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Sector Support (21) - Sustainable Funding – Small is Beautiful (and Wise)

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The Wales School for Social Care Research recently held a Small is Beautiful and Wise event on 26th September.

The Event focused on the fact that across Wales there is a myriad of small community-based organisations that are bringing out the best in people and nurturing well-being. Welsh Government policy and legislation is very much in support of such organisations, and rightly so. However, these organisations cannot exist on thin air and need the support of other agencies, including Local Authorities and Health Boards, if they are to thrive and develop.

The event brought together four small community based organisations from the four corners of Wales (Solva Care, KIM Inspire, Antur Waunfawr and ACE Ely Caerau) to engage in dialogue with policy makers, commissioners, regulators and researchers to explore how they can best work together to nurture community-based well-being and know that good outcomes are being achieved for all concerned.

Notes from the event can be seen below

Discussions 1: Key themes and issues regarding commissioning and procurement

  • There is tension between policy rhetoric and the reality of commissioning – the current system is far too ‘top-down’

  • We want to work differently but the financial bottom line often undermines this

  • We need to talk with corporate legal teams who can be the biggest barrier

  • Current commissioning and procurement puts up barriers to relationships, which are essential for trust, which is essential for freedom to do the right thing in context

  • Beware Pournelle’s iron law of bureaucracy: "In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely”

  • There is confusion between the terms commissioning and procurement – we need to clarify for all

  • Should we be seeking more of a pact or covenant?

  • Commissioners need access to small budgets that fall outside of procurement rules

  • There needs to be more consistency in the interpretation of co-production

  • Co-production takes time to develop and commissioners need to understand this

  • Let’s learn from the existing evidence of what works – there is already lots of 3rd sector evidence and rich data that often ‘sits on a shelf’ – there is also some delightful good practice – the right people are not hearing about the diverse good work of small organisations

  • We need to promote creativity and flexibility rather than compliance – creativity require permission and positive risk taking. This needs to be in reality rather than just on paper and in meetings – ‘Much talk cuts no ice’

  • We need to dispel the myths of health and safety around risk

  • If the government want to nurture community based social value organisations, then they should LEAD this

  • We need to listen to people and hear what they say

  • Recognise and value the importance of keeping things local – what’s important in our area

  • People and communities need to be meaningfully involved

  • Small organisations deliver over and above contract values. See recent research – The Value of Small:

  • We need to build better links between regional, local and small – so that voice of many small organisations is not ‘represented’ by others - often bigger 3rd sector organisations who don’t really understand or value what they do or may even be in competition with them

  • We need to dispel the myth that big buildings are the key to successful projects – it’s people that make a difference

  • Commissioners need to move from just funding ‘new and innovative’ projects and provide funding for sustained innovation

  • It does not take a huge amount of funding to keep small organisations going – but they need funding

  • Let a 1000 flowers bloom

Discussion 2: Practical ways forward in commissioning and procurement

  • Provide sustainable core funding for organisations that obviously work well

  • Arrange more ‘meet the buyer’ events – these could be a key catalyst to collaboration – include the small organisations in this and not just the more established 3rd sector brands

  • Commissioners and community organisations need to think long and hard together about how to shape processes and practice that foster collaboration rather than competition

  • Invest in Social Values Forums across Wales, network and learn from them - shared learning and encouragement

  • We should make better use of Citizens’ Panels – see the value of people and tap into what matters to them and their intrinsic motivations about their communities and what needs to change locally – co-vision, co-design and co-evaluate

  • Invite innovation – gather seeds of ideas that can grow or might not

  • Avoid ‘quick fix’ mentality – enable organisations to grow organically rather than forced project planning

  • Publicise emerging good practice – for example the Ynys Mon Community Commissioning Model (Building Communities/Local Asset Co-ordination) –

  • Use ICF funding to establish ‘community chests’ – pooled funding for small community organisations to draw from. Give broad outcomes that allow for creative and contextualised responses, e.g. ‘enhance well-being in your area’. Community groups then to report back on what this might look like and then feedback on progress as it emerges – with the opportunity to be responsive to changing contexts

  • Commission organisations for an approach rather than a rigid model – this will always differ depending on local community needs and context

  • Reform the process for awarding funding using a longer term strategy

  • Get out and visit projects!

  • Making budgets transparent

  • Make top-ups available to organisations that are not fully sustainable

  • Make better links with Community Councils – what is their role? The work in Solva is a good example of a Community Council taking the lead

  • Decide to disinvest in things that don’t work

  • IS there a way that funding from WG could go direct to community organisations and cut out LAs and HBs management? How about 1% or 0.5% of NHS budgets for a start?

Discussion 3: Ways forward in monitoring and evaluation

  • If we have relationships and trust, then monitoring and evaluation can focus on improving rather than proving

  • Monitoring and evaluation focused on proving and competition can result in dishonest ‘gaming’

  • Can we change the language of ‘monitoring’ to one of ‘progress’?

  • Keep it simple but not simplistic – make it as easy as possible for organisations so it can be embedded

  • Any framework must allow for different contexts

  • Evaluation should capture the what, how and why

  • Any evaluation method should be participatory rather than something ‘done-to’ organisations and people

  • Monitoring and evaluation should be a dynamic process than a one off event/assessment

  • We need to consider the impact on people from ‘being monitored’ and design it in a way that is acceptable and rewarding to them

  • Commissioners need to get out to experience and feel the quality of community organisations – not sit behind a desk just analysing data

  • We all want monitoring to be meaningful and used to enhance learning and service delivery – how do we capture the ripple effect of small organisations?

  • Should outcomes be predetermined or emergent? Maybe both

  • Through which lens? Be clear about whose outcomes are the focus - hopefully priority goes to the people we support, but workforce outcomes are important too

  • Unexpected (emergent) outcomes can often be the best

  • We also need to identify any unintended negative outcomes – this is more likely when our focus is on learning rather than performance

  • The new language is that of outcomes, but still often reporting on outputs

  • We need a balance of quantitative and qualitative evidence – with a focus on what matters rather than just what can be measured

  • Any data should be made accessible and useable to communities and commissioners

  • Monitoring and evaluation should be proportionate to the scale of activity

  • There is need for internal monitoring in organisations as well as external requirements of commissioners

  • Could there be a better fit between internal and external processes, so they complement rather than conflict – commissioners must be less prescriptive and evaluation should be co-designed not imposed

  • What works well for organisations, should be what works for commissioners

  • Small community organisations need to get savvy and rebrand – use buzz words to make themselves more attractive to funders

  • Let’s capture stories of lives changed which can never be summed up in numbers

  • Impact can also be evidenced in pictures

  • Capture benefits over time rather than just the short term

  • We need to gather stories of change and also stories of staying the same (i.e. people maintain a good life rather than going downhill)

  • If we identify changes, we also need to identify what helped and what hindered

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