Category Archives for "Control"

Full Co-production Means Planning and Delivery

Last Friday, I posted about co-production.   The post shows how the core economy is fundamental to the marketplace but not always recognised as it is essentially non-financial.  Today I shall explore full co-production and its alternatives.

Professionals Co-Planning Community
E Professionals Traditional Services Community Planning
I Co-Delivery Full co-production
E Community Outsourcing Self-help groups

The table contrasts planning and delivery.  Professional and community organisations working together can carry out both activities.  Full co-production is where professional and community organisations plan and deliver together.

I’ll work through the table, defining terms as I go.


Planning is an activity integral to community development.  Whilst local residents may not be able to deliver services, they can always have a stake in planning them.

Professional Planning

When professionals make decisions, they can consult with residents either before they make a plan, eg using a questionnaire, or afterwards by consulting on their proposals.  Many people will be familiar with Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation and where professionals totally control planning, they’re working in the manipulation and tokenism parts of the ladder.

Traditional services assume professionals do the planning, perhaps with some consultation.  This is  legitimate where community organisations do not wish to be involved in all aspects of planning.  The work can be tedious and so long as the planning covers what it needs to cover, people are happy for the professionals to get on with it.  However, when things go wrong, professionals need to listen.  Professionals can resolve some issues by listening to complaints and responding, others may need a more systematic approach to planning together.

One essential, where planning is primarily led by professionals is a good complaints procedure.  Professionals need to be clear what a complaint is and how to manage them.  If the numbers or seriousness of complaints increase it may be worth considering co-planning.


Community Planning is primarily a community activity, whilst co-planning or planning includes professionals.

Co-planning should be in the top section of Arnstein’s ladder, Citizen Power.  Partnership may be  most appropriate, when considering Co-Planning, as delegated power and citizen control implies some form of co-delivery.

Whilst a move towards Co-Planning may be the result of complaints, it is not always so.  The initiative might equally come from local residents who identify an issue and want to have a say in it.

Community Planning

The big advantage of community planning, is it enables neighbourhoods to work out their own priorities, independent of professional agendas.  Community planning has limitations.  A community plan may allow representatives of a community a place at the table with professionals but it is at that stage it is important to move the debate into the Co-Planning column.  To insist a community plan, has more validity than everyone else’s is likely to get short shrift.

Professionals will come to the table with their own plans, often responding to the needs of several neighbourhoods.  The challenge for local residents is finding they are competing for resources and services with other neighbourhoods.

Think of community plans as means to move a community organisation towards full co-production.  There are times when it is right for community organisations to take on delivery.  However, where collaboration with professional services is essential, the aim is collaboration in the central square in the table.


Broadly professionals or professionalised community organisations, sometimes called social enterprises, achieve delivery.  There are advantages to delivery of mainstream services centrally.  They have the resources and skilled staff.  Voluntary organisations usually identify and fill gaps.  To what extent is it possible for professional organisations and community organisations to collaborate in delivery of services?

This was the 2000 Local Government Act’s vision.  Community plans were to result in collaboration between professionals and residents, planning and delivering services.  Local assemblies, based on local authority wards in the UK, were to be the platform where the council could make decisions relevant to local neighbourhoods.

Whilst this activity has declined, with changes to national government, the principles still exist, despite their political steer.

Professional Delivery

It still makes sense for local authorities to deliver services.  Their role has been eroded in recent years, not through collaboration with residents but through private companies.  Council services such as refuse collection or road maintenance have been outsourced, increasingly using Private Finance Initiatives that tie councils into long-term contracts, often with terms and conditions kept out of the sight of the electorate.

The real issue here is transparency and accountability to local residents.  When councils deliver services, if the problems become intractable, residents can vote them out or at least threaten to.  With a PFI, the same delivery arrangement persists whoever controls the council.


Whilst it is not too difficult to imagine circumstances where co-planning is helpful to all parties, it is harder to think of examples of co-delivery.  Perhaps one is Burngreave New Deal for Communities.  If you read these blog posts, you will get some idea of the difficulties of this type of collaborative approach.

It’s not just that local authorities and other professional bodies are juggernauts, likely to crush community organisations, it is also the changing political complexion of local authorities.  Adverse political change Good can rapidly wreck good working relationships.

Community Delivery

Social enterprises are one example of a professionalised community organisation that can plan and deliver services in a neighbourhood.  Social enterprises may be engaged in co-production but retain some independence from the big players.

