Research from Communities Scotland Report 60. Network Support Fund Action Research and Evaluation

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1 Research from Communities Scotland Report 60 Network Support Fund Action Research and Evaluation

2 Network Support Fund Action Research and Evaluation by Clear Plan (UK) Ltd A Report to Communities Scotland November 2005 Research and Evaluation Communities Scotland, Thistle House 91 Haymarket Terrace, Edinburgh EH12 5HE i

3 The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Communities Scotland. Copyright Communities Scotland 2005 i

4 Contents Acknowledgements iii 1 Introduction 1 2 Background to the Network Support Fund 3 3 Executive Summary 5 4 The Action Research Aims and Objectives of Action Research 4.2 Methods Employed 4.3 Assessing project effectiveness & efficiency 4.4 The influence of the Action Research 5 Approaches of the Network Support Fund Projects Issues addressed by the projects 5.2 Approaches to Community Engagement in Community Planning 5.3 Methods of Engaging With Communities 5.4 Methods of Engaging With Community Planning Partners 6 Summary of the lessons learnt from the Network Support Fund Management Capacity 6.2 The Fit of Project Approaches 6.3 Opportunities for Engagement in Community Planning 7 Conclusions 31 Appendix 1 List of projects 33 Appendix 2 A brief history of community planning 34 Appendix 3 The National Standards for Community Engagement 37 Appendix 4 Project profiles 38 ii

5 Acknowledgements The researchers would like to thank all of the people in the projects and the stakeholder reference groups who participated in this research project. We would also like to extend our thanks to our colleagues in Communities Scotland and the steering group who provided helpful advice and insight during the course of the research. The research was conducted by Colin Duff, Eleanor Logan, Alex Downie and Jo Kennedy for Clear Plan (UK) Ltd. The report was written by Colin Duff on behalf of the research team. iii

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7 1 Introduction The final report of the Action Research and Evaluation of the Network Support Fund Demonstration Projects sets out the background and policy context which informed the creation of the Network Support Fund for Community Engagement in Community Planning. It provides an analysis of the progress made by projects to date, the factors which have supported and inhibited their success and the extent to which their actions have produced the outcome of effective community engagement in Community Planning. Community engagement in community planning is one of the central planks of the Local Government in Scotland Act (2003). The Network Support Fund is an innovative approach to resourcing community engagement in community planning. Historically resources to support community engagement in national policy initiatives have been granted from central government to other public agencies, commonly those who are charged with the implementation of the policy in question. The Network Support Fund inverts this tradition and provides the resources directly to the communities who would normally be engaged, not those who are responsible for seeking their engagement. It should be noted that this report is based on information from the first fourteen months of the projects lives. The natural delay associated with the recruitment of staff means that for the majority of the projects the time in which they have actually been operational is a good deal shorter than that. This is a relatively brief period for projects to be effective in catalysing changed and improved services through community engagement in community planning. Nonetheless changes, or clear indications that projects are en route to creating those changes, have been observable in projects. The 15 projects were distributed across 12 separate Community Planning Partnership areas and are hosted within a range of organisations, including Councils for Voluntary Service, Local Rural Partnerships, umbrella groups and local community groups. The projects operate in considerably different circumstances and with quite different objectives and approaches to community engagement in community planning. Due to the difference in the circumstances in which projects operated, comparisons between projects were not possible or desirable. This report instead presents a synthesis of the learning available through an analysis of the experiences of the projects and recommends methods of maximising the effectiveness of projects funded in this way. As such it will be useful to both communities and to service providers seeking to analyse and improve their own efforts in community engagement. 1

