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Evaluation of the Scottish union learning fund— Year one (2000-2001)

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Evaluation of the Scottish Union Learning Fund - Year 1 (2000-2001)

Chapter five: project management and implementation

Introduction

5.1 Effective project management is one of the key components in ensuring the success of SULF projects. This chapter considers the project management of the Year One SULF projects and introduces some strengths and weaknesses of the project management. SULF is about unions gaining experience of project management in Scotland and building capacity in Scotland. Thus, it is important to consider project management as part of the capacity building aspect of the fund.

project management

5.2 Whilst there were isolated examples of ineffective project management and a lack of planning, project management was generally undertaken effectively. The isolated examples include:

  • in the IT based professional development projects, issues arose around access to IT and the need for planning for tutor support
  • in one of the LRs projects, employers were not engaged and committed to the project, making it difficult for the LRs to fulfil their duties.

5.3 It is essential that SULF funded projects focus on the needs of Scotland and are not a "carry over" from England. Project bids should be fully researched to identify the local needs and this should be clearly demonstrated in the SULF bid. Where a national union has run the project from England, there is a risk that the project may lack a local input and may not have the advantage of access to established networks within Scotland. However, in several cases even though the project managers were based in England there was a project worker co-ordinating activity locally.

5.4 Table 5.1 presents the split of the round one project managers in terms of Scotland or non-Scotland based and the projects that had project staff based in Scotland.

Table 5.1 The split of SULF Year One project managers in terms of Scotland or non-Scotland based and projects with local project staff

Union

Non Scotland based Project Manager

Scotland based Project Manager

Local Project Staff

UCATT

MSF

EIS

AEEU led

SCP

Unison (1)

Unison (2)

Bectu

ASLEF led

Equity

NUJ

T&G

5.5 The extent to which the project manager is locally based should be monitored in the future as a sign of unions building capacity within Scotland and commitment to developing the union's role in education and lifelong learning in the future.

The capacity to deliver and develop the project in one year

5.6 The case study consultations with the project managers identified that it is extremely difficult to develop a project and implement it to the stage that it is sustainable in one year. As such 7 of the 12 7 year one projects subsequently applied for an additional year's SULF funding. There is a strong case for funding SULF projects for two years, where the project meets the selection criteria and demonstrates that targets have been met and that long-term sustainability is likely 8.

5.7 Two years funding reduces uncertainty, in particular it gives projects a greater amount of time to gain momentum, show success and develop routes for sustainability. In year one most of the project managers only had 6 months to deliver their projects, thus compressing the cycle further.

5.8 The potential of two years funding and the ability to employ a project worker helps to develop the union's capacity in Scotland, as the project worker will most likely be Scotland based and have the time to dedicate to the project. In many cases in round one the project manager was fulfilling a range of roles and activities - with SULF project management being just one of these roles. In order to fully develop capacity and ensure sustainability, projects need to be fully resourced and not stretch an already over committed project manager.

gaining employer commitment

5.9 One of the roles of the project manager in most of the SULF projects is gaining employer commitment. Engaging and retaining commitment of employers can contribute to the success of the project and can help toward achieving sustainability. In one of the case study visits learning representatives (LRs) had been trained, but the employer was not "signed up" to the project and the personnel department did not recognise the role and function of the trained LRs working in the organisation. As such, the LRs could not fulfil their duties and their initial enthusiasm of being involved in the project had severely dampened.

5.10 In contrast, where the employer was completely committed to the project, the project made significant achievements. For example, the AEEU led project at Rosyth had employer involvement from the outset and met all of its targets.

5.11 In writing and planning the SULF bid, project managers that are working with employers should ask employers to detail their involvement in the supporting letter.

Strengths

5.12 Where the projects are managed (or at least project co-ordinated) by a union official in Scotland, capacity within Scotland has increased.

In the case of the ASLEF project, a direct result of the SULF Year One project was the secondment of a dedicated project worker for the continuation project, which had not been possible at the outset. The project worker is one of the LRs that were trained by the Year One project. This demonstrates an increase in the union capacity in Scotland for ASLEF. In addition, the project worker is on secondment from Scotrail, which was one of the employers involved in the project - demonstrating a real employer commitment and the potential for sustainability.

5.13 A key feature of successful projects has been an effective steering group involving key project partners. Partnerships have included colleges, employers, learners, LRs, Scottish University for Industry, and National Training Organisations. 9 The most effective partnerships have been where partners have well defined roles.

In the Re-learn Rosyth project, partners were involved from the outset. One of the main objectives of this project was to develop partnerships to promote learning within Rosyth dockyard. The project worker was seconded from the workforce, demonstrating employer commitment, and partnerships were developed with Fife College, Lauder College and Fife Adult Advice and Guidance.