Perhaps neighbourhoods with their own development trust or similar are better equipped to contribution to co-production, whilst building alternative or independent sources of funding.


It seems the main weakness of co-production, likely to undermine any full co-production arrangements is changing political fortunes.  A change in council leadership can undermine co-production.  Similarly, national government decisions can favour alternatives such as PFIs.

To work with professionals, community organisations need to professionalise to bring their independent contribution to the table.  As such they need to work out how they as professionals co-plan and co-deliver with their residents.

So, what do you think?  Can full co-production work?  I’ve filled in some of the squares on the table, can you think of practices that fill the remaining squares (or indeed better ideas than mine!)?

Alternatives to Grants

Over the last nine Mondays I’ve examined the failure of New Deal for Communities (find 11 November 2014 for the first post).  Similar stories can be told  in many other places, where the implications of receiving grant money is not understood.  We need to seriously consider alternatives to grants.

In the private sector, bank loans support businesses (except in the current recession!) and so they have a business plan that identifies a market and shows how the work will continue post-loan.  I’m fed up with 3 to 5 year projects that do good work and then collapse because the money runs out, following no attempt to develop a market.  An online presence can help develop a market and so there are fewer excuses than there used to be.

This cavalier approach to grants wastes everyone’s time.  New Deal was a 10 year programme, which is a big chunk of anyone’s life.  To get to the end and find all the work that went into it and the work we put into the Forum and Trust before New Deal, counts as nothing is frustrating.

All that work got us nowhere and the primary reason is careless and untrusting interventions from national and local government agencies.  Grant aid does not work, surely there is enough experience out there to show this conclusively?

Three Approaches to Funding

To develop local projects, consider the relative merits of the three main approaches to funding:

  1. Grants have their place but must take a back seat.  Burngreave New Deal demonstrates just how damaging grant aid can be in a neighbourhood.  Everyone knows of grant-aided projects providing a brilliant local service for a few years and then collapsing as the grant source dried up.  With grants you do not need to trade and you need no customers.  Furthermore, people with no business sense administer projects, who do not understand how the economy or communities work.  In the last analysis the grant providers do not care about communities; the only thing they care about is outputs and evidence the money is deployed legitimately.
  2. Loans are better than grants because they involve a relationship.  If a business has customers and is trading, loans can be helpful.  The lender has an interest in the success of the enterprise.  In theory, they won’t make a loan unless they are certain the business will work.  However, loans can be destructive because ultimately the lender will want to cut their losses when things go wrong.  Far better to pull out than risk staying in.  Again, they have no interest in business survival. let alone communities.
  3. The third option is equity, where the wealthy invest their money and their time in the success of a venture.  This way they pass on expertise and identify viable projects; working together to fund and make the project work.  Equity works where people understand the local economy and how to grow business.  It implies equal commitment on the part of the investor.  Not all equity is so committed, for example shares can be impersonal although they don’t have to be.


So, what do you think about grants?  How can they be best deployed.  I’d particularly like to hear positive stories of effective use of grants.  I shall return to this topic and ask how we can do community development using loans and equity; small businesses as an alternative to community projects.  And how all of this can be supported online.  What do you think?

Why Do Partnerships Fail?

Over the last 6 Mondays, I reviewed the lessons learned from the final evaluation of Burngreave New Deal .  Here are the links to these posts, or use the calendar in the sidebar to find them.

Today I shall explain why these posts are relevant to partnerships fail.

Multi-national companies dominate the marketplace; interested neither in our neighbourhoods nor in their products and services.  We live in a rentier economy, where high capital businesses make money. They are not interested in social change through effective deployment of their funds.

The same is true online, where large companies offer free services in exchange for information they deploy to make profit.

The challenge everyone faces, is how to re-build our local economies in real life and online.  The two go together; to avoid exploitation, we must work out how to build our own local economies online as well as in our neighbourhoods.  Real life exchange between small businesses is harder for large interests to control.  Localities can be connected online, so there is a global perspective on the local.

