A 2020 Vision of Civil Society

A 2020 Vision of Civil Society

To coincide with London Funders’ publication of our Review of Reviews, Rocket Science’s London Director, John Griffiths, reflects on what Brexit really means for UK civil society and some implications for its funders . . .

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

These words of the metaphysical poet and one-time Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, John Donne, have never had more portent as we prepare to leave the European Union. What on the morning of 24th June 2016 might have seemed a knee-jerk act of political protest, has exposed deep-seated socio-economic divisions throughout the land, as well as between the capital city and the rest of the country. Recent analyses of the implications for the UK of the Brexit vote show that this is not a time for London’s “splendid isolation.”

The UK’s decision to leave the EU proved to be the cue for a lengthy bout of self-analysis and enquiry. The last two years have seen an outpouring of reports looking at different aspects of the condition and future of Britain. They explore the changes required to our democracy, education and economy in order to confront the biggest challenges facing the country today of which inequality, the focus of a new 5-year inquiry by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, is consistently identified as the greatest.

What is absent from these assessments is any significant contradiction to the narrative of an irrevocably shrunken state unable to cope with rising demographic pressures and social demand. The contract which underpinned the welfare state for over 70 years – ie that in exchange for taxation and personal responsibility government will provide for its citizens “from cradle to grave” – appears broken. In their search for an alternative system, the reviews do share a certain optimism that a far more inclusive civil society, one no longer synonymous with a “third sector” but also embracing business, is key to our achieving a new form of lasting social settlement.   

Another recurring theme of these analyses is the growing significance of place as the focus for policy making and social innovation in communities. Following more than two decades of devolution and localism, the government’s Civil Society Strategy (2018) gives substance to the belief that “people best placed to drive forward local and sustainable economies are those who live, work and do business in them.”

This is a policy trend which is likely to strengthen following our eventual exit from the EU, once government defines its idea of “double devolution” and certain powers and funds are repatriated. Several high-profile foundations, as well as the tellingly re-named National Lottery Community Fund, are already taking a more place-based approach to their funding in order to stimulate social action, coordinate investment and unlock local assets. They seem to be tapping into the  popular urge to re-establish feelings of community in an increasingly atomised society, one in which people look to place as a way of reaffirming their identity and a sense of belonging.

Understanding the current zeitgeist, of which the process of Brexit is more a symptom than a cause, offers some pointers to funders’ future priorities. In what is an increasingly fractured country, there are two fissures which stand out.  

 

One is the growth in both income and wealth inequality between the richest and the poorest in our society, indicators which are particularly pronounced within London. The other is the increasing divide between capital and country.

Debates about the future sustainability and fairness of London have tended to focus on the striking narrative of “a tale of two cities.” This can hide the degree to which there is also a widening schism between London and the rest of the country. Analysis of the geographical differences in the result of the 2016 EU referendum, for example, has identified the mounting resentment about the capital’s preferential policy treatment, the disproportionate levels of public spending and its growing levels of individual and corporate wealth. Differences in personal wealth, and hence individuals’ life chances, between the capital and the rest of the UK are the biggest of any country in Europe.  As the Social Mobility Commission has pointed out, children going to school in Westminster and receiving free school meals are five times more likely to go to university and then on to good jobs in London, than children elsewhere in the country.

In the so-called “post-truth era,” a time of increasingly shrill political discourse and “fake news,” local and regional funder forums – neutral space where funders share ideas and forge collaborations, supported by increasingly available data on sources of place-based giving – are increasingly essential. Funder collaborations are an opportunity to project the more inclusive image of a modern civil society.  The reviews’ largely optimistic outlook, that civil society has a vital role to play in finding solutions to the challenges ahead, does not gloss over the more hard-hitting assertion that “civil society will not be able to do this without changing itself.” This is meant to be a joint, inclusive effort; civil society’s creativity and synergy come from the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors working together with a shared interest in a common purpose and common wealth.  However, when it is convenient to do so, it is all too easy to revert to traditional thinking, equating the term “civil society” with the “third sector,” a discreet area outside the state and the commercial market, which can reinforce a sense of competition, difference and otherness. 

