Trust Response to 2016 Programme for Government

Trust Response to 2016 Programme for Government

25 July 2016

The new Stormont Executive recently produced a draft Programme for Government (PfG) framework and the Building Change Trust were one of many organisations within the Northern Ireland Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Sector (VCSE) to supply a response.

We asked our Director of Operations Nigel McKinney to sum up what we said in this handy blog, but you can download our full response here.

The Trust’s emphasis is on the VCSE sector and it seems to us, through the lessons from our Inspiring Impact programme, that whilst there is appetite within government and the VCSE to change the funding relationship to one focused on outcomes, there is a lack of clarity around how that should be done.

A lot of work needs done to support the development of better impact practice within government and key delivery sectors. There are lessons from the work of our Inspiring Impact programme managed by CENI that may be helpful.

When considering an Outcomes Based Accountability approach, whilst it’s appropriate for government to use a consistent approach to outcomes, it is important to note there are weaknesses within this approach to be considered and guarded against.

Some potential pitfalls of might include:

  • Prioritisation of quantities over qualities.
  • Over simplification and gaming of targets.
  • Barriers to innovation and development and testing of new methods and approaches to meet people/community needs. 

We believe a more pluralistic approach is needed, this is not a ‘’one size fits all’’.

It is explicit and implicit within the proposed framework that collaboration both within government and externally is the only way in which the outcomes can be achieved.

One of the most disappointing situations in the last Executive was the obvious lack of collaboration within government - what with government ministers and departments taking each other to court.

Whilst the purpose of collaboration is to make a difference, surely in the NI context collaboration is both an end and a means given the still fractured post conflict society?

Therefore, it could be useful to have collaboration as an outcome of itself with appropriate measures and indicators.

Our experience with supporting collaboration in NI VCSE’s through CollaborationNI is that collaboration requires support, often patient and specialist, and such support requires investment and resources.

We don’t think it can yet be said there are good governance arrangements in NI, that’s not to criticise the motivation and ambition of our politicians but we don’t have a sense of anyone working to common goals for the betterment of everyone, nor a sense of the shared responsibility between government and citizens to make this place and the lives of people better.

We wonder if the proposed PfG outcomes could be considered in the content of an overarching outcome of Open Government as is being worked on by the NI Open Government Network and prominently referenced in the recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development review?

This would mean considering all outcomes within a wider matrix of Open Government with specific measures and indicators around the 3 internal open government outcomes of Transparency, Participation and Accountability.   

Are there too many outcomes in the PfG? We think they could simplified, and be better graphically represented with some attempt given to highlight the interrelationships and complexity.

Despite this, we’re left with the strong impression that there’s a big piece of the jigsaw missing from the framework – and that’s the outcome that’s about our role as individuals and collectively through civil society – be that within the VCSE and other sectors as agents for change in making here better. 

Why no communities outcome? Why no indicator for civic participation – taking in volunteering and the myriad other ways in which people help others and themselves?

An indicator around cultural participation is limiting, and one around civic participation would be much better linked to a communities outcome.

For example, Scotland Performs says - “We have strong, resilient and supportive communities where people take responsibility for their own actions and how they affect others” – could we adopt something similar in Northern Ireland?

Is there a whiff of an old attitude to the role of government and the state in the framework and it’s that government delivers stuff on to people, the economy is the only thing that matters and that this is to be considered only in the context of private sector development?

We’d like to see more emphasis on economic diversification, the role of the VCSE sector and the social economy in particular.

The economic indicators tend, in their language, to refer to the private sector only – nothing about economic diversification and the role of the social economy which is as big an employer in NI as the agricultural sector.

Overall a focus on clear outcomes, by a more unified government, openly and transparently collaborating with others and being more accountable has to be a good thing. But will we get that?

It is too early to tell but let’s leave cynicism (but not constructive criticism) to one side and see what we can all do to help.

We welcome and commend the approach taken with a view to achieving more joined-up government with a focus on making a positive difference to the people and places of Northern Ireland.

We believe that further work is needed to refine the outcomes, measures and indicators and suggest action is also needed to ensure that a plurality of measurement and evaluation approaches is maintained at the performance accountability level.

Consideration also needs given to the establishment of stretching targets in order that progress can be more fully evaluated.

We commend the work and learning of our initiatives supporting the sector in respect of collaboration and impact practice in the sector in particular – Collaboration NI and Inspiring Impact NI.

You can download our full response to the Programme for Government here.