Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Third Sector event: Services to Young People (write up & presentations)

Author: Jeff Jones



The “Third sector” Special Interest Group held its Spring Seminar on the 23rd April, at the London School of Economics.

The topic was pro-bono consultancy, carried out by OR Society members, to charities involved in providing support to children. The Seminar was notable for its range of topics: from strategic planning to detailed help to individuals; from poverty models for the whole country, to services in the London Borough of Camden. The Seminar was well attended by both OR analysts and charities, the lecture theatre being completely full; and it was followed by a reception of drinks and snacks in a nearby room which provided a lively networking opportunity.

The first speakers were Malcolm Fenby and Joanna Ziff, who had worked together pro-bono for the Childhood Trust. They started by emphasising the size of the problem of poverty in London. More than 600,000 children in London live in severe poverty, two in five of the UK’s children living in poverty are living in London, and London has the fourth highest rate of child poverty among the world’s richest cities.

The Childhood Trust is an umbrella organisation, that passes on funds to 28 charities ( 2012–13 figures) operating in London. It funds projects in all London boroughs. The project was aimed at providing better data to the Trust, to enable them to target resources on those projects that have the greatest positive impact on alleviating child poverty in London. The project team proposed the development of an Impact Report incorporating infographics to illustrate key statistics. It was proposed that where data availability was sufficient, appropriate charts and graphs would also be included in the report.

Following consultation with The Childhood Trust staff, the project team designed a questionnaire to send out to all 24 recipients of funding via the 2013-14 Big Give. The questionnaire was designed in Survey Monkey and sent out from The Childhood Trust to maximise the response rate. The questionnaire response rate was a good 58%.
From this the suggested desired outcomes were:

  • Partner charities to think in terms of measurement (indicators) when thinking about Impact.
  • The standard of Impact measurement (conducted by partner charities) to be raised to that of the best (of the existing measurement).
  • A standard set of Impact Measurement tools (measures and methods) are identified that can be used by many charity partners (possibly grouped by activity).

The Trustees were invited to endorse these outcomes.

The next speaker was Rose Drummond, working for Elfrida Rathbone Camden (ERC), a charity supporting young disabled people living in the London Borough of Camden, their carers and families in need. It is a small charity involved in a diverse range of projects:
  • Advocacy – for families of young carers
  • Life skills courses - for young disabled people to bridge the gap from adolescence to adulthood
  • Support and advice – for families with a range of problems. Debt and welfare advice, family relationships, parenting, children’s emotional problems, education.

There is a diverse range of funders for different projects, and each project had its own monitoring and evaluation framework.
This project’s aim was to develop a measurement framework at top organisational level that would bring together the diverse range of projects. From their detailed background research, Rose’s team realised it was unclear what outcomes to measure - the projects were too diverse to simply combine existing outcome frameworks. So they chose the Charities Evaluation Service template to structure the framework – a flexible step-by-step guide to defining outcomes, indicators, collection methods and frequency.

The main method to find an agreed value system was a facilitated 3 hour workshop to agree key outcomes, involving 12 people representing ERC charity exec/trustees, service users and staff/volunteers. This was a key success of the project – a unique opportunity to hear from all these groups and get buy-in, agreement and joint ownership.
The workshop agreed that the main priorities were:
      Improved mental health
Increased opportunity to access employment, volunteering, training
Increased access to support and social networks
Reduced risks, and
Cultural shift - the community benefiting from the contribution of disabled people.

This enabled Rose’s team to design an indicator framework which was usable by all projects.

The next speaker was Sue Merchant, an ex-president of the OR society. She had been working for AYME, the Association of Young people with ME. This is a charity which supports young people (up to 26 yrs) who have Myalgic Encephalopathy (Chronic fatigue syndrome).
AYME. The charity:-
  • ·         Provides telephone and on-line support to sufferers/families
  • ·         Provides help booklets on the condition
  • ·         Produces a newsletter
  • ·         Raises awareness of the condition nationally
  • ·         Helps educate professionals on the condition, and
  • ·         Employs sufferers as volunteers.

The task was to facilitate a half day workshop of trustees and CEO to help produce a new strategic plan. The problems were that there would be limited time with the client, the workshop date was perilously close, the knowledge level of trustees was variable, and the AGM immediately preceded the workshop, so a full half day was unlikely.

After an initial investigation, Sue sorted all the ideas for improvement (so far collected) into groups and typed up under these headings for circulation at the workshop:

  • ·         Increase staff/volunteer capacity
  • ·         Enhance member services
  • ·         Improve awareness of ME and AYME
  • ·         Increase number of members
  • ·         Increase income
  • ·         Improve communication internally.

The workshop was divided into two groups- each discussing half of the ideas, seeing if there was anything to add,  and 
  • annotate with symbols: smiley faces, £ and clouds 
  • sort ideas into symbol charts and present back to the other group 
  • prioritise actions – green dots on each of the charts
  • agree action plan for next steps
  • Trustees to look later at budget and resources to adjust list.

The client found this analysis very useful, and subsequently used it to devise their new strategy.

The final speaker was Dave Buxton, the founder of dseConsulting.  Dave explained that he encourages his staff to spend 2 weeks a year doing pro-bono work in the charity sector, to broaden their experience. He talked about his recent work for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, looking at the causes of poverty. J

RF had previously tried to model poverty using system dynamics, which is a high level method dealing with aggregate data on the numbers in poverty, and the flows in and out, and the causality. This proved not to be very successful, and so a more detailed and bottom-up approach was required.

Dave introduced the technique in which he specialises, which is Agent Based Modelling. ABM, in this case, involves detailed models of a range of household types; for each, building in the likely behavioural response to changing external signals. These can then be aggregated up to national level figures, but it is structured as a bottom up approach. The specific question investigated was, given a child (say a 5 year old), what is the chances, given various future changes, that he/she will be in poverty in 20 years’ time?  These complex models can thus be used to investigate the effects of different future trends, and different policies. So far it has shown some unexpected results. For example that school expenditure and housing were not major factors, but that home life and teacher quality were important.

Finally the Chairperson (me) thanked everyone for coming. And in particular the five excellent speakers, and Felicity McLeister – the O.R. Pro Bono Project Manager, for doing all the work while Jeff took the praise. And especially Henrietta Burr, from the LSE management department, for the fantastic support she gave throughout.

The presentations can be found on The OR Society website, in the Document Repository; and a video, including interviews with the speakers, will be put onto YouTube.

Jeff Jones

Note: if you are unable to access the presentations via the Document Repository I have requested the slides be uploads onto the Pro Bono O.R. webpage under 'Latest news' so please look out for them there shortly.

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