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9 2.0 Background to the Network Support Fund The Local Government In Scotland Act 2003 and subsequent guidance notes on it s implementation assert the importance of community engagement in community planning. The statutory guidance identifies two main aims of Community Planning Making sure people and communities are genuinely engaged in the decisions made on public services allied to a commitment from organisations to work together, not apart, in providing better public services. 1 Experience from other policy initiatives 2 has shown however that effective community engagement is not easily attained. In addition, community planning has been implemented differently within each local authority area and there are a variety of structures and processes in place to facilitate effective community engagement. In March 2003, Margaret Curran, then the minister for communities, announced additional funding was to be made available to provide independent support in pursuit of effective community engagement as part of community planning. To deliver against this ministerial commitment Communities Scotland funded 15 different demonstration projects in different parts of Scotland to strengthen the voice of communities in Community Planning. The Network Support Fund was set up to pilot ways of funding and supporting community and voluntary organisations to become more closely involved in Community Planning. It was based on the idea that local organisations can engage with other local organisations, with a view to increasing their ability to understand and participate in Community Planning, to the benefit of the whole community. The ultimate outcome of this engagement is expected to show how community and voluntary organisations can influence service delivery through their Community Planning Partnerships and associated structures. The objectives of the Network Support Fund were defined as To strengthen the communities voices in Community Planning To provide support for groups to work on behalf of others in network development To enable groups to pilot development of networks To provide funds and support on potential models of development To investigate opportunities for this independent support process to influence service delivery to disadvantaged areas to influence community networks The Network Support Fund is without doubt an innovative development in community engagement. Central Government funds to support community engagement in public sector planning and service delivery have traditionally been channelled through local authorities. This has often meant that the same agencies which supported community engagement were in fact those whom the communities sought to influence through that engagement. This conflict of roles and allegiances has been a feature of community work theory and practice since the earliest state investment in community participation in regeneration activities 3. The Network Support Fund provides a means for community and voluntary organisations to control the resources which support them and other community and voluntary organisations to engage with Community Planning Partnerships thus preventing or diminishing the potential for the conflict of interest which communities often perceive where service providers seek to promote community engagement. 3

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11 3 Executive summary The Network Support Fund has demonstrated a capacity to add significant value to the community engagement in community planning. In almost all of the projects the majority of stakeholders agreed that the project had produced levels and quality of community engagement that would not otherwise have happened. In many cases there was evidence that the nature of the engagement produced by the projects differed from what was likely to have been produced had the funds been channelled through statutory agencies. The potential of the Network Support Fund to produce good quality community engagement in community planning was dependent on The capacity of the funded organisation to manage and implement the project The fit of project approaches to the needs of communities and the community planning partnership The opportunities for community views to be expressed within existing Community Planning processes and structures Management Capacity Almost all projects suffered delays in becoming operational due to time required for recruitment and, in more than one case, there were difficulties in successfully recruiting appropriate staff. This then had a knock-on effect on their planned expenditure and financial reporting at the end of the year. Most projects negotiated methods of usefully deploying any remaining funding. There was little evidence of consultation with partners in the pre application stage, particularly with the Community Planning Partnership. In several cases, project plans were underdeveloped in the early stages of the action research. This may be linked to the short timescale between the invitations to apply, the closing date for applications and the award of funding. In the early months of many projects, the action research was focused on assisting the development of achievable, outcome focused, action plans for projects. The organisations with professional managerial staff and experience of managing and delivering projects of similar scale were better able to become performance ready within the short timescale available for the action research and were more adept at developing management plans and monitoring procedures. These tended to be the larger organisations. The smaller more community based organisations invested time in organisational development and capacity building which decelerated the pace at which the actual project was implemented. In several cases the links between projects and the community engagement structures and processes of community planning partnerships were underdeveloped. This meant that the profile and status of the project within the Community Planning Partnership was lower than the projects themselves wished. Consequently staff spent many hours attempting to establish the project with partner agencies and community planning structures in the first months of their employment. Approaches The Network Support Fund was primarily welcomed by stakeholders as a means of resourcing new work, or more commonly, adding value to work which would have been undertaken, either by the funded organisation or another agency. The provision of funding directly from Communities Scotland to voluntary and community groups was welcomed as it allowed the projects to develop community engagement on their own terms not in response to the needs of Community Planning Partners. There was a benefit in providing the funds directly to local organisations in that they brought an infrastructure and range of networks and contacts that allowed the Network Support Fund 5