How the Burngreave New Deal Partnership failed

The New Deal philosophy had a far too optimistic understanding of partnership.  When we look at New Deal in Burngreave we see the partnership failed in several ways:

  • private sector involvement in New Deal was always peripheral.  The Chamber of Commerce supported New Deal and ran a business forum.  But, in common with many community initiatives, the private sector voice was hardly heard.  The main partners were the community and various statutory agencies, eg Primary Care Trust and police.
  • failure to mainstream.  Mainstreaming should have happened from the start; nothing should have gone ahead without mainstream funding.  This  would have encouraged continuity after the end of New Deal.  New Deal should have added value to pre-existing activity.  A lot of new activity funded by New Deal simply vanished at the programme’s end.  What is the point of that?  The point of the partnership was to combine funding streams and not prop up the partners.  If partners could not be persuaded to contribute at the start, building mainstreaming into the planning towards the end was always going to be difficult.  Conversations about mainstreaming hardly started before the partners walked away.
  • failure to support community development and leadership.  Later in the programme all-out war broke out between New Deal and the local Forum.  This was not entirely New Deal’s fault but it illustrates the complete lack of understanding of what community development entails.  If you get into conflict, the reason has to be a failure to engage.  Other neighbourhoods in Sheffield have managed to build lasting community infrastructure without the benefit of £50 million!  New Deal may not completely explain Burngreave’s failure but all that money did not stop Burngreave’s decline.
  • no continuity after funding ran out. Even with the slogan, “legacy not history”, history is all we have.  There was never real commitment to the area.  Losing the Forum and Trust meant other partners had no focal point. The careless way New Deal treated community involvement and the lack of trust between the partners and community meant nothing survived the collapse of New Deal.

Final Question

Has anyone examples of lasting change brought about by grants?  Or is your experience similar to Burngreave’s?

Burngreave New Deal: Strategic Overview

This post covers the final lesson learned from the January 2012 evaluation of Burngreave New Deal for Communities.  Previous posts covered these lessons learned:

The next lesson learned was

‘the contribution of agencies was vital to the change observed in the NDC area over the lifetime of the programme. However, changes in leadership, funding and priorities have meant that interventions have not been maintained in the longer term. Although reductions in public spending have impacted on all statutory agencies it is important that a strategic overview is maintained to ensure that the benefits associated with the NDC programme are not lost, and that problems which prompted the allocation of NDC resources to Burngreave in the first place do not re-emerge in future.’

As far as I can see, no-one has learned this lesson. (Has anyone really learned any of these lessons? We’ve experienced these lessons for many decades and still carry on in the same way.)  The second sentence says it all.  Changes in leadership, funding and priorities should not mean the partnership collapses!  Ultimately, NDC failed to engage commitment from any of its partners.  The partnership collapsed as soon as the money ran out; and so the community Forum collapsed a few months later.  (Note the Forum existed before New Deal and apparently was the reason why the city chose the  area for New Deal!)

Lessons Learned (or Not)

Let’s be clear because the writer of this lesson did not have the perspective of the last two years:

  • there is no longer a strategic overview – the local authority has its own agenda and engages with the community through tedious meetings with pointless aims and objectives, offering derisory funding for things nobody wants
  • the long-term benefits of the NDC revenue programme are unknown; we have no means of knowing one way or the other as there will be no future evaluations
  • the assets belong to the local authority and do not produce a surplus, so much for “legacy, not history”
  • the problems are re-emerging and there is no community Forum; the activists who set it up have no heart to reconstruct what they have lost.

What went wrong?

Everyone misconceived the programme from the outset.  Grant money always creates an artificial market.  The delivery organisations, who received grants from New Deal, were not rooted in any market.  They were not trading and so when the grants ran out they had no customers and so had to wind up.  This happens time and again with much smaller funding programmes.   Grants (and sometimes loans) are readily available and this undermines community businesses because the grant-aid short cut is so seductive.

Furthermore the people administering New Deal had no interest in its success.  An entrepreneur must succeed because the business is their livelihood.  The project officer when a project runs out of money simply moves onto the next project.  They’re rewarded for the grants they raise and their outputs and not for the survival of their initiatives.

I don’t think there ever was a strategic overview.  The professionals who manage grants took over and did what they do.  An entrepreneur with £50K would do more than the teams of professionals who ran this £50 million programme.

Governments do not build communities.  Governments regulate market behaviour (or they should do) but they can easily wreck neighbourhoods through poor policies. They do not bring the economic skills to the table needed to regenerate our communities.

The business people I’ve worked with in community contexts usually stay on the periphery and then walk away because neither  government officers nor local people know how to conduct business.  Thus we act to marginalise the very people who can regenerate our communities.