An important corollary of forums like London Funders’ providing a safe space for collaboration, is that their members appreciate the opportunity and value of being challenged. These reviews’ widening of the parameters of a modern civil society, to include business when it acts for a social purpose, means that a forum’s membership needs to reflect the cross-sectoral nature, the range of place-based and community interests, and the sheer diversity of civil society.

The risk is that narrow or unrepresentative membership creates an echo chamber, with insufficient capacity or courage to address fully the challenges set out, for example, by Julia Unwin’s Inquiry, which envisions civil society thriving only as result of our collective willingness to redefine difficult concepts of Power, Accountability, Connection and Trust. 

John Griffiths is a Director of Rocket Science UK Ltd and a Trustee of London Funders, a membership network for funders and investors in London’s civil society.

No one is hard to reach if we are doing it right – effective community engagement

No one is hard to reach if we are doing it right – effective community engagement

Clare Hammond explores the lessons we have learned at Rocket Science about what works when it comes to community engagement.

Government strategies, funders’ focus, and community need is all going in one direction – a growing emphasis on helping those who most need it. These groups come with a myriad of ‘titles’ such as multiple and complex needs, furthest from the labour market, and the hard to reach.

The typical service model goes – people turn up, you support them, they are better off for it. Sounds simple right? Perhaps not. As any staff involved in frontline delivery will tell you, engaging the right groups in the right numbers and in the right ways is extremely difficult. There are a wide range of complex and nuanced drivers for a lack of engagement that services need to navigate.

We recently completed a review of a Scottish Government fund that supported community-based programmes to take a new and more dignified approach to food poverty. We went in looking for evidence about whether the support provided by these projects was helping alleviate hunger, increase nutrition and reduce the stigma and indignity associated with food banks.

What we didn’t expect to find was how much these projects could teach all sectors about engaging people in services and support. The firm community development underpinning to these organisations created a wave of engagement and interest that projects were often struggling to keep up with. Many had even taken the next step and turned this engagement into extra capacity through volunteering and in-kind support, further building their services.

So, what were these projects doing so well? Based on this research and other projects we have worked on recently, we boiled it down to the following.

Their approach to targeting was not to target

Seems counterintuitive right? But projects that didn’t explicitly target the group they were seeking to reach often ended up doing a better job at reaching exactly that group.

Explicit targeting tends to single out and label individuals, usually negatively. Such labels are understandably unappealing and off-putting; driving away a lot of people in most need of support.

I can already hear commissioners and funders screaming – but what about additionally – won’t we end up helping those who didn’t really need it in the first place as well? Broadly, yes. Careful planning for how to do this is important here for this to be remotely sustainable. We suggest considering the following:

  • Will diversity help achieve better outcomes? Providing a space where people meet, who would otherwise not, can have positive repercussions on local community cohesion, and can create mutually beneficial relationships between people from different walks of life.
  • Can a non-targeted service or support act as a gateway into other more targeted support by building trusted relationships increasing the likelihood that those who need it go on to access other services?

     

    Blur the line between the helping and the helped

    This is based on the assets-based approach where everyone has something to offer. In addition, individuals usually want to offer something. No one wants to feel like a ‘charity case’. Too often well-intentioned programmes can alienate those they are trying to help, making them feel indebted to the service, and stripping away any dignity in being given support.

    It is easy for people to feel that there is a clear hierarchy of power within a project, where their role is firmly cemented as the ‘helped’, creating a feeling that they are different than the ‘helpers’. This tends to prevent people from feeling empowered and can entrench issues of negative self-image. Ultimately this makes the likelihood of sustained, long-term change slim.

    Creating more equitable power dynamics and opportunities for participants to help one another, particularly through informal volunteering opportunities, can reduce this feeling, and can even free up the capacity of busy staff. It can also combat mistrust issues that participants may have had previously with figures of authority.