12 project to reach parts of the communities that centrally managed processes could not. Similarly, those host organisations with links to Community Planning Partnerships at strategic levels could provide inside knowledge of relevant structures and processes. Some projects placed a high priority on involving the community in existing community planning structures and processes for engagement. This was evident in the discourse of project stakeholders and in the approaches taken by projects. It was most notable in those projects that sought to develop representation on Community Planning working groups and committees. Some work intended to change community planning structures and engagement strategies to meet the needs of communities was emerging as the projects matured. Other projects placed a high priority on engaging with communities but gave less attention to engaging with community planning processes. This meant that there was often no clear route for the views of the community elicited through these processes to be heard by service providers. The most successful projects were those which were able to effectively engage with both service providers and communities and to manage these parallel processes so that service providers were prepared to listen at the same time as communities were prepared to articulate their views. This bi-directionality of approach to engagement is key to the success of the Network Support Fund projects. The funded projects were neither service providers, nor communities and therefore required to be able to work effectively with two sets of partners. This placed the projects in the role of a catalyst of relationship building between two parties. This dual role is less visible in processes where programmes to generate community engagement are managed by service providers. For some projects the volume of other community engagement initiatives sponsored by other sources in their area led to a form of engagement saturation which limited the level of engagement they could generate from the community regardless of the priority they accorded it. Opportunities to Engage With Community Planning Community Planning Partnerships were at different stages in developing their structures and the processes through which the community may engage with them. The means by which Community Planning Partnerships engaged with communities were not always transparent. A few Community Planning Partnerships were under review over the course of the action research and this naturally had an effect on the capacity of the project to enable communities to engage with them. Limited awareness of community planning within communities was cited as a major obstacle which projects had to face. Community Planning as a topic was not considered to be an attractive means of encouraging the engagement of communities. To address this projects either sought opportunities to explain and promote the potential benefits of involvement in community planning to communities or engaged with them on other issues and attempted to introduce community planning as a related topic. This lack of awareness of community planning was a feature of both the communities which projects sought to engage and of staff within the community planning partner agencies they sought to work with. A major part of project work was addressing the capacity of the community to engage with Community Planning and the capacity of the agencies to engage with communities 4. This was linked to both the skills of the community to participate in professionalised processes and the ability of the agencies to design and implement appropriate process for effective community engagement. The more successful projects sought to educate and catalyse changed approaches in both the community and in agencies. 6

13 Projects were hampered by histories of negative prior experience of community engagement leading to a lack of faith and difficulty in promoting community engagement in community planning. In some regeneration areas the shift from community involvement in SIP decision making to community engagement in community planning had led to a loss of ground, i.e. diminished clarity about routes to decision making processes and a reduction in the influence of community representatives. Project Success Project success was defined by the extent to which the project could show that the community engagement processes they had implemented had been successful in producing change in services in line with the expressed needs and aspirations of the communities. Given the brief timescale for the action research it was recognised that this sort of outcome may be difficult to achieve. Evidence of distance travelled towards achieving this sort of outcome was accepted as an alternative to actual changes in services. Despite the hurdles and challenges faced by projects a number had been successful in obtaining actual changes in services or a commitment from service providers to make changes. Almost all projects had persuasive evidence that the processes they had facilitated had resulted in a greater potential for this sort of change to take place. When contrasted with the often negative experiences of community engagement common in other studies this supports the view that this form of funding is effective and that the level of investment in these projects has been commensurate with the return delivered by the projects. All of the project stakeholder reference groups were positive about the potential to develop more effective community engagement in community planning in their second year of funding. The Network Support Fund projects have almost another full year of funding in which projects can develop the promise that they have shown to date. Experience from other initiatives has shown that the first year of projects often presents slower progress as systems and networks are worked out and the project beds in. The second year of the funding has the potential to allow projects to move on at an accelerated pace. 7

