Q: We deal mainly with health advocacy, but there are big opportunities to develop service delivery. Staff and trustees are divided. How do we progress?
There are huge opportunities for the third sector in the current drive to reform public services. This is hardly surprising, because there is real value added in service delivery through user-led and community-focused services. But there are plenty of pitfalls to be negotiated if you're going to expand in this area.
You say that opinion is divided. It is important for you to think about how to move forward with a shared agenda. Think about commissioning independent experts to provide you with the options you can use to promote debate and discussion. You should be making full use of awaydays with your board and with your staff to debate the issues.
But in this process you're going to have to provide leadership yourself. If you're the chief executive, you will need to have a clear view and provide a lead for your staff and trustees.
What are the issues to consider? First, there's your mission. What's your core job as an organisation? If, for example, it is to promote a better life for people with disabilities, you can do this either through advocacy and research or through providing direct services yourself - or a mixture of both. The bottom line is that if you can provide a better service than the statutory agencies, this must be considered. If you're a membership organisation, or you have users and carer groups, you must involve them in decision-making.
Next is funding. Get involved in an increased service delivery role only if you are sure the funding and contracting systems are correct. So many organisations have found that providing services on inadequate one-year contracts where they can't recover the full costs has undermined sustainability.
Last, evaluation. If you start delivering services, you might establish this in such a way that you could withdraw if you felt you were not achieving your purpose. You might want to set up a separate division, where you can clearly evaluate the costs and benefits of service provision.
We are moving to a mixed economy, with provision of public services between private, public and third sector organisations. I believe this is good. It's the theme of the Three Sectors Summit on 22 June, at which Acevo, the CBI and the National Consumer Council are promoting the value of different providers of public services. I'd have thought there's a clear case for taking advantage of the changed climate and getting involved on behalf of your charity's beneficiaries. Be bold.
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