5.14 A further key feature of the management of several SULF projects has been the development of relationships with providers and the increased confidence of project workers to negotiate with colleges, recognising the strength of their bargaining power and working to ensure that provision is tailored to meet learners' needs. In addition to the project workers negotiating with colleges, LRs are being empowered and given contacts to help them negotiate with colleges themselves.

5.15 Successful projects have also been flexible in their approach with some of the projects offering programmes of learning flexibly.

The SCP and EIS projects developed online CPD programmes for Chiropodists, Podiatrists and teachers. The online learning programmes allow the learner to learn at a time and place convenient to the learner.

The Re-learn Rosyth project had an onsite learning centre offering access to ICT in welcoming surroundings.

Weaknesses

5.16 Aspects of project management that remain weak are monitoring, resource planning and a lack of planning for sustainability. There is a need to ensure that the monitoring and evaluation is improved to ensure that there is a strong basis for decision making during the project and planning for the future. This also enables project achievements to be clearly demonstrated to employers, the union, funders and others. In addition, many projects did not set quantifiable targets - it will be easier for unions to monitor progress and to make an assessment of their current standing if they have targets.

5.17 However, the lack of quantifiable targets indicated in the original bid are an indication of the relative inexperience of some of the Project Managers (particularly those that are Scotland based and had no previous experience of the English ULF); it is to be expected that as the fund progresses and managers gain experience, quantifiable target setting will become a natural part of the process.

5.18 Collecting monitoring data for the purposes of day-to-day project management and for evaluation is not straightforward for many SULF projects, especially where others such as colleges hold data on 'outcomes' such as qualifications. This stresses the importance of the need to put monitoring in place at the initial stages of the project and agreeing how, if necessary, partners will contribute to the tracking of outcomes and achievements. In addition, project managers awareness of the baseline position was low, making reporting of relative progress difficult.

5.19 In some cases project managers have underestimated the resources and time needed for the development of learning modules, partnership working, managing projects and gaining employer interest and commitment.

5.20 In 7 projects, further funding was sought from SULF Year 2. SULF was set up to fund projects that can be developed and sustained via other sources of funding, such as through employers. However, it is clear that the Year One projects have not managed to ensure sustainability yet, though there are signs of potential. As mentioned previously, the Year One projects did not have a full year to develop and thus it would have been difficult to develop the project to the point at which it was sustainable in the timeframe available.

Project support

5.21 The STUC Lifelong Learning Unit is responsible for developing awareness of SULF and supporting SULF projects. STUC has a role to fulfil in supporting unions to put projects together and, as such, smaller unions within Scotland have access to support to plan and implement projects and thus to develop union capacity in Scotland.

5.22 In addition to ad-hoc support with bids and access to wider lifelong learning briefings, STUC provided three specific forms of support to SULF projects through the LLU:

  • Fife College was commissioned to provide monitoring and project support through the year. This involved face-to-face and telephone support to project workers
  • STUC ran a series of one-day workshops on project management, evaluation and sustainability for all projects (February and May 2001)
  • Inspire Scotland was commissioned to develop a comprehensive project toolkit, drawing together and expanding on materials originally developed for ULF in England, that included details of funding sources and possible contacts in Scotland in addition to guidance on project management.

Project integration

5.23 The questionnaire (Annex A) sent to all SULF Year One Project Managers requested information on additional activities by the unions. Specifically, Project Managers were asked to indicate additional union learning activities that have been developed or are being developed as a direct result of the SULF project. Table 5.1 presents additional activities and the number of projects that undertook the activity:

Table 5.1 Additional Activities undertaken by the unions

Number of Projects
(n=12)

Similar learning projects are developing

12

One or more of the employers in this project are developing similar activities elsewhere

6

The union is working with 'new' employers to develop similar activities

7

The union is working with new partners to develop similar activities

8

The union is working with other unions to develop similar activities

3

5.24 All of the projects indicated a response to at least one of the above activities, indicating that SULF has promoted activity and stimulated further activity in the lifelong learning field.

5.25 In addition, the evaluation highlighted further achievements in project integration. The ASLEF project was successfully integrated with the SUfI rail learning centre project. This was clearly demonstrated during the case study visit where the steering group meeting included representation from all the project partners and SUfI and the discussion of the SUfI project and SULF was amalgamated into one. The EIS project established links with the University of Paisley, Learning and Teaching Scotland and Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Key Points

  • Project management has generally been effective. However issues arose in the IT based projects about learners' access to IT and ability to use the IT
  • Case study consultations indicated that one year to develop a sustainable project is extremely difficult
  • Where employers have indicated a desire to be involved, the letters of support should be explicit about their intended involvement.