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15 4 The Action Research 4.1 Aims and Objectives of the Action Research The main aim of the action research was to provide a cycle of continuous learning, review and reporting for the demonstration projects to ensure good practice is recorded and problems and issues are raised and addressed quickly. 5 Specifically the action research was intended To record structures, processes and practice within each of the demonstration projects To assess the demonstration projects on: Stakeholder attitudes to and perceptions of community engagement in community planning, Levels and quality of community engagement in community planning Changes in services as a result of that engagement To highlight innovative approaches and good practice To recommend areas for development to help improve independent support for community engagement in community planning. Projects outlined their objectives in the funding applications they submitted and worked towards their achievement. The evaluation work did not seek to measure the extent to which projects achieved the objectives expressed in their application form. It focused instead on the extent to which the approaches taken by projects resulted in improved levels and quality of Community Engagement in Community Planning. The research was not intended to evaluate the individual projects. It does provide an extended analysis of the learning available from the experiences of these 15 projects and the factors which supported or inhibited their ability to achieve the outcome of improved community engagement in community planning. Outcomes identified by the Action Research The outcomes identified by the Action research can be categorised into three major fields Improvement in perceptions of the quality of community engagement Change in the level of and quality of community engagement Changes in services as a result of the actions of the project It should be noted that we use the term Outcomes differently from the way in which it is defined in LEAP 6. In our case we have used it to refer to the level and quality of community engagement in community planning. In LEAP the word outcomes refers to changes in quality of personal and community life. We use the term impact to describe this sort of change. While impact on quality of life for individuals and communities is undoubtedly the ultimate purpose of any public expenditure, an evaluation of the projects in these terms would have been both premature at this stage in their development and beyond the scope of this work. 4.2 Methods Employed The approaches undertaken by the consultants were unusual in that they were both summative and formative in intent. The majority of consultant intervention in projects was formative in that it was designed to provide projects with guidance and information which could affect how they chose to implement their project. The final stage of the consultants work with projects was summative in that it sought to assess what had been achieved by projects in terms of 9

16 community engagement in Community Planning and what evidence there was to suggest they could achieve results in the remaining year of their funding from Communities Scotland. The action research and evaluation used a range of methods as follows: Stakeholder Reference Groups The primary method of data collection was through meetings with stakeholders reference groups initiated and convened at the request of the consultant. Occasionally projects would autonomously convene meetings and request inputs from the consultants. This was normally the case where there were specific issues in relation to project progress. The stakeholder reference group meetings took place approximately quarterly and focused on developing the consultants understanding of the projects working context and approach to community engagement in community planning. They also allowed the facilitation of some problem identification and solving and external support to partnership working. Stakeholders were defined as Anyone who has an interest in or an influence on the successful achievement of our planned outcomes Key stakeholders were defined as those parties whose interest and influence was considered high. In practice the stakeholders fell into three main groups: Community Representatives. Anyone whose primary role is to represent the community within the engagement process. These are the people whose views will shape the nature of the changes in services sought through the actions of the project and who are likely to be the beneficiaries of any changes successfully achieved. Functionaries Anyone whose stake in the project is primarily one of process, i.e. staff whose role it is to support the process of community engagement in community planning and/or progress the plans made by the project. These are the people who act as the catalyst and agent of dialogue between community representatives and service providers. Service Providers Anyone who represents an agency whose policies, services or decision making structures may be affected by the work of the project. Who these service providers are naturally was dependent on the issues which the communities wished to address. Community representatives were either drawn from the management committees of the funded organisations or from the voluntary & community sector groups with which the project worked. Functionaries were primarily drawn from the staff of the project, local authority community learning & development workers, CVS staff and staff of other local initiatives. Service providers were the most difficult group to engage. They were more likely to be present in the projects which focused on a specific service area. The reference groups had the following purposes: to act as a source of information for the research to ensure that appropriate parties had the opportunity to be involved in the early stages of planning for engagement activity to review progress, planning and stakeholder representation 10

