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Report on User Involvement and Engagement 2008

This report summarises the findings of work undertaken by Herefordshire
Voluntary Action (HVA) regarding user involvement and stakeholder
engagement in the work of Herefordshire Infrastructure Consortium (HIC).
This work was undertaken during the later part of 2007/8.

1. Background
HIC acknowledged at its 2007 away day that further efforts should be made to
meet with stakeholders and potential members on a one to one basis to
update them on the work of the HIC. During summer 2007 HIC members took
part in an independent assessment of the work of the consortium. This has
resulted in further Capacitybuilders funding for HIC from 2008 – 2011. HIC
decided it was timely that membership be reviewed and efforts made to
develop user involvement and engagement in its work. The consortium
acknowledges the valuable contribution that other partners can bring to the
work of HIC either through formal membership or as an interested
stakeholder. The HIC needs to develop user involvement and partner
engagement if it is to effectively meet the needs of frontline organisations and
contribute to an independent and strong Third Sector in Herefordshire.

HVA was commissioned to make contact with HIC stakeholders to discuss the
HIC. The work aimed to: -

1. Ensure key partners (including organisations that may wish to apply for
membership) were made aware of the role, activities and future plans of HIC.

2. Identify ways in which involvement in planning could take place and ensure
the work of HIC is informed by other infrastructure providers and those
providing services to frontline Third Sector organisations.

An initial partners briefing update was produced (Appendix 1). The purpose of
the paper was to: -

   1. Provide partners with an insight into the work of HIC e.g. projects
      funded, services delivered
   2. Provide clear guidance on HIC procedures e.g. membership criteria,
      accountable body function
   3. Offer information on the policy background and plans moving forward
      (including future business plan and areas of work).

The briefing paper and HIC Infrastructure Development Strategy 2008 - 2014
was circulated to the following stakeholders and interested partners: -

      Hereford Diocese
      Robert Owen Society
      The Rural Media Company
      Kindle (South Wye Development Trust)
      Herefordshire Association of Local Councils (HALC)

      Herefordshire Community Foundation (HCF)
      Voluntary Sector Assembly (VSA)
      Herefordshire Sports Council
      Herefordshire Council Voluntary (Sector Liaison Officer)
      The Alliance in Herefordshire

The circulation was chosen on the following basis: -

   1. Stakeholders had either been part of the ‘Wider Reference Group’
      (WRG) or had shown an interest in the work of HIC.
   2. They were ‘new’ Third Sector organisations that HIC members were
      aware had emerged in recent years and were now providing some form
      of infrastructure support, the extent of which should be explored further

Will Lindesay, HVA Chief Executive contacted partners to arrange a meeting
to discuss the content of the briefing paper. A set of semi structured
questions, including in the paper were used to provide some structure to the
discussion. The offer of a one to one with each organisation was well
received. One organisation agreed to submit a written response to the
questions covered. At the time of this report this is still to be received.
However, notes were taken from that meeting and have been fed into the
responses below.

2. Responses
The semi structured questions provided a useful framework for discussion. It
was agreed that comments made would not be attributable to any particular

3. What has been your involvement in the work of HIC to date?
Outside the current HIC membership the general view was that there has
been minimal or little involvement in the work of HIC to date. The exceptions
to this have been Herefordshire Council, Herefordshire Partnership and
Voluntary Sector Assembly (VSA). The reason for this has been that
Herefordshire Council, Herefordshire Partnership and VSA already exchange
information at HIC partner meetings on a quarterly basis. The opportunity to
exchange information and communication with many VCS organisation
through the HIC meeting was identified as very beneficial to statutory
partners. In light of other comments in this report further consideration should
be given to how HIC partner meetings could be used as a mechanism to
develop user involvement going forward.

A number of organisations had benefited from funding drawn down by the HIC
whilst other had not really inputted significantly in business planning or
identifying needs. It was apparent that many organisations had benefited from
work that HIC had co-ordinated through Capacitybuilders funding but did not
realise that the work was attributable to HIC. Examples included the funding
that has supported the VSA, the joint HIC/VSA event in February 2008, VCS
training programme, Volunteer Centre services, Parish Planning, initial
investment into AcquA and value of voluntary and community sector research.
Others could see clear value which collaborative could bring, in particular the

partnership CRM, website developments and joint training for the sector.
Again awareness about these types of project had generally been low before
the briefings.

HIC has taken a position to date on how HIC collaboration should be
promoted to the wider sector. The HIC has not sought to generate high
visibility of its work. The consortium is clear it seeks to respect the
independence of specialisms provided by each of its members as the service
providers. It has said it wants to avoid a situation whereby others perceive
HIC as another level of support amongst an already confused voluntary
sector. HIC is not another infrastructure organisation but a way of improved
infrastructure service delivery for the Third Sector in Herefordshire. For these
reasons, HIC has not undertaken a significant marketing campaign to raise its

However, the above approach has clearly had an impact on the way
involvement has developed. This will be an important consideration moving
forward and there is a view from many of the people that the consortium
needs to be much clearer about function, its plans and how and when it
communicates. All will be important to build trust and credibility going forward.

