#VCSFutures: Looking ahead to 2024

11 August 2020

#VCSFutures: Looking ahead to 2024

The story so far

In a series of three webinars – the third and final one taking place this week – we have been helping VCS organisations to think about possible futures for the sector and what those futures could mean for their organisations, their service users and communities.

At the first online event at the end of June, we heard from Kamran Mallick (Disability Rights UK) and Neil Tester (Richmond Group), who kicked off a discussion about what VCS organisations had been dealing with over the course of the pandemic so far. We asked participants how their work had changed in response to the crisis and what they thought that meant for the future.  They also discussed what existing challenges the crisis had served to expose and what would need to happen for voluntary and community organisations to be strong and effective in the years ahead.

The headline messages from that hour-long session enabled us to draft two scenarios – two distinct versions of the future, set in 2024, and designed to help VCS organisations to reflect on the reality they may face and the ramifications of that. Participants then reflected on the challenges and opportunities each scenario would present as part of our second online event, held at the end of July. A summary of these reflections and next steps is recorded below.

Future 1: ‘Protective Centralism’

In this version of 2024, the state has invested heavily in the economy and society and is commissioning bigger charities in particular to help deliver ‘the big reconstruction’. That has left little room for locally-led responses, however, and innovation – as well as smaller organisations – have been squeezed out.

  • The centrally driven response in this scenario implies a system predicated on one-size-fits-all, whereas the very localised responses to Covid-19 show that isn’t the case. A future that doesn’t allow for variation in how the VCS works in different places will be difficult.
  • Smaller organisations are usually more agile and have a shorter reaction time, and this would be a tension in a scenario where they’re being side-lined.
  • Need to think about how it feels for service users, not just how resources are distributed.
  • The sector and its work are being funded better than in Future 2, and whilst it is big charities who are the main beneficiaries of that, the group was optimistic about resources being able to reach smaller organisations through collaboration with those major players in the sector – which some talked about happening now.
  • The sector is used to adapting and making the best of what it has (such as mergers and streamlining activity in the recent past). These changes are often prompted by a crisis, and Covid similarly may push organisations to make positive changes to how they work.
  • Whilst the way in which government seeks to support national recovery in this scenario leaves less room for the sector to take a lead, some participants still saw an opportunity to influence and force a change in that response.

Future 2: ‘Chaotic localism'

In this scenario, the recession has been deep and prolonged with the Government failing to get to grips with the consequences and unable to support the growing list of people in need of help. Inequalities are widening.

  • This is a fragile future for VCS organisations so the biggest concern is how much of the sector will survive. Many of those that do survive, it was suggested, would need to transform.
  • Covid-19 had pushed the VCS further into digital delivery and there have been benefits to that, but also concerns about staff (home working doesn’t work for everyone) and service users, so the sector will need to get to grips with that in the next few years.
  • Funders have been very flexible and fluid since March – to see this approach continue, as is implied in this scenario, would be good for the sector.
  • The scenario raises the question of increased competition and potential conflicts between organisations, especially as the boundaries of their “patch” get blurred by increased online working.
  • Looking to new funding streams will be hard – and too hard for some – but some participants were positive that it could give organisations greater independence and a louder voice; a chance to ‘plough their own furrow’.
  • Harnessing new models of volunteering would be difficult for some but positive for those organisations which feel that this is how they work already and whose strength is in engagement.
  • It seemed to offer the chance to harness and grow the community energy that has emerged over the lockdown and take that in exciting new directions.

What’s next?

These scenarios, like any others, are intended not as predictions but tools. In this week’s third webinar we will be inviting participants to zoom out and think about the near-certainties that stand out – and thus the themes that will be crucial for their organisations to focus on – whatever version of the future materialises. Our hope is that the themes and ideas we identify during the webinar can fuel more organisation- and place-specific conversations around the country. If you’d like to join us, please sign up here.

In the meantime, you can download the full version of the scenarios here for your own use here.

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