17 In practice these groups also identified barriers to engagement, how these barriers were affecting the project and developed strategies to allow the project could deal with or minimise the effects of the barriers. Offline Support In the early stages of the action research it became clear that several projects would benefit from the availability of offline informal support to staff. This often focused on working with partners, clarifying aims and objectives and interpreting national policy. This form of support was most often sought and valued by staff who worked in smaller organisations that had less access to other professional staff for informal support. Network Support Meetings Three network meetings of all projects were held and projects were invited to present their approaches and success to their peers as well as identify potential partners and learning opportunities independently of the action research support. Joint network meetings were also held with projects supported through a separate fund, the National Intermediaries Support for Community Planning. Other methods Briefings were distributed to projects on a quarterly basis highlighting emerging findings and common experiences and reminding projects of future events associated with the action research and evaluation. Supplementary interviews were undertaken with key stakeholders at the conclusion of the research in order to obtain further information on project experiences and understand the perspectives of partners. 4.3 Assessing Project Effectiveness & Efficiency As made clear in the statutory guidance, effective community engagement in community planning is that which results in changes in services. These changes should of course be connected to the expressed needs and aspirations of communities. In order to be successful in facilitating service change through community engagement in Community Planning the Network Support Fund projects first had to developing their internal efficiency and create clear plans of the project itself. They then had to work with communities to assist them to identify, prioritise and articulate their needs and aspirations. Given the need to undertake both of these processes before being able to begin to produce the sort of outcomes that the fund sought, the period of the action research was recognised by the projects and by Communities Scotland as being relatively brief. In recognition of this the research sought to establish not only where projects had achieved changes in services, but where they were on the route to doing so. A series of indicators of project efficiency and potential effectiveness were designed as part of the process of the action research. Indicators of Efficiency and Effectiveness There were two sets of indicators, internal and external. The internal indicators are concerned with the project setting up the internal systems, resources and plans required for efficient performance. Internal Indicators of Project Efficiency 1. Project obtains development resource (normally dedicated staff). 2. Project identifies key initial stakeholders. 3. Project clarifies relationship to Community Planning Partnership structures. 4. Project clarifies methods of engagement with communities. 5. Project identifies priority themes for action. 6. Project identifies opportunities for dialogue between communities and Community Planning partners. 11

18 7. Communities and Community Planning partners agree on changes desired. 8. Plans and timescales for change agreed and implemented. Stages 1, 2 and 3 correspond to the setting up stage of the projects and preparing for their engagement with communities and service providers. Stages 4 and 5 correspond to the projects own work in engaging with those whom it wishes to support, i.e. communities, and those whom it wishes to influence, i.e. Community Planning partnerships and partners. Stages 6, 7 and 8 relate the projects role as broker of relationships between communities and service providers. Following stage 8, the development activity of projects is expected to shift to focus on maintenance of the relationships between the communities and service providers and the provision of support to actual delivery of change. It should be noted that although the above model is presented in a linear and incremental fashion the actual journey of projects through this process is more likely to blur the boundaries between the stages. For example many projects have been exceptionally successful in engaging with their communities but have so far failed to clarify their relationship to the Community Planning Partnership structures. The projects distance travelled through the above steps towards performance was used as a means of assessing their potential to begin to influence the ultimate outcome of changes in services in the second year of funding. The second set of external indicators are concerned with the level to which projects have been successful in catalysing improved community engagement in community planning. These deal with the effect of the project on the issues in community engagement in community planning identified earlier in this report. External Indicators of Project Effectiveness A. New individuals from the community involved in community engagement in community planning B. New individuals from Community Planning partners involved in community engagement in community planning C. Increased inclusion of hard-to-reach groups in community engagement in community planning D. New networks associated with community engagement in community planning E. New opportunities for community influence on the provision of services associated with community engagement in community planning. F. Traceable influence on the priorities of service providers G. Traceable influence on the resource allocation of service providers H. Traceable influence on published service plans I. Traceable influence on service changes Indicators A, B & C allow conclusions to be reached about an increase in capacity to engage, either in the community or in Community Planning Partners. They suggest that the project has been successful in addressing the issues of lack of awareness and capacity that were identified in the early stages of the action research. Indicators D and E suggest that greater dialogue is taking place, either within the communities, or more desirably, between both communities and Community Planning partners. They relate to the issues of relationships and mutual understanding between communities and community planning partners. The third set of indicators, F,G,H and I, are the indicators of actual change in services the ultimate outcome of the project s work. Through the application of these indicators the actual success and the potential for success in community engagement in community planning which projects presented measured by the change or potential for catalysing change in services could be assessed and identified. 12

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