    Enable disengagement and reengagement without fear of consequences

    Life can be unpredictable and chaotic, particularly for people dealing with complex, interconnected issues, such as mental ill-health, homelessness, unemployment and alcohol and drug use. This means that participants may fluctuate in their ability to engage with a service, or how useful that service can be to them. However, disengagement with a service does not mean that engagement up until that point has not been useful, or that they won’t be ready to benefit from it again in the future. The option of reengaging can give people a safety net, and help them to feel that, following a setback, all is not lost. It also enables participants to only be part of a project when they are able to really get something out of it, which may actually produce savings to a project in the long run.

    Provide meaningful activities with skills learning

    A key to effective community engagement is for people to see the value in it. No one wants to be a part of something that they feel is a waste of their time. Any community project needs to think very carefully about the activities and approaches used, and how to label them in a way that makes them appealing to be a part of. Understanding the local context, including the local service landscape and where there are gaps, as well as specific local issues, is an essential part of this. It is important not to make assumptions about what it is people want or need, but to instead ask them what they would like.

    Understand that establishing reputation takes time and investment

    Community engagement does not happen overnight. It is likely to take time and sustained effort to establish trust within a community and is an ongoing process. Even well-established projects are at constant risk of becoming out of touch with communities or suffering from a lack of promotion.

    Clare is an Associate Director in our Edinburgh Office. For more information on our community engagement and evaluation work get in touch on 0131 226 4949 or [email protected]

    What makes a good outcomes framework?

    What makes a good outcomes framework?

    Cristiana Orlando and Clare Hammond reflect on what makes an outcomes framework work

    A fundamental must do across public and third sector organisations is to be able to understand and evidence the change you are creating. Measuring outcomes is the bread and butter of organisations, and certainly the area of focus of a large portion of our work here at Rocket Science.

    There is a huge range of complexities to bear in mind when measuring your outcomes for example:

    • Making sure you are measuring the right things – as you tend to do what you measure
    • Trying to articulate impact on soft and often intangible changes you are seeing in those you work with
    • Tracking long term impact so that you can report on impacts achieved after your work with an individual or community finishes.

    However, the complexity we want to focus on in today’s blog is around how to coordinate impact measurement. For example, where Scotland-wide reporting is required, but activity and impact is occurring across 32 local organisations or partnerships. Scotland’s (and many other jurisdictions’) answer to this is to have a national outcomes’ framework. There are frameworks for community justice, mental health, alcohol and drug, social care etc – all seeking to build a comprehensive picture of impact at a national scale.

    A framework has to let partners do their own thing but measure impact with consistency

    The purpose of these frameworks is to enable a range of partners to do their own thing, but track progress, change and impact in a way that enables success to be aggregated, and in some situations compared.

    An unused framework is a pointless framework

    For a framework to be useful it has to be consistently applied and applicable for the vast majority of partners. More importantly a framework has to be used to be helpful.

    We are all very good at creating amazing and theoretically perfect frameworks that are:

    • Impossible to lower onto delivery on the ground – if it doesn’t enable local partners to tell a story that makes sense to them it is difficult to use the framework in practice.
    • Not useful to those completing the data – if it isn’t useful to them then why divert already stretched staff time using it?

       

      In our experience of reviewing and developing outcomes framework across the social care, health, employability, community justice, and housing and homelessness we have learned that there are several good practice elements that make a framework work:

      • A good outcomes framework is concise, clear, and consistent in structure and content. Keep outcome titles short but with clear instructions on how to interpret and measure them. Keep the number of outcomes to the minimum needed. Be clear about the aim of the framework, how outcomes link together and be open about the strengths and challenges of the framework
      • Avoid obsolescence through being too vague. There is a tendency to keep outcomes very high level to ensure it is flexible and applicable for partners doing very different things. Being too vague runs the risk that the information becomes meaningless as it tries to be all things to all people
      • Create a framework that is easy to collect data Conducting feasibility testing beforehand, ensuring the framework is co-produced involving all partners, and providing guidance on the use of proxy data are three ways to mitigate the risk of including unfeasible outcomes or indicators.
      • When an outcomes framework is used across localities, it is important to balance national and local priorities. Create a clear link between national objectives and local needs by providing a breakdown of the framework’s aims at both levels. This helps partners have clarity around how they fit into the bigger picture and facilitates the collection of meaningful data locally.
      • Lastly, good frameworks are closely aligned to the way business is done already. The closer the alignment the easier it is to integrate into day to day activities and greater chance of staff buying into its value

      Outcomes frameworks are a powerful tool, but striking the balance between comprehensiveness, consistency and simplicity can be a tricky process.

