As I near the end of my first quarter of being ‘Inside Outcomes’ I have built in some reflection time.   It is a different perspective. I’m not from an organisation, I am not really an individual – so I see myself as part of a sector – although sometimes what to call that sector is hard to decide.

I have been to a public sector planning meeting, presented at a Local Government Association seminar, given a two-hour talk to University students, participated in an un-conference, spoken at a leadership session, ran a workshop and met loads of people in coffee shops.

Language is an issue, everywhere. We say the same things using different words over and over again.  eg: Third sector, community sector, social enterprise sector, voluntary sector, VCS, CVS – for convenience, I am going to call them providers in this post.  People who provide services.

People who pay providers, I am going to call commissioners.  Both terms are over simplifications.

I have found

  • There is a great deal of confusion about Social Value, Social Return on Investment (SROI), measurement and outcomes
  • Both commissioners and providers have expectations of each other  but don’t really share those expectations with each other
  • There is a huge gap – everyone seems to be waiting to be told what to do

The Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) have recently produced a working paper

From outcomes-based commissioning to social value? Implications for performance managing the third sector

In interviews conducted with six Local Authorities, five counted social value as an element when considering tenders.  Although all said they had no idea how to measure it.  Most worryingly one Local Authority asked their local third sector for a definition but reported that they [local third sector] were unable to provide a consensus.

The report gives a strong indication that financial accountability and safeguarding vulnerable service users sits with Local Authorities and that is what they are most concerned with and have the expertise for. While measurement of social value and impact sits with the third sector (at least for the time being)

So is the third sector going to make the most of the opportunity to define social value, assure commissioners that they are getting value for money, added value and wider social benefit? – Not to mention financial accountability

Not from what I have seen so far.

I have listened to many providers over the last couple of months and they seem to be waiting;  waiting to be told what to do, waiting to see what commissioners want, waiting to see if they survive.

I need to mention trust here, It is the first and most often used word.  Trust is often described as lacking or worse.  It is sufficiently ambiguous to hide behind, a reason for not doing something. I think agreeing a level of risk is a way forward for this, talking about what you are prepared to do and not do is a more grown up way of working.

The great strength of providers is that they work in communities every day.  While governments change everything around them, providers keep on going, delivering, helping and making real changes to peoples lives.  They know what works, and now they have the opportunity to put that knowledge into a framework for performance and accountability.

It needs to be simple, clear,consistent and shared. It needs to be presented in ways that commissioners recognise, understand and value. if providers lead it they can shape it. – That’s what Inside Outcomes is all about.

Everyone is battered by the cuts , I understand that, but we are privileged to work in this field and have a responsibility to the communities to take this opportunity seriously.