Voluntary sector infrastructure organisations should consider moving beyond their traditional roles by developing more collaborative ways of working, according to a report published today by the think tank IPPR North.
Civil Society Support in the North of England urges second-tier organisations to put more resources into cooperating with each other and public bodies rather than focusing narrowly on supporting local charities.
"Increasingly, a consensus is growing that, in order to help build healthier and more productive local areas, organisations need to work much more collaboratively than they do today," the report says. "This will require change across the board to make it effective."
It urges infrastructure bodies to develop "shared visions" for a neighbourhood or local authority area, then map where roles are being duplicated, develop ways of operating more effectively and approach local authorities about working together to implement ideas.
The report, which is part of a three-year programme by IPPR North on the state of civil society in northern England, is based on interviews with 35 sector leaders in the north and data from the think tank's Third Sector Trends survey.
Co-author Jack Hunter, a research fellow at IPPR North, told Third Sector that "placed-based" approaches to public policy were increasingly popular, yet there had been little research on what they meant to support organisations.
He said the impact of austerity on the sector had been so great that some support organisations had given little time to major policy developments, such as devolution and industrial strategy.
The report also highlights how some northern infrastructure organisations have changed. Hunter said this was usually due to a "catalysing" moment, such as a loss of funding or a new chief executive.
The report gives the example of the Middlesbrough Voluntary Development Agency, which has shifted its focus away from the helping specific charities towards mapping community needs and identifying where voluntary sector resources can be best deployed.
It also highlights how York CVS has responded to vastly reduced funding by moving away from being a central hub for the sector that provided information and training to becoming more of a facilitator, signposting organisations to support and working more closely with the council on commissioning.
The report says support organisations should focus on becoming leaders, brokers, platforms, systems changers or champions.
"There is also an imperative on, and opportunity for, organisations to continually review and reflect on their activities, and to integrate learning into their processes," it says.