Will the Big Society bring new ideas to support scaling up?

14 June 2010 | By Cause4 staff

We read the recent New Philanthropy Capital paper - Scaling up for the Big Society with interest. The paper is a guide for civil servants in assessing the merits of charitable projects suitable for scaling up under the new Big Society brief for engaging charities in the delivery of key services.

The practice of service delivery through charities will increase, a very welcome proposition. However, as the papers remind us constantly, with cuts in place to ease the budget deficit there are no longer the same deep pockets of public money with which support new investment. So what can charities do to increase their chances of attracting government funding under the new regime in a much more competitive environment?

The paper talks in plain terms about the need to demonstrate impact. This has been a problem within the sector for many years, and in some cases meaningful and easily digestible impact studies are hard to achieve. So what will a civil servant holding the purse-strings be looking for? Big Society Senior Advisor to the Government, Nat Wei, in his recent blog post - measurement and money - explains that what has been missing from much of the debate on funding and civil society is an understanding that money is not only a store of value, but also a way of expressing values. We should not be looking merely at the economics and business of charities, nor at their role in holding the state to account in its use of tax-payers money. Instead, a new trend may be emerging, he argues, surrounding the importance of investing in local activity because one cares about local services and about the community in which they serve.

Funding, whether from government or the private and voluntary sector, can be harnessed to express preferences and priorities and to reinforce a sense of belonging to a place or community. We welcome this at Cause4 - it is interesting to consider whether there are new democratic ways to help citizens understand how to influence charities to improve the places where they live. Similarly, facilitating the measurement of the impact of services that might not be an immediate priority for the majority is crucial. However, this all underpins the fact that demonstrating local impact and delivery of front-line services will require a new type of measurement far beyond ensuring that charities receive fair payment for delivery.

At Cause4 we have been working to develop a new model of working cross-borough in Islington within a campaign entitled Islington Giving. This campaign, supported by five local charitable trusts, aims to tackle issues blighting the borough - poverty, isolation and mental health. It is an important case study in the power of partnerships and of volunteering across a particular locality. However, while this new model of working is already having considerable impact across the borough it must now demonstrate unequivocally its added value. It must be clear that it is worthy of investment both regionally and locally, whilst allowing the partnership a degree of risk-taking to allow it to evolve and innovate. Clearly this requires a new model of evaluation – the Big Society by its very nature will demand this. This is a new challenge alongside the many others.

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