Can you name any project that started with grant aid and has become sustainable through mainstream funding or trading?  There must be some, it would be brilliant to know how they did it.

Burngreave New Deal: Community Engagement and Community Development

This first Monday after the Christmas break, continues with the fifth of 6 posts about the lessons learned in the January 2012 evaluation of Burngreave New Deal for Communities.  So far I have covered:

The next lesson learned was

 ‘it is important to recognise that community engagement, and community development, are not the same, although community development occurs through a range of channels and does not need necessarily to entail the development of single organisation. However, demise of the BNDfC partnership has left a significant gap in the community infrastructure in Burngreave and there is a strong case for the development of community based partnership to take forward the regeneration of the area’

A Catastrophic Outcome

In other words, investing £50 million over ten years failed to develop a community based partnership.  This is a catastrophic outcome.  Prior to the start of New Deal we had our plan and delivery organisations, comparable to what you can still find in other similar neighbourhoods in Sheffield.

There was a strong case for developing a community based partnership at the beginning of the programme.  It would have been a logical development from the Forum and Trust, had New Deal not been imposed on Burngreave.   The New Deal programme developed a partnership.  It dissolved as soon as the money ran out.  It is hard not to believe the money became the reason for the partnership.  Instead of building a partnership naturally from the activities and relationships already in the area, the money became the reason for the partnership.

New Deal was an exercise in community engagement and not development.  Community engagement is where some organisation, usually local or national government seeks an endorsement for its plans.  This means consultation, which can be done well.  But ultimately decision-making takes place outside the neighbourhood.  Engagement does not develop community and can undermine a community’s ability to organise and plan for itself.

The purpose of New Deal was to spend £50 million over ten years.  With the money spent, the partners melted away.  They had to because they were dependent upon grant money and so had to prioritise finding it elsewhere.  Clearly there was no commitment or shared vision.  If there had been, the partnership would still exist.

Problems on Both Sides

I was not involved until the final 3 or 4 years of the programme, as my paid work took me out of the area.  What I found was  extraordinary conflict between the community Forum and New Deal.  The chair of the Forum had publicly attacked the New Deal staff at a Forum meeting.  So, New Deal refused to attend the meetings.  Quite how the chair thought this situation would benefit the community is beyond me but no-one had any idea how to remedy the situation.

The Trust collapsed because of financial irregularities, leaving the Forum to limp on for a few more years.  It is hard to believe anything other than that the last thing anyone had attempted during the programme was community development.  Many of us who set up the Forum and Trust are still around.  We put our heart and soul into developing them and now we no longer have the heart to go back and start over again.  It will need a new generation and there is no sign they are waiting in the wings.

It is not acceptable to take the time invested into our communities for granted.  Those who invest their time do so for the benefit of our neighbourhoods, not the politicians and organisations that thrive on grant aided projects.  If they are going to benefit from my contribution to community work, then so should I.  I’d like to see an end to the Big Society rhetoric and the expectation that many of us will work for nothing.  In the future, we should all be paid for our time.  Maybe that way, our views will be worthy of respect.

What have been your experiences of community engagement, good and bad?  Can engagement support development?  Must grant aided community work always result in exploitation?

Burngreave New Deal: Place Related Outcomes

We’re half way through the lessons from the January 2012 evaluation of Burngreave New Deal for Communities.  So far I’ve covered:

So, here is the next lesson learned, place related outcomes:

 ‘in common with other NDC partnerships BNDfC achieved more in the way of observable change in place related outcomes – environment, crime and community. This is perhaps to be expected as interventions in these outcomes are likely to effect larger numbers of people than, say, projects which target those with specific health problems or skills needs. Nevertheless, evidence from BNDfC does suggest that investment in improving the physical fabric of communities, alongside projects which enhance community safety and provide diversion and engagement for young people can contribute significantly to reductions in crime, and to improvements in area satisfaction’

Credit where credit is due, this was a significant success. At the time Burngreave New Deal was third best out of 39 New Deals in the country.  Place related outcomes had the strongest performance with some other revenue focused activities, eg education.

You wouldn’t have known it if you’d read the local press during the final years of the programme.  Bad publicity coupled with the collapse of the asset based legacy and the failure of community development, gave Burngreave New Deal a more negative image locally than it deserved.  Overall my verdict is negative but the press coverage at the time was unfair and never touched on any of the real weaknesses in the programme.

