Newsmaker: Goodwill hunter - David Carrington Voluntary sector consultant

Stephen Cook

A few days after his report on the dispute between information technology groups was posted online, David Carrington began to receive emails saying he had done irreparable damage to the sector.

The report was a no-holds-barred account of the bitter conflict over the setting up of the national ICT 'hub', part of the Government's ChangeUp programme, and most protagonists were roundly criticised.

But Carrington, an experienced consultant and veteran of the sector, takes a more optimistic view than the emailers. He thinks the full co-operation of the warring parties with his inquiry bodes well for the future.

"I don't think many of us would welcome the idea of somebody poring over our email correspondence nine months down the line and drawing conclusions from it," he says. "The fact that people co-operated and were so helpful, even though they must have known that some of the things I would emphasise would not be wholly complimentary, is a tribute to them."

The dispute began when the Home Office chose the ICT Consortium (AbilityNet, IT 4 Communities, LASA, NACVS and the NCVO) to set up a national IT 'hub', and asked it to work with losing bidder Citra (CFDG, Charities Consortium IT Directors Group, IoF, ACF, the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at the Cass Business School and - initially - Acevo).

Citra wanted to be admitted as a group to the consortium, which preferred to consider individual applications only. Carrington was appointed to report on the dispute, concluding that the leading organisations had demonstrated "an intensity of mistrust" of no benefit to anyone.

Reflecting on his report, Carrington says repeatedly that he thinks the dispute can be overcome if there is goodwill, and that the main sector organisations will be able to work successfully together again.

His other themes are that some individuals - he declines to name them - will not recover from the affair as easily as the organisations, and that the key factors behind the dispute were the inability to appreciate the perceptions of others and a failure by leaders to recognise risks to reputation.

"I wouldn't say there is a profound problem between the organisations," he says. "I think the fact they are working together in most of the other hubs has illustrated that. Nor is this going to create long-term difficulties for many of the individuals involved.

"There may be a few individuals for whom this has been a pretty exceptional experience, and one they may have trouble recovering from. But some of these individuals - some fairly crucial ones - aren't around any more. They've moved on."

On the importance of perception, he says: "People act on what they see and believe, and you have to accept that. If you don't feel their perceptions are accurate, then you debate that with them openly and respectfully.

"It's self-evident that people took positions from which they found it very hard to move, without having really checked whether those positions were fair. We're talking about human nature, rather than something peculiar to the voluntary sector."

Carrington is most animated on the "immense importance" of guarding against the risk to reputation. "Public spats are highly unlikely to enhance the collective reputation of the sector," he says. "The debate about public trust and confidence is, correctly, high on people's agendas - situations such as last summer's should be avoided."

The dispute hasn't received national publicity, but Carrington thinks the voluntary sector has been "a bit wearied by it all. When you see people who ought to be getting on with it not doing so, you think of what the time could have been used for, instead of arguing."

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