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CO3’s response to Consultation on Proposals for the Provision of Strategic Support to the Voluntary and Community Sector in NI 2017-2021

CO3’s response to  Consultation on Proposals for the Provision of Strategic Su

CO3 welcomes the opportunity to respond to the consultation.  However, before we provide our specific comments, it is important to declare a conflict of interest.  CO3 is currently funded under the current Regional Infrastructure Programme (RISP).  We receive £30,000 a year as part of the NICVA led consortium funded under the Generic strand. It is our intention to submit a collaborative bid under the new programme of support when issued.

As a membership based charity we held a consultation event, in partnership with Community Development Health Network (CDHN) in order to seek the views of our members to inform our response. 

Specific Comments

The consultation sets out the following proposed new vision:

“To support an efficient, effective, sustainable and inclusive VCS which will work collaboratively with Government to effectively deliver against agreed PfG outcomes over the next 4 years”.

CO3 would seek clarification on how the Department defines, “efficient, effective and sustainable”.   

As recognised in the Minister’s Foreword, the sector contributes significantly to the region and therefore we want to ensure that the vision of the sector is focussed on strengthening our voice, leadership and services to a wide range of communities and people which ultimately enriches lives.  The vision needs to convey our unique position and approach. 

Given the changing environment in which we operate, a central focus on ensuring that you have effective leadership to drive forward change is crucial.  We would suggest the following as a more appropriate vision for the Third Sector. 

“The Third Sector will be supported to develop its leadership, resilience and resources, leading to a sustainable sector.   This in turn will enable a high impact, empowered, collaborative and inclusive sector, enabling the Government to work in partnership with the Third Sector to deliver against agreed PfG outcomes. ”

The Outcomes

Below the vision there are four high level outcomes:

  • Outcome 1 - An efficient and effective VCS
  • Outcome 2 - A sustainable VCS that has navigated and implemented change
  • Outcome 3 – An inclusive VCS
  • Outcome 4 – Volunteering integral to the VCS

Outcome 1 - An efficient and effective VCS

We are seeking clarification on what the Department views as an efficient and effective VCS.  The Third Sector plays a significant role in our society.  The diversity of the sector is part of its strength, from grass roots organisations, to big voluntary organisations who are all socially driven.  Future infrastructure support should focus on ensuring that the sector has the skills, resources and capacity to deliver on its mission.  Therefore a more appropriate outcome would be:

A strong, dynamic and high impact VCS.

There are four support areas that sit under this outcome:

  • Governance
  • Organisational Capacity and Skills
  • Policy Advocacy and Co-design of Public Services
  • Impact/Outcome Measurement

We agree with the four areas of support listed however, in addition would seek that Leadership is added as a separate heading.  We also propose that Public Advocacy and Co-design of Public Services are separated into two headings. 


It is essential that future support recognises the leadership role of Trustees.  Given that ultimate responsibility sits with Trustees, investing in their leadership development is central.  There is a significant piece of work required focussing on building the leadership and governance skills of Trustees. 

Hence, CO3 established the Trustee Network.  It offers ongoing support through a series of themed networking events, to allow for Trustees to learn, share and grow.  The Trustee Network provides an opportunity to share good practice and keep informed of key legal and policy changes.  Within the Trustee Network we have established a Chairs’ Forum and Treasurers’ Forum.  Future governance support has to recognise the leadership roles of Boards, to create a more sustainable sector.  The strengths of the Trustee Network are the relationships, connections and information sharing that are being made available through this forum.  This is an innovative approach to leadership development and support for Trustees. This has the potential to be developed further under future infrastructure support. 

Organisational Capacity / Skills

Development of a skills framework

Under this heading DfC is proposing to develop a skills framework to establish a baseline of existing key skills within the VCS sector.  Skills gaps identified would be supported through the use of support, with a strong focus on technology. 

IT has a central role to play in future training I would seek further information on what the Department is proposing.   We know from learning and development programmes that we have delivered, the peer support and network developed through face to face interaction is an essential element of learning and development.  IT has a role to play however, it has to be part of a wider programme of support.  There are also broadband issues which needs to be considered for our rural members. 

