Case studies: In search of the Holy Grail

The NCVO policy team have been a busy bunch recently, responding to numerous government consultations and select committee inquiries. Gift Aid and online giving, social investment tax relief, and public services have all been the focus of attention – all whilst wrestling with the now infamous ‘lobbying bill’.

However, it was while writing a response to a Government inquiry into government procurement that an old and familiar foe stuck its head above the empirical parapet: all too often we lack case studies of ‘frontline’ experience to back up our arguments.

We’re all familiar with what the sector does best and the barriers that prevent this from happening more. Using information from charity accounts and the robust evidence our research team and Compact Voice produces we repeatedly make this clear in our conversations with government.

Yet stories of ‘frontline experience’ – both negative and positive – help supplement this work with a ‘human story’ perspective which makes our arguments all the more powerful. This is especially important for our responses to Select Committee inquiries and government consultations. These are valuable opportunities for change that need to be fully exploited.

For example, we know that charities miss out on contracts because government procurement often prioritises bottom-line price over value for money, despite the legal obligation of local bodies to incorporate social value into the commissioning of public services.

We also know that a lack of pre-procurement dialogue, overly bureaucratic procurement processes, the increased use of large scale contracts and short procurement timescales can also act as a barrier to the voluntary sector participating more in service delivery.

Most importantly, we know that public services often suffer as a consequence of this exclusion.

While we raise this point frequently to policy makers (and have done for many years now), ‘real world’ examples of where this is happening would help us do this far more effectively.

This is not to simply name-and-shame a particular local authority or commissioner. Rather, it would help us prove with robust evidence that these problems are real, present and in need of attention.

And it’s not just about highlighting what local authorities and commissioners are doing wrong, but also where they’re doing things right.

It’s a truism that when commissioners engage charities in the early stages of commissioning better public services result. While we know this does happen – albeit not nearly enough – it is all too rarely documented. This is a shame because case studies of good partnership working – such as identifying community needs and service co-design – can be held up as beacons for others to follow. They show commissioners and risk-averse procurement teams that there is an alternative way to the status quo, and that this can make public services far more efficient and effective.

Likewise, case studies of where charities add value to service delivery would also help us demonstrate to commissioners why they should sometimes favour the voluntary sector to deliver certain public services.

By doing such things as recruiting ex-offenders or helping to build social cohesion, charities add social value to the services they deliver; providing additional benefits to the community above and beyond the primary intervention. But again, this added value is all too rarely documented. Of course commissioning processes need to improve, but the sector also needs to get much better at telling its story.

So, get in touch and tell us about your experiences of commissioning and procurement and the great work your organisation is doing. There’s no need to sit down and spend hours writing a long drawn-out account of your experiences (although feel free to do this if you like!). Simply drop us a line with a couple of words about your experience (for example, whether it concerns an overly bureaucratic tender, short procurement timescales etc) and we’ll call you back for a more in-depth chat.

You never know, your case study could be the straw that breaks the proverbial, and convinces the powers that be that something needs to change.

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Avatar photo Paul joined NCVO over seven years ago after working for a leading public affairs agency. Since then he’s led our policy work on a variety of issues, including welfare-to-work reforms, volunteering, the Compact, public service commissioning and procurement regulations. He now leads our work on funding and finance with a particular focus on charity tax relief and safeguarding EU funding post-Brexit.

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