       

      Clare Hammond is an Associate Director and Cristiana is a consultant in our Edinburgh Office. For more information on our outcomes frameworks and evaluation work please get in touch with the Edinburgh Office on 0131 226 4949 or [email protected]

      When is a distance travelled tool a bad idea?

      When is a distance travelled tool a bad idea?

      When is a distance travelled tool a bad idea? Clare Hammond explores when and how to use distance travelled tools

      Distance travelled tools are a popular way of understanding the progression someone has made through a service. They are almost a standard part of any funder or commissioner’s monitoring ask and certainly feature heavily in evaluations and impact measurement.

      But when is using a distance travelled tool a really bad idea?

      The issue is that needs assessment and distance travelled tools can be seen as the same thing by funders, commissioners, service managers and others.

      So, what is the difference?

      • Distance travelled tools are ways of understanding the progress an individual has made. They are particularly useful when assessing the growth in an individual’s knowledge or tracking a single outcome
      • Needs assessment tools are used by practitioners to identify needs and target interventions as part of their case management role.

      Needs assessment tools are a vital part of providing holistic and person-centred support as they allow the practitioner to work through with the participant the various elements of their lives and identify the participant’s worries and needs. They tend to consider a wide variety of aspects of an individual’s life such as health, housing, relationships, employment and addiction.

      It is common for practitioners to use these tools regularly throughout their engagement with a participant in order to understand the changing priorities for support.

      For this reason, it can be easy to see how they could also be used to track an individual’s progression. If housing was scoring as a high area of concern and then after six weeks the concern level is significantly lower, then it could be reasonable to expect that this could be an impact of the programme.

      However, needs assessment tools make terrible measures of distance travelled. They can provide a distorted and confused picture of progression for two main reasons:

      1. Progression is not a linear pathway – particularly for participants with chaotic lives – and can be distorted by how individual’s feel on a particular day. Recovery or improvement is never linear and variations in scores can be misleading when considering overall progress

       

      2. Needs assessment tools can ask individuals how they feel (on a scale) on a wide range of broad issues such as employability, housing, and relationships. Practitioners quite rightly expect to see the figures on the scale to increase and decrease for reasons other than progress or regression. For example:

      • An individual may be focused on managing their addiction, so housing and relationship issues are likely to score low. Once the addiction is better managed, the focus of the individual may turn to their relationships and housing.
      • Initial scores may appear ok when individuals do not yet trust the practitioner they are working with. As the trust and relationship builds between the practitioner and participant, the individual may feel more comfortable expressing unhappiness with parts of their lives.
      • Not knowing what you don’t know can distort initial results. A participant may be happy with their housing situation initially, but as they build their self-esteem they can start to feel they deserve better. Or they can gain a better insight into  their rights when it comes to housing and they can recognise that their housing situation is unhealthy and not good enough.

      In all these situations, it would be reasonable to expect to see scores worsen over time as the individual has the space to think about these areas, the trust in the practitioner to open up about what is concerning them, and the knowledge and self-esteem to know they deserve better.

      There are two key differences between distance travelled tools and needs assessments to consider when working out how to measure impact:

      • Distance travelled tools should be used to test knowledge, understanding and confidence rather than feelings to avoid being distorted by a client’s feelings on a particular day
      • Distance travelled tools need to be focused and specific in what they are asking – broad questions like, ‘How are you feeling about your housing situation?’ should be reserved for needs assessment tools as they are useful questions to open up conversations about need.

      So, when working out how to measure progress – beware!  What can appear to be a distance travelled tool may not provide you want you are looking for.