Why No Evaluation?

However, the change of national government since 2010 means New Deal is ancient history.  There will be no more evaluations because the politicians have lost interest.  So, we’ll never know the extent to which New Deal’s successes were sustainable.

You would think, after investing £50 million pounds in each of 39 places, someone somewhere would want to know whether this investment generated positive change into the future.

Does Burngreave still benefit from these successes two years after the final evaluation?  Will it still benefit 5 years or 10 years after the programme?  My impression is nobody cares.

What do you think?

Burngreave New Deal: Project Management

I’m half way through the lessons learned from the January 2012 evaluation of Burngreave New Deal for Communities.  This time: project management!  So far I have covered:

Here’s what the evaluation report says:

‘sound project management is vital in ensuring that objectives are met: this means not only ensuring financial probity but also that business planning is based on solid and legally binding contractual agreements; BNDfC was optimistic in its assumptions around support from government and statutory agencies which was not subsequently forthcoming and this resulted, ultimately, in the early end of the programme’

So, what happened?  This is why you never ever throw £50 million at a community!  Actually you can’t throw £50 million at a community because it is always mediated by other interests.  Why?  Because it is £50 million and responsible people are hardly going to let go of it, are they?

Potential Sources of Continuation Funding

Partnerships (at least in the fevered imagination of government ministers) were supposed to form between statutory, private, voluntary and community sectors.  They would plan together the best ways of spending the money, always with an eye to the end of the programme when funding would continue to be either mainstreamed or funded from assets.

So, this funding was to come from two sources:

  1. local government, including the health authority and police
  2. through capital assets that would guarantee ongoing revenue funding for community projects


The NDC money ran out about a year before the end of the 10 year programme and all the partners disappeared apart from the community members of the board and the accountable body who had to stay with it whether they wanted to or not .  As the lesson learned states, there were no binding contractual agreements to continue to mainstream the revenue funded work under New Deal.

We have to face it, the partners were on board out of self-interest.  They needed funding and NDC was a source of funding.  When it dried up, they had to move on in pursuit of other sources of funding.  No-one blames them for this, as the lesson states there were no contractual obligations to continue with mainstream funding.  If mainstream funding was available it could be deployed from the beginning of the programme, enhanced with New Deal money.  Maybe this happened to some degree.  But it was hardly going to miraculously appear at the end!


Burngreave NDC had assets, oh yes.  There were 3:

  • Forum House became available and New Deal took it on because otherwise it would be demolished.  It was in use for a period but largely surplus to requirements.
  • The Vestry Hall is a landmark building and its refurbishment, from a derelict state, funded by New Deal.  But it could never be viable and it still isn’t.  So New Deal subsidised it with the only asset that had any chance of being viable …
  • … Sorby House.  This was the old DHSS offices and was fully refurbished into office space.  The idea was rental income from these offices would generate revenue for community projects.

So, what happened?  Two things did for Sorby House.

  • with the 2008 recession, demand for office space was much reduced across the city.
  • political control of the council changed.  Under Labour, one floor was to be occupied by a local government department who would act as an anchor tenant.  Guess what!  There was no binding contract.  The Lib Dems decided not to honour what was presumably a gentleman’s agreement.

So, we ended up with 3 white elephants.  The only option at the end of NDC was to hand ownership over to the accountable body.  There were vague promises that they might be handed back to the community should they ever become viable.  Personally, I wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole.

Not one of these buildings offers a viable community space.  There are no unstructured meeting spaces in Burngreave whatsoever.  There are rooms for meetings but nowhere where people meet casually.

What Happened?

And now with the cuts, we’re seeing council departments move into Sorby House.  This was inevitable because if the council sold Sorby House, national government would claw back the proceeds of the sale.  The plans are to close Burngreave Library because the council has to make cuts.  If the campaign to save the library succeeds, it is likely to move to Sorby House because the council can sell the library building and retain the proceeds of sale.  Under the circumstances it makes sense to do this but it is hard to see how exactly Burngreave has benefited from the New Deal investment.

Burngreave New Deal: The Accountable Body

Today, the second of six lessons learned according to the evaluation of Burngreave New Deal for Communities.  My purpose is to ask: how is finance deployed in communities?  Last time I looked at Community Based Partnerships and this time it is the Accountable Body.