Several partner organisations had officers that had been in post for 2 years
and more. Some remembered the HIC event at The Left Bank in November
2005. In fact this was the only recollection some people had of being involved
in the HIC. Several organisations had received funding through the HIC and
had therefore reported outcomes to the HIC on performance. However, it was
largely acknowledged that this had mostly been in delivery of Change Up
funded projects rather than a planning and developing input. Several people
mentioned the HIC/VSA joint event in February 2008 and the recent HIC joint
training programme so it is fair to say awareness has been improving in
recent times. Again, people had attended or participated in something rather
been involved in planning, development and implementation of HIC strategy.
The notable exception to the above has been the VSA which attends HIC
meetings (members and partners) in an advisory role. Close links have been
forged with the VSA around representation and communication. The VSA has
been one of the projects funded through HIC during the last three years of
Change Up funding. Its importance in acting as a communication channel to
and from the HIC has been developed in recent times and it is seen as a
priority partner in developing VCS influence in Herefordshire.

3.1 Wider Reference Group (WRG)
Most organisations knew about the existence of the Wider Reference Group
(WRG). Several seemed happy that they were part of the HIC structure and
felt part of the HIC by being described as the WRG. However, several
organisations felt they had not been included in the work of HIC and there is
an expectation that HIC must engage with the WRG members more
effectively. It became clear that failure to achieve this will affect the success of
HIC in the future. This in turn is likely to have an impact on individual member
organisations of the HIC. Several organisations were aware that the WRG
had been cited by HIC in Capacitybuilders’ applications or their organisation

had been named in a report. A number raised this as an issue as it portrayed
a relationship with a wide range of other organisations that did not actually
exist. Assurances were given regarding a number of particular issues and
people were content with bids and applications made by the consortium once
the criteria was understood e.g. Community Development Fund. However, it
does raise an important point about perceptions when partners are not fully
engaged in the discussion.

Moving forward, many felt the function of an effective WRG was critical to the
success of HIC so it can report back and be informed from a wide range of
Third Sector partners. There was also clear recognition of the value of
infrastructure support provided by HIC members and a need for other partners
and networks to work in partnership to provide the best possible services to
frontline organisations.

A number of people said that an effective WRG meeting regularly would
benefit all participating organisations taking part, not just the consortium. It
was a forum that could help shape support services but also inform the
services and approach of others providers, irrespective of their sector.

4. How can the HIC ensure it communicates and engages effectively with
your organisation in the future? (Please be specific e.g. methods of
engagement, barriers, communication, membership, regular briefings,

Generally, organisations do not know about the work that HIC is doing. Many
knew of individual projects funded through HIC, but the association with that
work was mainly with the delivery partner of the project. HIC has made a
conscious decision not to make the profile of HIC visible to an already
confused Third Sector. However at a more strategic level there is a necessity
to ensure key partners are aware of the key HIC projects in relation to their
services so they can help shape them. The meetings were an opportunity to
share issues with partners about the external issues that HIC faces including
tight deadlines, resources and capacity.

Partners were very understanding of capacity issues and time pressures e.g.
funding deadlines. The HIC could improve communication and understanding
by simple clarification of issues as they arise. Without this type of information
people felt HIC could not demonstrate it was inclusion and effective HIC
would be in the future unless it was reflecting and referring back to other
stakeholders about needs and future service planning affecting infrastructure.
Everyone was supportive of the need to develop HIC moving forward and
committed to providing best positive infrastructure for the sector in an
environment of scarce resources.

Several organisations said that HIC was well placed to benefit from the
credibility of and trust in individual member organisation. As engagement
grows this will be the case across the range of partners. This position was
seen as a positive situation that HIC could use to it advantage in the future.
However, the situation where HIC member organisations could also face

credibility issues themselves if they are identified with a consortium that is not
successful in the longer term was also identified.

4.1 Barriers to participation
The largest single barriers to involvement in HIC development was clearly the
absence of regular and clear information coming from HIC. The following
views were put fowards to how this should be addressed in the future: -

4.2 Concise briefing between meetings.
Several were welcoming of summary email bullet points between meetings to
summarise key points and issues. This is very much related to the capacity of
organisations, busy officers and the fact that not all HIC information will be
relevant to other stakeholders. Most organisations still identified themselves
as part of the WRG that can comment on, provide specialist input and
generally advise on infrastructure planning, development implementation and
review as appropriate. Several organisations felt there were opportunities for
further learning, good practice, wider expertise and generally a stronger
infrastructure plan if the wider network could be involved. Examples included
projects on the ground providing direct support to communities and volunteers
(such as Parish Councils), procurement and social enterprise.

