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October 21, 2009

Think Tanks offer three big ideas

In 2007, SCVO were awarded £8m by the Lottery to run a 5 year programme called Supporting Voluntary Action (SVA) with the aim of improving the quality of support on offer to Scotland’s voluntary sector. The programme is composed of several inter- connected projects and one of these – the SVA Think Tanks – has just come to an end.  Their task was to come up with a shared vision of what was needed. They came up with three big ideas

Three Key Ideas from SVA Think Tanks

As a culmination of all of their thinking and discussions, the Think Tanks members present three key ideas which could enable better collaboration across all areas of the infrastructure – both local and national.

These ideas also support improvements to practice and service delivery. They are ideas the Think Tanks members are confident will encourage further discussion to gain buy-in and further action.

Idea: A Congress for Infrastructure
What is this?

A national Congress of all infrastructure support organisations – CVS, VCs, national intermediaries, national social enterprise support bodies and local networks and LSEPs (estimated to be as many as 140 bodies currently);

The purpose is to provide an environment for working together to deliver the vision for the infrastructure, as outlined by the Think Tanks;

This builds on what has happened through the Think Tanks and continues the thinking and collaboration;

A Congress becomes the leadership home for the infrastructure. It would not be the leadership itself, but the place where leadership happens;

Participants would be expected to sign up to core values, principles and mission for the infrastructure;

All members would also commit to constructively engaging with the Framework (see below).

How does it work?

The Congress involves physical gatherings – once or twice a year. It could be supported by and be populated by working groups, for example, nationals and locals, thematic, specialist/generalist;

It is supported by a shared identity for infrastructure – a ‘badge’;

The Congress creates supports and owns a virtual portal – the ‘Framework’. All Congress members would be part of this portal.

Idea: A Framework for Infrastructure
What is this?

The Framework is a virtual portal aligned to a defined network of local access points. This supports infrastructure is joined up at a national and a local level;

At its heart it is a consolidated ‘portal’ IT system which links together and cross references all existing information, web systems and databases that contribute to the collaborative infrastructure network. It also is set up for easy ‘referral’ across services, with feedback loops for continual improvement;

It has an internal side (‘intranet’) for ‘members (the infrastructure) only’ with infrastructure tools and resources. It also has an external side for the wider sector and the public with information, contacts, relevant databases, etc.;

Importantly, it is also linked to real services. It is seen as a „one-stop-shop‟ that is of a high quality and can be branded. Hence the Framework is linked too (but not dependent on) the ‘badge’;

All members who sign up to the Framework sign up to an agreed process for moving towards maximisation of shared resources. The Framework is about working smarter and working more collaboratively but also ensuring those who access services have a better quality of service;

Importantly, it brings about opportunities for new added value services and systems;

This can be a platform that enables infrastructure to go beyond government expectations. It should be a vehicle or a mechanism which supports wider community engagement and development. As a local or national interface this should support opportunities to get involved with community learning and development, community engagement, etc.

How does it work?

At a local level it is more ‘real’ rather than virtual with high quality effective services in each area. Here it should be beyond a web presence, not just a technical solution, with staff and expertise on the ground to back up the web materials. There could be one ‘interface for the mainframe’ per local authority area – but with multiple access points across the area.

At a national level it is more ‘virtual’ – a portal supported by a real and cohesive support system. It would support national organisations who wish to work at a local level and local organisations who wish to make links nationally.

It needs to be easy to find for those who wish to access infrastructure support services and the expertise on offer.

There is a need to build trust in being part of this and operating through it with clarity around roles and remits within the structure. This might take the form of partnership agreements or memorandums of understanding.

All taking part need to commit to populating it by using a central management information system and knowledge base. They also need to commit to sharing expertise, learning and information and supporting improved service planning.

It needs a regular and robust exchange of communication – linked to quality of service – by ensuring a feedback loop is in place.

The framework/mainframe could also enable further development of shared resources such as a talent pool/consultancy network from staff within the infrastructure or a ‘time bank’ of expertise.

Idea: A Badge and Brand for Infrastructure
What is this?

A ‘badge’ which guarantees a level of quality of service from infrastructure support services active in Scotland.

A brand identity for infrastructure in Scotland (a ‘fair trade’ type brand) which identifies clearly that this organisation is committed to high quality and provides evidence of the infrastructure organisation’s commitment to being part of a collaborative system.

This becomes a collective identity which is distinctive and additional to each organisation’s own identity.

There is mutual benefit in being part of the brand and working towards the ‘badge’.

It encourages organisations to actively engage with the system and not just be passive.

How does it work?

It requires buy in from across the infrastructure to make both brand and badge work.

The brand needs to be accessible and easy to recognise, avoiding jargon and unnecessary hoops to jump through.

The brand identity should be professional (bringing in professional help to produce it).

The badge should enable organisations to move towards a quality system – with acceptable minimum standards to begin with but encouraging working toward higher levels.

It should be flexible and inclusive to be relevant for all infrastructure organisations.

Whilst these three ideas are distinct, they do also link together to provide the overall framework and setting for a collaborative infrastructure.
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