Having an interim role provides discipline for someone like me who loves to think about the big picture and makes things happen. It means you have to focus: there’s a deadline. So I’ve probably paid less attention to the commentaries on the voluntary sector and the new government than others have. However these did catch my attention:
- Judy Robinson, ‘Post election blues’
- Karl Wilding, ‘#GE2015: Implications for the voluntary sector’
- John Tizard, ‘The Voluntary and Community Sector must respond to the 2015 Election with both sophistication and voice anchored in its values’
They have provided excellent context for the focus of my work over the next few months. This involves supporting Involve’s Trustees to consider our future, then to make major decisions about what happens next. To inform us, we’ve commissioned a study to provide options on Involve’s potential offers to the sector. They should also be sustainable and meet the needs of the sector in the region. We are specifically requesting radical and unsentimental challenge, coupled with a thorough analysis of the current VCS operating climate.
Involve is not alone in this introspection and reflection. Conversations are springing up everywhere, within different geographies and between different levels – national/local, local/local etc. Try the following for good background material and complementary analysis:
- NAVCA, Change for good
- Judy Robinson, ‘Infrastructure needs investment and change. Who knew?’ and ‘Infrastructure angst’
I’ve been thinking about how we facilitate this study as well as how we inform it. I think we need to recognise these issues right at the beginning:
- We know that infrastructure organisations matter and are missed when they disappear. We know we have value, we are trusted; we offer intelligence, both data and stories, as well as independent brokering. Yet we find it hard to argue for ourselves, to provide hard evidence about our impact, to be confident and assertive.
- There are tough questions:
- What’s our purpose?
- Would we be recreated, should we disappear?
- Are we worth paying for?
- What are the behaviours that work for us?
Previously I suggested we should be fast, radical, nimble, brave. I would now add “bold” having read this blog from Jo Casey on (personal) boldness. And, of course, we must take responsibility for ourselves and our own change.
- Our values are sound. They are why we do research like Action Trackers which takes an unflinching look at the impact of welfare reform.
- It’s all too important for sentimentality;
- despite the affirmation we and the sector received from our manifesto, we have to ask, will anyone pay for this? Will they pay enough for Involve to survive, let alone thrive, however lean we are?
- “regions” are not what they were, do they still matter? Or are different geographies now paramount? Is it different alignments for different times?
- And there is potential – persuading the health system partners (NHS England, Public Health England and Department of Health) that the VCS really can contribute has been a major step forward: we now have an opportunity to embed the innovation in the delivery of the Five Year Forward Plan.
Here’s our plan: we’ve commissioned two local infrastructure organisations, from very different parts of Yorkshire, to work with this. Alison Haskins from Nova Wakefield will be working with us in June and July, checking out modern thinking, talking to members, looking at models developing elsewhere, and then coming back to us with options to discuss. Since we are very keen to make whatever emerges sustainable, we’ve asked Mel Bonney-Kane from CaVCA to support us as well.
Involve exists to support the VCS in Yorkshire and Humber, and through you, the people you work with – arguably the most excluded and disadvantaged in the region. Our role is similar to that of NorthernPowergrid, a classic infrastructure organisation which we support in their commitment to community engagement. They move electricity to and from homes and businesses via their networks. Without them, we would lack power. Ideally we have a network that moves ideas, knowledge, data and stories from local communities to those who have power and influence over those communities – and then takes messages back again. Through this exchange, we hope that positive change is generated.
We now need to be sure that this work is still required, is appropriate and can be sustained.
I look forward to hearing your views.