It is also important to highlight the Path to Impact programme that CO3 is leading on.  CO3 is currently supporting 50 Third Sector Organisations (TSOs) to carry out an online diagnostic tool to identify their capacity strengths and weaknesses. It also takes a measure of the organisation’s culture and lifecycle.   CO3 have commissioned a piece of research which will highlight the skills needs, which will inform our programme of support moving forward.  In 18 months’ time the 50 organisations retake the online diagnostic, in order to assess the impact of the programme of support offered.  This project fits with the Department’s thinking and there are opportunities to expand and develop.

We would ask that DfC consult with those who have developed expertise alongside resources in this area and seek to support and enhance what already exists and is shown to be effective.


Organisational development support

The work that we are leading on re Path to Impact fits under this heading.  It is also important to highlight that there has to be recognition of the developmental support needs of different organisations, smaller organisations will have less capacity and resources, therefore support will need to be tailored accordingly.  We would welcome further detail on this point.

Operational leadership development (distinct from leadership specific to managing change which is addressed separately)

We would seek further clarity on this point.  Is it focussed on cascading leadership development throughout the organisation?  If so, this is very much aligned to the work of CO3.  We have a growing number of Senior Managers who have joined the network, who are building their development and support through leadership programmes, mentoring and peer networking.  Succession planning within our sector is a significant concern.  CO3 conducted a survey in 2012 which indicated that 54% of members would be retiring from their position as Chief Officer within the next five years. 

We would ask that DfC consult with those who have developed expertise alongside resources in this area and seek to support and enhance what already exists and is shown to be effective, rather than fall into the cycle of piloting and developing new resources.


Practitioner training (i.e. practitioner training for staff at all levels and Board/Committee members e.g. safeguarding and protection). It is envisaged that much of the training should be available online and that not all training will need to be resourced through these support arrangements.

It is essential that future training programmes are not just focussed on compliance.  If we really want to drive forward and lead change, we need to invest in a wider set of learning and development programmes.  This needs to be focussed on both Trustees and Staff to equip them with the skills and capacity to drive and lead their organisations through change. 

Policy Advocacy

We recognise that providing opportunities to build a stronger understanding and partnerships is achieved through a series of engagements. The strength of the sector is its diversity.  Future advocacy support needs to consider the depth and range of issues relevant to a range of sub-sectors.  We are not a homogenous sector.  Many of our members play a key role in campaigning and advocacy, providing a voice for people living in positions of vulnerability.  It is important that support is offered to strengthen the voices of the sector to respond to a range of relevant issues.   It cannot be channelled through one organisation. 

Co-design of Public Services

CO3 strongly supports a co-design model. Moving forward towards a genuine co-design model will strengthen strong collaboration between the two sectors.  This will require a fundamental change in culture and relationships within both the public and third sectors.  The skills, understanding, resources and capability for both sectors to be involved in genuine co-design has to be resourced. 

Impact/ Outcome Measurement

In order to truly embed impact practice into an organisation the leadership team has to be bought into the process.  I would recommend that this point is included under this heading. 

There is also a genuine need to build the capacity of leaders and their organisations on their journey to become more outcomes based focussed.  This has been identified to us by our members and CO3’s direct involvement in the Inspiring Impact programme.  Given that the new draft PfG is focussed on an Outcomes Based Accountability (OBA) model particular support with this approach has been sought.

Outcome 2 - A sustainable VCS that has navigated and implemented change

This outcome is focussed on building leadership capacity however, it is centred on ensuring that the sector has “the right leadership skills to share, lead and adapt to change”.  A leadership programme which will ensure that leaders have the requisite skills to navigate change within their organisation. 

The leadership programmes that CO3 has developed are focussed on supporting and responding to change.  We are facing a unique set of circumstances.  Through our engagement with members we recognise that many, especially those leading small and medium sized organisations are struggling to find the capacity, strategic vision and adaptability to respond quickly to the changing environment.  Uncertainty surrounds their work, with many experiencing an increase in demand for their services. 

We appreciate that we are facing an increased demand for services, operate in a more competitive funding environment and there is a strong need to clearly demonstrate the impact and the difference that members are making. 

