Investing in the Voluntary and Community Sector: Compliance V’s Impact – Getting the Balance Right!

Aongus O'Keeffe with Sammy Douglas, MLA.
Aongus O’Keeffe with Sammy Douglas, MLA.

In a time of austerity and tough budget decisions, Government needs to have clear evidence about the difference its investment in the voluntary and community sector is making in order to focus scarce resources where they can have greatest impact. However, existing systems of compliance and control, while generating volumes of monitoring data, produce little evidence to demonstrate the impact this investment makes to the lives of people and communities in most need. This evidence deficit now poses a significant budgetary challenge for policy makers in deciding where to prioritise and where to cut funding.

Inspiring Impact NI, a Building Change Trust initiative which is supporting VCSE organisations and their funders to better understand and embrace impact practice, is aiming to address this deficit and put impact at the heart of the sector.

As the Northern Ireland partner on the UK board, The Building Change Trust has committed £500,000 matched by a further £188,000 from the Department for Social Development, to deliver an initial two year programme of work here in Northern Ireland.

As part of the programme, Sammy Douglas MLA hosted a recent event in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings, which outlined some of the efforts currently underway to address this problem.

The session then kicked off with a recently developed video animation summarising some of the challenges faced and potential solutions:

Aongus O’Keeffe, Programme Leader, Inspiring Impact NI shared some of the feedback received from conversations with MLAs in a recent piece of commissioned research. A survey sample of over 40 MLAs were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statements:

  • Government needs to show leadership by prioritising a focus on impact in their investments for communities
  • The community and voluntary sector needs to better demonstrate the difference their interventions make to communities
  • Government funders need to prioritise impact as part of commissioning processes
  • Government funders and the community and voluntary sector need to work more closely to design, plan for and demonstrate the impact of their interventions
  • Resources and support need to be re-focused to enable Government funders and community and voluntary sector to better demonstrate their impact

There was over 80% agreement with these statements outlining that there is consensus that current systems to demonstrate the impact of investment across VCSE organisations are ineffective and need to change. When asked what they felt would help Government funders and the VCSE sector to focus more on the impact of their work the following were the top four responses provided:

  • Better assessment of outcomes/robust evaluation (18%)
  • Better collaboration between government and V & C sector (15%)
  • Clearly defined outcomes/objectives (12%)
  • Demonstrate positive results/communicate tangible benefits (9%)

Complementing this, PwC shared some initial findings into a scoping study with Government into the issues and opportunities facing the statutory sector in Northern Ireland when it comes to measuring the impact of funded VCSE programmes.  This report is due for publication in late February/early March 2015.

In addition, National Children’s Bureau outlined some of the work they are currently doing to help ensure an outcomes focus within Government, with particular reference to the Early Intervention Transformation and the Colin Early Intervention Programmes. Inspiring Impact NI finally outlined the support they are providing to 13 VCSE organisations and five statutory funders through demonstration projects to apply an impact practice approach in their work.

A lively debate and discussion followed these presentations with critical points raised about sustaining the momentum of the Inspiring Impact NI programme which has been supporting VCSE organisation and their funders to apply impact practice in their organisations and programmes.