During the COVID-19 crisis, we've seen councils and Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations collaborate with transparency and pace not commonly seen before to provide vital support services to those in need. Throughout the pandemic, we've noticed the most successful relationships are those where councils are dropping siloed hierarchical ways of working, re-shaping commissioning and/or fast-tracking funding towards the VCS.

Last spring, the VCS did not wait for direction, instead, they reacted quickly to respond to the needs of those in their communities. Community hubs of all sorts were formalised and different organisations started collaborating and creating impact together.

Building on new ways of working

COVID-19 created a universal purpose where the VCS and council priorities aligned. Many began asking themselves how to preserve that clarity as we transition into the different demands from the pandemic and begin to look to recovery. The crisis highlighted barriers to more effective and sustainable, cross-community working. Yet it also created energy and space to truly start working differently. The collaboration provided an opportunity to keep building on the innovation achieved throughout 2020.

Last year we worked closely with Trafford Council’s modernisation team to understand how we could support them with culture change. A part of that change was to consider how we could build on the coordinated work between the council and VCS that came out of the first wave:

  • if we rethink our strategic role as investor and commissioner of the VCS sector, we think it will become more stable and better able to deliver change for residents
  • if we have a shared view of the change we all want for residents, then partners are better able to design services to meet them
  • if we align with partners and communities on how we work together, we think we can better collaborate and deliver services, building on the community response to COVID-19

A few months later we started developing a pilot solution around the second opportunity through an MHCLG C19 recovery fund project which brought together LOTI, Camden Council and Central Bedfordshire Council to improve data sharing between the VCS and councils.

Council partners and the VCS have valuable data that isn’t being leveraged and there's little guidance on what could be useful, leading to gaps in the data sets or to data we don’t need. It also historically feels to many in the VCS that data is only flowing from them towards the council in support of funding, but not in creating insights that allow both organisations to address the most pressing issues together.

The more we explored what the word ‘data’ meant to the VCS and council staff, the more we recognised ‘data’ was not a word the VCS connected with or felt the owners of. Redefining the term to include both quantitative and qualitative data allowed many more in the VCS to easily recognise themselves as partners who possess valuable data given their deep knowledge of residents.

I’m not sure I’ll have much to offer as I’m not a data person. Our work is about people and what I’m interested in is knowing about the people who need us.

VCS partner

Fostering trust and building relationships

Once we’d come to understand why and how the VCS felt within this data conversation, we began shaping the community insights projects programme. Focusing on an approach that prioritises relationships first and data second, finding ways to combine the skills of the VCS and council teams to understand residents and from that, better support communities together. If you’re a local authority or VCS that's interested in your own pilot, a user guide is publicly available.

This programme is a start, addressing one of the three opportunities above. We're energised at what we’ve seen unfold since the start of the pandemic as our councils and VCS organisations continue to build trust and collaborate together, meeting the urgent needs of our communities.

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We’re always happy to answer any questions you have about FutureGov and discuss how we can work together.

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