The government insisted upon an accountable body to make sure Burngreave NDC spent its millions properly.  Local delivery agencies were accountable to NDC, NDC to the accountable body, which in turn was accountable to the Regional Government Office.  Whilst the programme needed to be protected against fraud, does taking precautions insulate the scheme from risk?

 ‘there is a need to establish from the outset the role, remit and boundaries of the accountable body, and expectations of the contribution of the community and partner agencies’

After 10 years someone noted it would have been a good idea to clarify expectations at the beginning!  What on earth did they think they were doing?

A Foregone Conclusion?

The accountable body was a foregone conclusion.  It was the local authority.  I’m not aware that it was any different in any other of the 39 New Deals.  Was there any other serious contender?  What if the health authority had done it?  Or the police?  Or Burngreave Community Action Trust (BCAT)?

I’m sure BCAT at the beginning would not have been able to do it.  Did anyone ever ask, what would BCAT have to do to become the accountable body?  Of course the way most people would have looked at it is this:

“We have £50 million pounds.  Who can be trusted with £50 million?  The local authority; we can always trust politicians and council officers.  BCAT?  They can’t even agree among themselves.  Don’t forget it’s £50 million pounds, a lot of money for a community group.”

You will have gathered I’m sceptical about injecting £50 million into any community.  But if you are going to do it, wouldn’t it be an idea to ask for a moment about what it is for?  Yes, it is a lot of money.  We all know it is a lot of money.

But from where I’m sitting now, it’s all gone.  We have almost nothing to show for it.  Some lives changed for the better, no doubt about that.  But we have no legacy, nothing to show for all that expenditure.

Could It Be Done?

Imagine if someone had said, ‘Look we chose Burngreave because of BCAT.  We know they can’t handle the full programme now, so how do we develop their capacity so that as soon as possible they can be the accountable body?’

If you’re going to chuck money away, you might as well chuck it away magnificently.

Instead, they tied it up in the usual structures.  It was safe even though it didn’t need to be safe.  Oh for politicians with vision, who trust the people.

And yes, I know to make BCAT the accountable body, would tie it up in red tape.  The problem is £50 million does not sharpen vision.  With money like that, you lose vision because the money is all you can see.

Does anyone have examples of community organisations entrusted with huge sums of money with no prior commitments?  How did it go for them?

Next: Project Management  (you’ll love this one) (honest)

Burngreave New Deal: Community Based Partnerships

Since last Monday’s post “Are grants bad news for community projects?“, I’ve reviewed the evaluation of Burngreave New Deal for Communities (BNDC) and it seems more relevant than the national evaluation.  As a local resident, involved in BNDC, I write about what I know.

Grants can do good and I do not deny the good done with the £50 million spent in Burngreave over the New Deal decade.  However, with all that money to invest, the programme systematically failed to engage with the local economy.  We need to think about communities in economic terms and build models based on economic activity that puts grants in their place.  What is their place?  I’m still working it out!

If there is potential to support local economies online, those who develop online services need to understand local economies.  So, in this and the next five emails I shall comment on the six lessons learned according to the Burngreave New Deal for Communities: End of Programme Evaluation, January 2012.  Here’s the first lesson learned:

“there is a need for community based partnerships to establish processes and mechanisms for collaboration before embarking on delivery; a year zero in which BNDfC has been able to establish a robust partnership might have helped overcome some of the difficulties experienced at the outset of the programme”

Burngreave NDC did not build local community based partnerships in year zero or at any other times over the 10 year programme.  Why was that?

What Went Wrong?

Let’s go back to the beginning.  NDC was an imposed programme.  The government informed the city of Sheffield one community could receive ND funding.  The local strategic partnership, which I think at the time was called Sheffield First (the charmed circle that makes up these partnerships recycle themselves so many times it’s impossible to remember what they called themselves in any given year) met behind closed doors and announced a shortlist of communities.

At this stage you would think they might have talked to people in these areas.  We asked them and they refused to do so.

Way back in 1997, after a 2 or 3 years of hard work we launched Burngreave Community Action Forum (BCAF).  It had support from active residents and met quarterly with over 60 people attending each meeting.  A year or two before NDC, BCAF founded a charitable company called Burngreave Community Action Trust (BCAT).  BCAT employed four staff who delivered BCAF’s community plan.  What would BCAF/T had said had Sheffield First invited  them to a conversation before making their decision?

