AccessEd #8 – In other words

In which I share more responses to our draft strategy, and extol the virtues of the lakes of far north Queensland...

This week finds me landing back from a somewhat epic journey to Yungaburra (near Cairns) to attend a good friend’s wedding: a welcome brain-refresher in an incredibly beautiful setting. I admit, however, that it was a carbon-footprintingly shocking journey, and conscious that my 15 years as bike rider is an inadequate off-set, I’ve also made a donation to the splendid WeForest.

All of which is to say that I’m just picking up the capacity building baton once more, and am pleased to find two more substantial responses have come through in my absence. Firstly, from NPC, their response picks up the ‘what’ and ‘how’ for our programme, and reframes them under three headings: governance and leadership, performance management and evaluation, and digital. Firstly, it is reassuring that these headings broadly overlap with those we included under the ‘what’ in this slide: it is also important to note the value of having these issues expressed and grouped in different words, as shades of emphasis and clarity of language have come up frequently in this process as being crucial.  

For example, I find their focus on ‘digital’ as a key component of the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ is helpful in that it highlights the centrality of the issue for the sector. In being both a current weakness for many organisations, and the means by which they increasingly strengthen themselves, grasping the digital technology nettle is no longer optional for those committed to securing a sustainable future. Their suggestion that “cohorts of organisations within similar field” could most usefully engage with digital transformation in collaboration, points to what is for me the most exciting area of potential development.

Shared platforms, datasets and processes offer peer organisations the chance to take a genuinely ‘multi-agency approach’ to achieving shared outcomes. Homelessness is one area in which I’ve recently seen this happening already, in the form of Centrepoint’s ambitious (and Google-funded) Databank project, and the well established Combined Homelessness and Information network (CHAIN). 

Continuing in collaborative vein, this response from West London Zone (WLZ) views our strategy through the prism of their specific context: their ‘Collective Impact Partnership’, a network of 50 social sector organisations working with children and young people across 4 West London boroughs. Reassuring, again, that they agree with the key areas picked out in our ‘what’ section, and helpful that they draw out in particular the interconnections between them: “by developing sound ongoing impact measurement practices, a charity will generate data, which needs to be processed in a system so it can be used for learning, to inform greater impact”.

As they proceed to comment on the ‘how’, one sentence jumped out:

“Whilst the approach which has charities compete for support is ostensibly better for advisors and investors, it is actually the bottom-up approach that will lead in the long-term to a sustainable and competitive advisor market, circumventing the need for dedicated capacity building funds in the future, as advisors will have to prove their value to charities and adjust their fees to fit the capacity of the market to pay” (my emphasis)

Irrespective of whether you agree that a ‘demand-led’ approach will get us there, this neatly encapsulates a fundamental challenge for Access: how do we use grant-funding to support a market up to the point where it no longer requires grant-funding? Or, perhaps, requires significantly less grant-funding, spent only in well-understood and exceptional circumstances. In noting that for many of the organisations they work with, the staff “have the expertise, but not the time”, WLZ highlights another tension – which capacities need to be ‘bought in’, and which should be recognised and supported within the team?

Thankfully for me, at Access we’re humble to the fact that we do not have all the answers to these questions. What we can and will do is support thoughtful and dedicated people to test out different approaches, and make every effort to gather, analyse and share the evidence of what’s working. In that way, with the challenge and support of organisations such as NPC and WLZ, the answers will begin to emerge…