       

      Until next time, Clare 

      Clare is an Associate Director at Rocket Science who specialises in health and social care with expertise in understanding impact and conducting evaluations. To discuss anything further please get in touch at [email protected] of 0131 226 4949

      Three Rocket Scientists talk about what it’s like to work at Rocket Science

      Three Rocket Scientists talk about what it’s like to work at Rocket Science

      Three Rocket Scientists give an insight into their day-to-day work 

      Cristiana Orlando, Research Intern

      Looking back to when I first started as an Research Intern in September 2018, it’s incredible how much I have learned in the span of six short months. I had just graduated from the University of Oxford with an MSc in Comparative Social Policy and I applied to the internship thinking it would be a great opportunity to dip my toes in the worlds of public policy and social justice. I can now say it’s been a lot more than that – from day one I have been working on tasks ranging from interviews with service managers and directors of health boards, to presenting to clients and writing our final reports. I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects including health and social care, criminal justice, and employability. During my time at Rocket Science, I have not only developed a wide set of skills, but I have also felt valued and that my work was having a genuine impact on both services and people.

      Max Lohnert, Consultant

      Much of what I do now as a Consultant was uncharted territory for me when I joined the Rocket Science team in Edinburgh as Research Intern in October 2017 after completing my MSc in the Psychology of Mental at the University of Edinburgh. Since then, every week has been filled with different activities for a range of projects across different sectors: ranging from doing fieldwork with vulnerable young people on employability programmes, large-scale survey analyses, all the way to conducting workshops with health service providers. Not only have I been supported through training and mentoring to develop a wide range skills, but our culturally flat structure means that there is much room for me bring my own ideas to the table and to develop my own areas of interest.

      Charlotte Wu, Senior Consultant

      I can honestly say that no day at Rocket Science is the same – we are always working on a revolving range of projects for a wide range of clients, which means we’re always getting to learn about new social issues and meet new people! There also isn’t a typical ‘Rocket Scientist’ – we have people from both humanities and sciences backgrounds (my BA was in English and MPhil in Gender Studies) and that variety helps us bring an interesting array of skills, interests and perspectives to any project. The thing that we all have in common is a commitment to supporting social change and fairness, and helping organisations to strengthen and demonstrate their impact.

      I also appreciate that while it’s a busy and fast-paced working environment, Rocket Science is encouraging of us pursuing development (both professionally and outside the company) and work-life balance. I actually started at the organisation back in 2013 as a Consultant and decided I wanted to go back to studying, so went away and did a PhD in Global Health Humanities, freelancing for Rocket Science part-time, and then joined again full time in November 2018 as a Senior Consultant. The different ways that I’ve worked for Rocket Science over the years, which have changed with my own circumstances, is an example of the willingness to be flexible around individual staff members’ needs that I really appreciate and value.

       

      See for more information about the open positions in Edinburgh or contact Clare Hammond for an informal chat on 0131 226 4949 or [email protected].

      Strange Bedfellows? BIDs and Civil Society

      Strange Bedfellows? BIDs and Civil Society

      The recent second annual Summit of London’s Business Improvement Districts convened by London First and the GLA revealed that BIDs and Civil Society organisations are more likely bedfellows than you may think . . .

      The government’s civil society strategy, published in August of last year, argues that there are five foundations necessary to build thriving communities – the social sector; the public sector; people; places and business. The changing expectation of the role of business in civil society is indicative of how boundaries between the private, public and voluntary sectors are becoming increasingly porous, and how many of today’s social challenges demand not just partnership working, but cross-sector solutions.  As their name implies, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) fuse two of the fundamental elements of civil society by engaging businesses in places.

      The increasing significance of place as a focus of social programmes and economic policy provided the backdrop to the London BIDs’ summit held at City Hall last month.  One round table discussion on civil society and BIDs explored their potential:  

      • as agents of community development and social integration alongside their place-shaping roles;
      • as brokers of business engagement in their local community (by connecting with local voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises);
      • as sources of place-based investment (through grants, volunteering – including pro bono expertise – as well as support in kind);
      • as partners with other stakeholders in developing place-based programmes and local initiatives.

