Monday 11 May 2020
Detailing the lessons that the Ada Lovelace Institute, Traverse, Involve, and Bang the Table team are learning as part of the online deliberation we’re running together on COVID-19.
The coronavirus pandemic has created huge and immediate challenges across the voluntary and community sector. Many organisations have had to adapt swiftly to continue supporting the people who need them, and many are struggling to survive.
As attention starts to turn towards the future, Traverse brought together VCS leaders from across the sector to reflect, share and explore where lessons have been learned for the sector and where challenges remain unsolved. Some of the main lessons included:
Responding to the crisis has brought local organisations closer together
The need for a rapid, holistic response to the crisis strengthened existing partnerships between organisations and either compelled or accelerated the creation of new links.
The Covid-19 response has also highlighted the value of self-organising groups such as mutual aid groups to provide rapid, flexible, tailored support – and demonstrate that with the right support informal groups can negotiate safeguarding risks and work both independent and complementary to registered charity activities.
Key questions that now face the sector include: How do organisations maintain and sustain these relationships? And how do we build a VCS landscape that supports and enables community groups to work to their full potential without introducing red tape?
There is a disconnect between different levels of the system
The response to the crisis has shone a spotlight on the difference between national and local level responses.
At a neighbourhood level, support was mobilised within days as people came forward to help others – in many cases this was then supported and/or mediated by local charities and councils. However, national level mobilisation of initiatives such as the NHS volunteers scheme was far slower and, in some cases, when it did happen, brought confusion to local mechanisms that were already in place.
The crisis has reignited that age-old question of how can national level organisations best support local community efforts in a way that maximises their strengths, and vice versa?
Funding relationships and requirements have changed
Many funders and commissioners have shifted to more flexible approaches, adapting to and being led by the needs of the organisations they support. This has led to strengthened, more equitable relationships and grant-making processes driven by the needs of beneficiaries and defined by collaboration rather than competition.
However, the financial and funding landscape remains extremely precarious for all parties. While hyper-local organisations have been supported, ‘mid-sized’ charities report a lack of resources, and voluntary and community sector organisations have started to question ‘what comes next?’.
Key questions include what happens for the sector when current emergency funds dry up, and whether more equitable funding relationships can be maintained, rather than reverting to more rigid, traditional models?
There has been a fundamental shift in how organisations work
Voluntary and community sector organisations have shifted to ‘remote working’, adapted their services and made better use of digital. This has helped broaden their reach and made many services more accessible for some, but key questions remain over how best to overcome digital exclusion and digital inaccessibility.
With all this in mind, Traverse will shortly announce a series of free follow-up #VCSFutures events which, building on the lessons identified here, will help VCS leaders to imagine different versions of the future. Those scenarios, written with the sector in mind, can then be used by organisations of all shapes and sizes to think about the new environments they may find themselves in and to develop roadmaps that help them to navigate those futures.
If you would like more information about this work please do get in touch with Tim Bidey at Traverse – firstname.lastname@example.org - or on twitter @timbidey. You can also join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #VCSFutures