All organisations welcomed opportunities to engage in future infrastructure
service planning. It is clear wider acknowledgement and sharing of documents
in the planning stage would help move engagement on. The HIC
management group will need to consider this point, including capacity to allow
this to happen and what information is shared with the WRG.

4.3 Invitations for Officers to take part in the regular partner meetings.
To aid this process it was suggested an advance calendar of external
partnership meetings be set up to which the WRG could be invited. Several
organisations indicated they had no intention of attending every meeting but
that a calendar and permanent invitation would give them the opportunity to
input. Some were still at the stage where they were still considering how
relevant HIC was to them. The agenda for these meeting should be focussed
on: -

Update on current plans with the chance for other infrastructure providers to
comment specifically on infrastructure issues.

At the moment a number of partnerships are scheduled. These could easily
be used to engage the WRG members. Lack of capacity is acknowledged on
both sides, including pressures on HIC as well and the WRG members. There
was a request that the partnership meetings should provide significant two
way communication.

5. Are there any needs or gaps you have identified within Third Sector
Infrastructure support that HIC should be focusing on?

The sessions provided a good opportunity to explore gaps and needs within
the Third Sector. The current HIC members have acknowledged the need to

reach out and extend infrastructure services. Those spoken to offered wide
ranging comments on: -

The need for further information and support regarding funding issues,
training, improved outreach for local groups and procurement advice were put
forward as gaps in support services. Lack of sufficient funding opportunities
for the Third Sector was a general concern for most organisations. Although it
was unlikely that grant makers such as Herefordshire Community Foundation
(HCF) would have the capacity to become a full member at this stage, HIC
could provide grant makers with focussed and informed intelligence about
local grant making priorities in Herefordshire.

Related to this point greater clarity was sought on sustainability and social
enterprise services within the Third Sector. Clearly, there are some excellent
models and social enterprises within Herefordshire which could inform the
work of HIC.

The needs of small groups, particularly access to services in rural areas were
highlighted as a continuing gap. For larger organisations quality assurance
support and managing performance systems were also identified needs. A
comment was made that existing LIO’s within the consortium were very good
at the softer end but could benefit from a wider set of skills on more technical
services e.g. procurement.

Some mentioned opportunities where HIC was well placed to broker services
on behalf of the wider sector, for example audit, ICT support and
consumables. This could have the potential to show some practical benefit to
the Third Sector from the work of the consortium.

6. Do you have any comments on the policy context or HIC function?

A number of organisations felt there was still overlap and duplication in some
forms of infrastructure service delivery. Some were reassured by the
collaborative working taking place regarding event and Third Sector training

It is clear there is a genuine commitment to partnership working across
sectors. Organisations were able to link a number of strategies that were
relevant to the Change Up programme e.g. Local Government White Paper.
The HIC is recognised as a key player in shaping local strategy and is
represented on key decision making structures of Herefordshire Partnership.

7. Is the membership criteria and application process clear?

All agreed that the criteria and processes set out in the briefing sheet were
very clear. Several organisations were unsure whether they were eligible to
apply for membership. Many of the consultees had looked at the criteria in
relation to their own services and it had helped them determine that they
should not be full members on the basis that they do not provide infrastructure
at the required level. More generally partners were appreciative of the clarity

that was given regarding procedures. Several members had been unsure to
date of how they should go about applying, whether it was appropriate to
apply and how this should be done. Several partners used this process as an
opportunity to discuss the scope to which HIC membership was appropriate to
them and the services they deliver. We received one comment that HIC could
have been more open about criteria when an initial approach about
membership was made in the past. This was discussed and the new
procedures relating to membership were now clear.

8. Has this been useful? If so, is this something we should be doing

Everyone was appreciative of the briefing. Capacity permitting from (both
perspectives) that was real interest in further engagement with the HIC. All
comments were made in a constructive and positive way.

9. Would you like HIC to communicate with you in the future?
A single point of contact was highlighted as advantageous. Regular
‘Soundbites’ were one idea put forward where partners could pick up issues
between HIC meetings. This was particularly important for busy Officers or
where the HIC agenda was not relevant. Everyone was receptive to the idea
of a single email after each members’ meeting on the key issues, learning
points, requests for advice, in bulletin point format with reference to other
materials where necessary. Several contacts, in particular low capacity
organisations were happy for prompts or requests to be made by the
consortium e.g. we are putting forward a training programme and would
welcome any specific comments. Of course there is a resource/co-ordination
implication which the HIC Management Group will need to consider along with
competing priorities.