      A recent report for the Greater London Authority, Harnessing the Capital’s Giving – what is the role of the Mayor and the GLA in enabling civic philanthropy? also highlights the importance of place as a focus for local giving (of money and time) and the role of business as partners in London’s civil society.  The report refers to the work of the sixty BIDs in the capital, several of which provide proxy Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) programmes for members to channel resources and employee-volunteering into their local area, as well as to the Place-based Giving models which are a growing feature of London boroughs’ civil society infrastructure, and which a number of BIDs are also now partnering.  

      Harnessing the Capital’s Giving argues that the Mayor’s “good growth” agenda is likely to elicit more sustained investment and “social value” than occasional charitable contributions from businesses’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes.  The Mayor’s introduction of the Good Work Standard alongside his commitment to responsible procurement provides tools to back the kind of “purpose-led businesses” identified in the Civil Society Strategy.  “Inclusive growth” is also the overarching theme of the proposed London Industrial Strategy which aims to ensure “all of London’s places, people and communities can contribute to and benefit from the city’s growth.”

      Do BIDs have a role in the changing infrastructure which supports London’s civil society?

      • Unsurprisingly, London’s BIDs have varied levels and types of interaction and involvement with civil society in their different localities; this tends to reflect the characteristics of each place, the different profile of the business community and level of resources available to each BID. Most recognise the role that BIDs have as partners in local civil society, and as conduits between businesses and the community;
      • In outer London BIDs, this tends to be more traditional volunteering – eg providing reading partners in schools; donating to foodbanks; employee team-days supporting the local community.
      • Some of the larger, inner London BIDs have developed potentially higher-impact initiatives, including 3 year-long partnering of businesses with local voluntary organisations (Bankside); tackling rough sleeping (Heart of London); creating an age-friendly business district (Angel) etc.
      • BIDs in many areas are “closer to the ground” than the local authority; as such they can be invaluable sources of data and intelligence. This enables them to raise awareness of local needs and signpost businesses which are interested in tackling community priorities e.g. SE1 BIDs working with Southwark and Lambeth collectively on local employment initiatives (recruitment; retention and “good work” practices) and the accessibility of affordable space for charitable organisations and community groups.
      • Ongoing devolution and localism (e.g. in the form of Neighbourhood Plans) and the “reinvention” of many high streets may see civil society issues rising further up BID agendas in future eg promoting meanwhile uses/pop ups and social enterprises; community representation on BID boards/ governance; re-imagining the town centre as a cultural/community nexus.

       Challenges to overcome if BIDs are to be reliable partners of a modern civil society

       Making the case – many businesses view the BID levy as part of their community investment/CSR, so asking for additional contributions to the local community needs to have a clear justification and purpose.

      • BIDs would welcome greater clarity on relevant (local) policy priorities along with frameworks and clear metrics to help define and measure community investment so that it is both more strategic, and garners as much impact as possible.
      • “Good growth” can sound a bit “motherhood and apple pie.” BIDs’ members need a clear sense of what this means at a local level; that the market/local economy works for the common good and not just exclusive sectional interests.
      • A corollary of further devolution and place-based responses to social needs could see more representation of businesses in local democratic structures, including area committees/ neighbourhood forums if not local authorities themselves.
      • The localisation of business rates potentially creates a conflict for local authorities in meeting the twin aims of maximising the tax take from local commerce, whilst also nurturing local civil society organisations.

       Whether London’s BIDs interpret their place-shaping role to include investing in local civil society is rather a moot point.  Once the business community in an area votes to establish a BID, it is almost guaranteed to remain a permanent fixture; very few BIDs are disestablished or lose their electoral mandate.  BIDs are relatively “new kids on the municipal block,” and are growing rapidly in number; it remains largely up to community partners to make the case for harnessing their potential as enablers of local civil society.

      John Griffiths is a Director of Rocket Science UK Ltd and the co-author of The Evolution of London’s BIDs (2016)