effectively collect information about people using their services?

Do charities need to prove who people are, ensure that they are legally eligible for services or to record and recall information about them? If they do, what worries them about the process?

Could Yoti Keys help people to take ownership of their background information and how they share it when accessing multiple, or repeat, services?

Yoti have commissioned Nissa Ramsay of Think Social Tech, and Pauline Roche of RnR Organisation, to find answers to these all important questions.

Nissa and I will be exploring the most effective use cases for the Yoti app (which verifies legal identities or key personal details, like age) among UK charities. We will also explore the use cases for Yoti Keys, our 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 here.

Get involved

If you work for a charity based and working in the UK then we’d love to hear from you.

All we need you to do is to share your opinions and experiences by responding to this survey by 10am on Wednesday 26 September.

The survey will be relevant to you regardless of whether your work is paper-based or tech driven, face to face or online.

We’re particularly interested in hearing from you if you have a need to legally identify people. We also want 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 next

The research will end in late September, with a first look at our findings coming out later in the year.

If you want to follow the progress of the project then you can. Nissa and I will be tweeting about our work using the hashtag #digitalidentity.

Please let us know what you think by completing the survey or getting in touch with Nissa at nissa@thinksocialtech.org or I so we can work towards delivering the best possible products and services for UK charities.

Civil Society Strategy 2018 – commentaries etc

Civil Society Strategy: Building A Future That Works For Everyone, Cabinet Office, Aug 2018 [123pp, PDF]

 

ARTICLES

Charities react to the Civil Society Strategy: ‘Good start, could do more’, Kirsty Weakley, Civil Society, Aug 9 2018

Civil Society Strategy: 7 things social entrepreneurs need to know, Laura Kekuti, UnLtd, Aug 9

Civil Society Strategy – A Closer Look, Will Downs, Clinks, Aug 21 2018

The Civil Society Strategy – good ideas, no execution, David Ainsworth, Civil Society, Aug 10

Civil Society Strategy is only the beginning, sector says, Liam Kay, Third Sector, Aug 9

Civil Society Strategy: Localgiving’s Response, Aug 9 2018

Civil Society Strategy: Much to welcome, tempered by the broader context, ACF, Aug 9 2018

Civil Society Strategy – Our Thoughts, London Funders

Civil Society Strategy Special [podcast], CAF, Aug 23 2018

The Civil Society Strategy: What It Says About Digital, Lisa Horning, NCVO, Aug 30 2018

The Civil Society Strategy: What It Says About Funding And Finance, James Clarke, NCVO, Aug 14 2018

The Civil Society Strategy: What It Says About Impact And Evaluation, Alex Farrow, NCVO, Aug 20 2018

The Civil Society Strategy: What It Says About Local Infrastructure, Lev Pedro, NCVO, Aug 30 2018

The Civil Society Strategy: What It Says About Public Services, Rebecca Young, NCVO, Aug 14 2018

The Civil Society Strategy: What It Says About Regulation, Douglas Dowell, NCVO, Aug 16 2018

The Civil Society Strategy: What It Says About Volunteering, Shaun Delaney, NCVO, Aug 15 2018

The Civil Society Strategy: What You Need To Know, Elizabeth Chamberlain, NCVO, Aug 9 2018

The Civil Society Strategy won’t feed the sector, Mark Freeman, CCVS,  Aug 16 2018

Does the Civil Society Strategy deliver for charities? Richard Sagar, Charity Finance Group, 16 Aug 2018

The future is collaborative commissioning, Community Southwark, Aug 14

Government aims to build digital in civil society, Mark Say, UK Authority, Aug 10 2018

Government and charities don’t do enough to give people power, Julia Unwin, Civil Society, Aug 14 2018

Inclusive Democracy and Participation, Roz Davies, Good Things Foundation, Aug 12 2018

Julia Unwin: Government and charities don’t do enough to give people power, Julia Unwin, Civil Society, Aug 14 2018

New Civil Society Strategy – too many roadblocks on the way to success left untouched, Daniel Ferrell-Schweppenstedde, DSC, Aug 23 2018

NYA CEO Leigh’s thoughts on the Civil Society Strategy, Alex Winterton, National Youth Agency, Aug 14 2018

Our response to the Civil Society Strategy, SSE, Aug 10 2018

Paul Streets: The devil of the Civil Society Strategy lies in the delivery, Paul Streets, Third Sector, Aug 10 2018

Plotting the path: David Robinson responds to the government’s Civil Society Strategy, David Robinson, Community Links, Aug 21 2018

Revitalising trusts to support local communities, Community Foundation for Surrey, Aug 10

Strengthening Civil Society, Miriam Brittenden, CUF, Aug 28 2018

UKCF Chief Executive Welcomes The Civil Society Strategy, Fabian French

What charities should expect from the new Civil Society Strategy, Oliver White, nfpsynergy, Aug 16 2018

What Links Netflix, Assistive Technology And The Civil Society Strategy? Ian Burbidge, RSA, Aug 21 2018

LETTERS

The ‘civil society strategy’ can’t rely on charities with no funding, Guardian, Aug 12 2018

PRESS RELEASES

Government outlines vision to empower and invest in society, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & SportOffice for Civil Society, and Tracey Crouch MP, Aug 8 2018

“We now need to see Government driving action on the ground” – Our response to the new Civil Society Strategy, Paul Streets, Lloyds Bank Foundation, Aug 9 2018

Net Squared Midlands helping charities do good better

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 2018: Running iSandwell Camp

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.

Nathan Coyle from New Union liveblogged the event for iSandwell during the day.

 

 

Component Three: Supply Chain Development, Remodelling the service wave impact of public realm funding

Introduction

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

  • Consulting ‘stakeholders’

  • 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.