[This blog is by Rob Macmillan, a VSSN Steering Group member. It originally appeared on the VSSN discussion list]
What were you up to ten years ago?
On 24th June 2004, it was cold, windy and wet over much of the country, Britney Spears was at Number 1 in the charts, and, plus ca change, later that evening the England football team would exit another international football competition.
Fiona Mactaggart, meanwhile, then in the Home Office as the Minister for the Voluntary and Community Sector, was out and about visiting voluntary organisations in Gloucester. She was there to launch ChangeUp, the government’s ten year framework for capacity building and infrastructure.
ChangeUp was developed, along with the social investment programme Futurebuilders, out of the Treasury’s 2002 cross cutting review of the role of the voluntary sector in public service delivery. It was based on the idea that many frontline voluntary and community organisations could not achieve their potential because of difficulties in accessing support and expertise. The high-level aim of ChangeUp was that:
by 2014 the needs of frontline voluntary and community organisations will be met by support which is available nationwide, structured for maximum efficiency, offering excellent provision which is accessible to all while reflecting and promoting diversity, and is sustainably fundedChangeUp, p.7
ChangeUp was supposed to be a ‘catalytic’ programme, aiming to change the nature of services and support, rather than just keep existing services going. The term ‘ChangeUp’ itself derives from baseball. With delicious irony, a changeup is a type of mischievous pitch:
“In addition to the unexpectedly slow velocity, the changeup can also possess a significant amount of movement, which can bewilder the batter even further. The very best changeups utilize both deception and movement”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Changeup
What followed from 2004 was the heady world of local and regional infrastructure consortia, infrastructure investment plans, national hubs focusing on specific areas, such as finance and performance, and then national support services. Around £230m had been spent on the strategy by 2011, when Capacitybuilders, the agency eventually charged with its delivery, was closed down.
Oh, those were the days. So, take a look around you. Ten years on, do we have the kind of infrastructure across the country that ChangeUp was aiming for? If your answer veers towards ‘no’ (as I suspect it might), why not? Here’s a list of provisional theories – what’s yours?
- Were the aims and expectations ever realistic?
- Was there enough money, or too much, or was it used properly?
- Was it too bureaucratic and managerial in its approach and arrangements?
- Was there sufficient and sustained political will to support the programme?
- Was it derailed by recession and austerity?
- Was it using a fundamentally flawed ‘supply side’ model, rather than channelling resources directly to frontline organisations?
- Something else?
The legacy of programmes like ChangeUp is a really interesting question. In your neck of the woods, in what ways is the current pattern of infrastructure support a reflection of ChangeUp investment and activity? What endures now? What stories do we now tell about what it was like, and what difference it made?
Clearly it is a more challenging and unsettled environment now for both the voluntary sector and particularly for its support infrastructure. This raises some very difficult questions, in active consideration at the moment:
- What are our current approaches to, and investment in, infrastructure?
- With these, are we heading towards or away from the basic aim of ChangeUp?
- What do we want from the sector’s support infrastructure?
- What needs to be done now and in the next few years?