Good Intentions

DL NCVS – Good Intentions published March 2015

Good Intentions is a complexity-informed study of Neighbourhood-Based Organisations (NBOs) in Newcastle upon Tyne. It was published in March 2015 by Newcastle CVS.
NBOs are unique in many ways. They have the ability to engage with communities in a way that cannot be easily replicated by public or private sector organisations or larger charities.
NBOs do this because they often reflect the communities they work with. They do this by providing a way for local people to get involved, to bring their own knowledge and experience and tp develop new skills and confidence. NBOs provide a trusted source of support and advocacy when people experience difficulties. They are agile in responding to changes and issues affecting local communities.
However, many NBOs are themselves in a vulnerable position.
In 2012 Newcastle CVS published a report on NBOs working with young people. The report found NBOs at a pivotal moment, grappling with an increasing marketisation of public services and an accompanying commissioning regime that for many did not fit easily with their values and actions. For Good Intentions, NCVS asked me to revisit those NBOs to find out how their circumstances have changed and what has developed. Along the way, I made new contacts and formed new views that are included in the report.
Good Intentions finds NBOs continuing to provide support and opportunities for local people. Working through a number of emerging themes, the report reveals some NBOs are ill at ease with a continuing shift amongst public sector agencies to contracting. Grant funding remains important and is generally preferred to contracting or trading.
Good Intentions highlights the pressures in funding core costs and the challenge of participating in networks, forums and training, to stay informed and connected when many NBOs have only a small staff team. Good Intentions finds a determination amongst NBOs to continue even if this means turning to largely volunteer led activities. The risk here is that NBOs become further marginalised from contributing to citywide initiatives or maintaining up to date safeguarding practices.
Good Intentions finds that NBOs have largely rejected the drive from policy makers and to some extent funders for voluntary sector organisations to become deliverers of public services, adopt social enterprise models and embrace new funding mechanisms such as social finance. What NBOs are doing is holding close to the needs of communities and seeking to meet local needs on local people’s terms. This may place NBOs outside of current policy, practice and finance frameworks, and leave some facing a bleak future. The challenge for public sector agencies and other interested organisations is how to recognise the value of NBOs, support them to continue in the unique space they occupy and involve NBOs so that the expertise they have informs wider policy and practice.

A Complexity Approach to Communities

David Large – Complexity and Communities 2015

This work applies concepts from complexity science to the research and assessment of communities, in particular, ‘adaptability’, ‘attractors’, ‘emergence’, ‘interactions’ and ‘self-organisation’.
Communities are noted for their ability to self-organise and to adapt to local circumstances. What is not so clear is whether they are able to adapt as easily to changing national and international circumstances. For example, attractors are factors pulling towards a certain state in the future. If a community organisation has received regular council funding in the past it may bid for council funding in the future. Many attractors are persistent and hard to displace. If they are removed then the community organisation may be left in a state of uncertainty.
The situation for communities is constantly changing. Consider, for example, the impact of the recent government-imposed austerity reductions. The complexity approach can be used to examine the current ability of communities to adapt and to re-organise. To do this their interactions with their neighbourhood, their service-users, their funders or others are assessed and a number of factors will be found to emerge, both positive and negative. In analysing these factors patterns are sought and the attractors are identified.
To do this an innovative, two-stage interview methodology is developed. The first stage involves asking people involved about certain topics. Here the conversation is free but not unconstrained for certain cues are provided for guidance. The second stage takes the key points from the first conversation and asks the interviewee to reflect and comment on them focusing on the complexity factors present, for example ‘self-organisation’.
The case study material is analysed using the complexity approach devised – interactions are sought, subsequent iterations are studied. From this analysis emergent factors are identified. All of this is done in the terms used by those interviewed and involved.
In this way the approach is shown to understand communities in their own terms, to engage with the issues that are important for them and to stimulate positive ideas for future development.