Capacity permitting, an annual HIC stakeholder meeting/event was
welcomed. This could usefully provide an opportunity for open discussion,
update on plans and future priorities and networking. It was acknowledged
that the 2005 event was still remembered by several officers. Most felt this
could be a short workshop session. A number of people asked whether it
could include staff and trustees.

9.1 Any other comments on this process or work of HIC?
A number of comments point to a need to continually review user involvement
and membership. This work has provided some resource for dedicated time.
The management group will need to ensure it regularly revisits this area of
work. The regular partner meeting and annual review forum, if required,
provide the ideal forum for this type of debate.

9.2 Membership
HIC membership needs to truly reflect the breadth and specialisms within the
HIC if it is to grow and develop. Clearly, further engagement of the health and
social care sector will be beneficial and further discussions between The
Alliance and HIC will ensure this key area is reflected in the future. The

Alliance is a key agency body relating to infrastructure and HIC acknowledges
the expertise provided by The Alliance.

10. Recommendations

10.1 What worked well.
The general policy context about Capacity Builders and work of HIC was
though to be very useful. It is understandable that for many partners the
Capacity builders programme and infrastructure service is just one part of the
work partners do. However, several found the policy context useful as it
pointed them to other sources of information including Herefordshire
Infrastructure Consortium and Capacitybuilders websites. This does however
raise expectations, being one example. Several people
commented that they had referred to the website but had historically found the
website out of date or unclear. In several instances, key partners were now
using individual member website for information about the sector including all
strategic information, policy resources. However, it should be noted that work
has taken place in recent months to update and improve the website. The
Management Group will need to review the website content, management
arrangement and audience on a regular basis.

10.2 What needs further consideration
As strongly highlighted throughout, HIC needs to agree the mechanisms for
regular communication with the WRG or similar network. In fact this point is
already recognised by members of the HIC so this is a good starting point.
Several organisations remembered a HIC consultation event that happened a
long time ago at Left Bank which they attended. Since that time they had
heard nothing else.

There was a sense from others that HIC has been exclusive in the past.
Comments included ‘closed shop’ and members perhaps ‘carving up’ funding
amongst themselves. The one to one sessions provided a good opportunity to
discuss these types of issues. This led to a much better understanding about
the Capacitybuilders funding programme and how it is targeted specifically at
infrastructure type activities. Without this type of clarification and discussion it
is easy to see how others perceive that HIC funding is taking resources away
from frontline organisations.

In moving forward, HIC needs to be clear about emerging funding streams
and communicate with others about how they are being used.

10.3 Role of the website
The HIC website does need further work in terms of its content and purpose.
Only a few people spoken to were aware of the site. The links to other
infrastructure organisations websites are a helpful feature that helps promote
individual organisations but generally people were not clear about the key
messages HIC was trying to put across through the site.

10.4 Communication – Partners meetings

Email bulletins that provide ongoing communications with partners would be
welcomed. When communication is made there is a requirement for the topic
to be focused and allow for input rather than just information sharing.

Agenda for partnership meetings need to be clear and partners given
sufficient opportunity to report back on issues in the Third Sector. The
exchange is as much about updates from other as it is about HIC moving
forward. There were also other networks that can continue to be utilised e.g.
Community Development Partnership, Community Development Workers
Forum. The input of the chair and other members of HIC into these forums
provide a good basis to develop further awareness about the consortium.

11. Action required of Management Group:

11.1 Respond to Robert Owen application to become HIC member
    (application in writing made in Feb, but awaiting outcome of visit to
    Robert Owen as agreed at April 10th, HIC Management Group.

11.2 Maintain role and build on the function of the WRG through the
    following mechanisms.

i). Agree monthly briefing – Bulletin pointed, half page summary to be
provided that provides regular communication and engagement with WRG
ii). Invite WRG to quarterly External Partners meetings, and provide minutes
of those meetings to everyone on the circulation list. Meetings should include
opportunity for joint share and developed rather than simple reporting back to
wider sector by HIC iii). Ensure WRG has the opportunity to input into
strategic development e.g. modernisation programme, improving reach bids,
awayday, ICT.
iii). Ensure continued relationship with VSA.

11.3   Take the opportunity to review membership on an annual basis

11.4 Agree report to be circulated to consultees with approved action points
    (anticipated in June by consultees).

11.5 Build reporting and communication with WRG into work plan of the HIC
    Co-ordinator. Agree contingency reporting mechanisms if there are
    capacity/resource issues with this approach.

11.6 Consider annual briefing session for WRG.

11.7 Review how HIC markets itself and how this impact on the relationship
HIC develop with partners itself in the future.

11.8 Consider membership gaps, including Alliance engagement regarding
    health and social care infrastructure specialism.

For further information about the content of this report please contact Will
Lindesay,     Chief   Executive,   HVA,     01432     343932     or   email


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