Maybe the forums in the other shortlisted areas would have provided evidence that swayed them to a different community.  Or a conversation at that stage would have established commitment to BCAT as a community based partnership.

The Real Issue

One or two years later, BCAT might have been able to play this role (with support it might have been sooner).  On the day NDC announced Burngreave as the lucky recipient of its largess, a vocal group of residents turned up at a BCAF meeting and told us BCAF/T was not going to get its hands on the money.

Sheffield First did hint that BCAF/T was the reason they chose Burngreave but it was clear that first evening, BCAF/T had a lot of work to do to show people BCAF/T was their organisation.  In fact, many other organisations had designs on the money and feared a community united behind a single representative body.  This was never about one local group getting the money at the expense of others, it was about control of the money by local people or the local authority.

BCAF/T knew about the divisions in the community.  They were the reason we founded BCAF.  Council policy caused many of the divisions over the previous 10 or 20 years.  They used grants to divide the neighbourhood and £50 million simply widened the gaps.

I don’t know whether these are the difficulties referred to in the first lesson.  It is interesting, with all those resources NDC was unable to resolve these differences.

Have you experienced relationships undermined by funding?  Share your comments below.

Are Grants Bad News for Community Projects?

Last Monday I wrote about Burngreave New Deal for Communities (NDC).  What has NDC to do with web design?  I’ll show you how online and real life activities can support each other.  This Mutuality category is mostly about real-life community relationships and as it develops, you’ll see how it hangs together with online content.  Sources of finance for community projects are crucial to their success and sustainability.

NDC offered £50 million of grant money to Burngreave over 10 years.  Grant money (and sometimes loans and contracts) can be counter-productive.  I support many grant aided initiatives but I’ve seen over and again the negative effects they can have on community initiatives.  NDC was a massive  programme and I think it demonstrates some of the reasons grants can be problematic.

Some Problem Caused by Grants

I’ll develop these in future posts.

  1. Grants do not build relationships.  These days a lot of effort goes into monitoring and evaluating grant funded projects.  The Government monitored NDC very closely .  But monitoring and evaluation does not build relationships; too often it abdicates relationships because the funding body undertakes no financial risk.  If the government can afford to spend £1.71 billion on a programme it can afford that sum whether or not the programme is a success.  When the programme is over the funding body walks away with its statistics and has no further interest in what it has funded.
  2. Grants create dependency.  Dependency has real consequences for sustainability.  Too many community projects apply for grants before they build their business.  If their activity is not viable  before funding, it is not likely to be viable once the money runs out.  Projects become viable in various ways; trading is one but is not practical where the activity does not easily draw down revenue, eg additional teaching in schools.  So, the NDC programme suggested existing authorities would invest mainstream funding once an activity was proven.  This could happen in theory but is it likely if there is no mainstream commitment before funding is invested?
  3. Grants obscure the difference between vision and practicality.  It’s easy to have a good idea but more difficult to show the idea can be sustainable.  A big injection of cash too early can obscure the fact that an activity is not viable.
  4. Grants offer false social proof.  Once one grant is approved, other funders will follow suit.  Before you know it a good idea has lots of support before it runs into the sand because it is not sustainable.
  5. Grants create divisions within communities.  During the nineties Sheffield City Council had a policy of funding ethnic minority economic regeneration centres.  These divided neighbourhoods in two ways.  (1)  Each ethnic group (including White British) had their own centre.  There was plenty of funding in those days.  Where are they now?  (2) Most of these centres was internally divided between those who controlled the assets and those who did not.
  6. Grants are not sustainable.  Many good ideas flourish for a few years before the money runs out.  NDC was a ten-year programme and now, 3 years or so on from its closure, there is little to show for its work.  Whilst a few people and families can point to interventions that helped them, the neighbourhood as a whole has nothing to show for the investment.
  7. Grants undermine the purpose of recipients.  This is sometimes called ‘mission creep’.  What happens is someone has a good idea and then their fundraisers find the closest fit between the idea and the grants available.  Before long the community group  finds it is mainly doing stuff for the funding body and not their own agenda.  Call me fussy but if I’m not being paid I’d rather work for my group than for a funding body.

Do Grants Ever Help?

OK I do believe grants have a role, where an idea has proven its viability.  Until then we should be more cautious about offering grants without evidence of viability.

Next time: I’ll focus on NDC and its national evaluation.

Do grants help or hinder community development?  Have you examples to support your view?  Share your view in the comments below.