The approach that DfC is proposing to respond successfully to manage this change, feels very prescriptive.  Our view is that for long term sustainability to be achieved, change must be embedded in all layers of the organisation.  It cannot nor should not be imposed. 

The focus is very much on sustainability through making the sector more enterprising.  A social economy model is not the panacea.  Government have to recognise the role our sector plays in helping government departments to meet their statutory duties in enriching the lives of citizens. 

In addition, a leadership development programme should not be a prerequisite to access a change fund.  It is the wrong motivation for investing in leadership development. 

One of the most significant areas is leadership development to respond to the speed of change.  It’s easy to focus only on the immediate need and pay less attention to the systemic issues that ultimately drive long-term success, strong strategic leadership embedded throughout the organisation.

Any new leadership course should look at the connections between leadership practices, passion of employees, impact on customers, as this ultimately results in a stronger bottom line.  Again we would ask that DfC consult with those who have developed expertise alongside resources in this area and seek to support and enhance what already exists and is shown to be effective, rather than fall into the cycle of piloting and developing new resources and programmes rather than utilising the expertise and experience that has been built up over a number of years. 

There is a body of evidence that points to organisations who do not address leadership practices subsequently suffer a persistent drag on performance that keeps results down. In today’s changing environment, it's critically important that everyone performs at their best especially in terms of creativity, innovation, and breakthrough thinking. Those are the types of outcomes that you only get from a highly engaged, highly passionate workforce. This requires investing in leadership development, which is much wider than what is being focussed on in the consultation.  The leadership development courses, mentoring and coaching that CO3 offers is strengthening leadership development throughout organisations:  Trustees, CEOs and Senior Managers.

Any future funding programme has to consider that the sustainability of the sector will also be influenced by government funding cycles.  Piecemeal funding has left many members in a volatile position.  Strategic planning and organisation development cannot be achieved on short term funding cycles. 


Change Fund

The primary focus on organisations accessing the change fund is to shift reliance on grant based funding and creating efficiencies through collaboration opportunities.   Grant funding is an important source of funding for particular sections of the VCS.  The value of their work should not be undermined if they are not in a position to access alternative sources of funding.  We very much welcome the Department’s recognition that there cannot be a one size fits all approach.

CollaborationNI provided a range of collaboration services to the sector. However, it recently closed after funding ceased from Building Change Trust (BCT).  We know from our direct experience of being part of this consortium that effective collaboration needs independent support.  It is also fundamentally centred on building the collaborative leadership skills of Chief Officers and Boards to ensure genuine and effective collaboration.  Collaboration cannot be imposed on the sector.  Ineffective partnerships ultimately drive poor outcomes. 

Further information relating to funding allocations under the Change Fund would be helpful.   It is our view that this fund needs to be decoupled from participation on a leadership programme.


Investment Readiness Support

We welcome this focus which will assist the sector to access a wider range of funding mechanisms.    There are a number of organisations and academic institutes who are working in this particular area.  It is important that we utilise the skills, experience and expertise that already exists. 

Faith Based Support and Women in Community Development

We welcome the focus on both sub sectors, and particular recognition of the leadership support.  CO3 would welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with other infrastructure organisations to support leadership development in the Women’s sector and Faith based sector.   We would also strongly recommend that the outcomes relating to supporting women in community development are aligned to the outcomes that regional infrastructure organisations for the VCS offer.  The support arrangements offered in this section should be applied across the wider sector. 

Further points for clarity

How is the Department proposing to award the funding? 

Will there be a call for funding under each outcome?

Will there be consideration of the needs of different organisations in terms of their sub sector and turnover?  The consultation as it stands feels like it is targeted support for large voluntary organisations and does not take into consideration the particular needs of smaller community based organisations.  Given the breadth of needs it is important to consider the diversity of services that a range of infrastructure organisations offer to the sector.

Rural Proofing Statement.  The Department has taken a minimalist view of rural proofing.  There is an opportunity for the Department to strengthen its approach to rural proofing the policy framework in advance of the NI Rural Needs Act being implemented in 2018.

Collaboration across government departments.  We would also seek further information on the Department’s role to align with other relevant areas of work relevant to building the infrastructure support of the Third Sector.

CO3 would very much welcome the opportunity to meet with the Department officials to consider our response in more detail.