The Scottish Government identified the Policy Officer role as a specific area of interest for this Interim Report given the integral function it has in the CYPFEI & ALEC Fund. This section therefore assesses the benefits for Scottish Government and Education Scotland staff fulfilling the Policy Officer role and the impact it has had on their workload.
Policy Officer role
To date, over 50 staff from Scottish Government and Education Scotland have taken on the role of CYPFEI & ALEC Policy Officer. The role provides funded organisations with a named point of contact within Scottish Government or Education Scotland. Scottish Government developed an overview of the role which included the following minimum requirements:
- Build relationships with organisations.
- Share relevant Scottish Government policy developments / events / consultations with organisations within your or other policy areas.
- Facilitate contact between organisations and other relevant areas of Scottish Government / Education Scotland where required.
- Read the funded organisation’s quarterly reports and provide feedback to Corra Foundation.
- Read external evaluation reports and Corra Foundation annual report.
- Organise a meeting – at least once a year to touch base and get an update on progress.
Policy Officers also make recommendations on annual funding allocations, and are expected to take the lead on meetings with Scottish Government officials and Ministers. They are also invited to attend the Corra Foundation’s various activities.
An annual meeting of Policy Officers takes place to discuss any issues and provide ongoing support staff. For example, the 2017 meeting included presentation of case studies which shared good practice and examples of the support provided by Policy Officers.
New Policy Officers received information about the role via a combination of a verbal explanation from their line manager, briefing sessions from the Promoting Prevention Team overseeing the Fund, and an information pack. The Policy Officers’ survey found they were generally satisfied with the explanation of the role they received – 18 of the 21 respondents were either satisfied (14) or very satisfied (4).
“I received a good explanation from my line manager at the time and was able to discuss the role with Education Scotland colleagues who were also fulfilling that role. We have regularly discussed our Policy Officer roles as a team as they have developed”. (Policy Officer)
“I felt the verbal and written guidance I received clearly explained the purpose of the Policy Officer and most importantly the role they play in supporting their allocated organisation”. (Policy Officer)
Only 2 out of 21 Policy Officers stated they were neither satisfied not dissatisfied with the explanation of the role they received and one said they were very dissatisfied.
“It was a bit ad hoc and there was some information I found out later that would have been useful earlier on in the year”. (Policy Officer)
The number of funded organisations Policy Officers support varies. Information provided by Scottish Government shows that most Policy Officers support only one or two organisation although a handful of senior staff are the named contact for as many as 13 funded organisations. Some Policy officers suggested there should be a limit
“There is probably a maximum number of organisations that any one staff member should be allocated to support, maybe four or five”. (Policy Officer)
Contact with funded organisations
Contact between Policy Officers and their funded organisations has varied over the first two years of the Fund. Some organisations reported comprehensive support from their Policy Officer consisting of regular face-to-face, email and telephone support for example to discuss progress, highlight good practice, address problems, and identify partnership working or funding opportunities. On the other hand, some funded organisations reported limited contact with their Policy Officer including two organisations that reportedly had not met their Policy Officer.
Limited Policy Officer contact was not a concern to some funded organisations that had an existing relationship with other Scottish Government / Education Scotland staff in other sections or departments. For example, one organisation had an existing relationship with staff in the Justice department and reported there was “a bit of a disconnect” with their Policy Officer who had a number of other pressing areas of work. There was a suggestion from some of these organisations that their existing contact would be better placed to take on the role of CYPFEI & ALEC Policy Officer and we recommend this proposal is considered by the Scottish Government.
“It would be great if the leads of the fund would consider widening the net to other directorates in the search for lead officers as I’m certain there are Policy Officers across Scottish Government that are completely unaware that their stakeholders are being funded. It would also lessen the burden on those with organisations who aren’t doing so well”. (Policy Officer)
Other funded organisations were concerned about the limited contact with their Policy Officer and some highlighted the disparity in support they received compared to other organisations. For example, one described the limited interaction with their Policy Officer as “frustrating” despite having several other contacts across Scottish Government. Some of the Policy Officers also highlighted the need for consistency in the way they and their colleagues carried out the role.
“It needs a basic uniform approach so that no organisation is disadvantaged because their Policy Officer is too busy or not interested. This is a vital role and links these organisations directly to government, policy development and Ministers. In turn, they should expect quality support, advice and guidance in order to articulate the breadth and depth of work they do to benefit the people they support and transparency over the funding they've been allocated”. (Policy Officer)
The views of one funded organisation demonstrate that some third sector organisations do not want a lot of contact with their Policy Officer and a one-size fits all approach may not be appropriate. This organisation felt their Policy Officer was “too hands-on and wanted to know what was going on or meet up all the time”.
Some funded organisations noted that their Policy Officer had changed during the course of the Fund as the member of staff had moved jobs. In most cases the changeover had been smooth. However, other funded organisations reported this had created some challenges as they needed to build new relationships and understanding. It also created similar challenges for the Corra Foundation. A small number of organisations reported that the change of Policy Officer led to less frequent contact with Scottish Government / Education Scotland.
A small number of funded organisations that had limited contact with their Policy Officer expressed concern that they made recommendations on annual funding. In 2017/18, nine Policy Officers supporting 17 funded organisations did not submit feedback. One of the Policy Officers also noted the difficulties they face inputting to the process
“It is difficult to fully assess whether the Scottish Government is getting value for money and to therefore recommend whether organisations should continue to be funded at the same level or not”. (Policy Officer)
The majority of Policy Officers reported that the role was useful including 8 (out of 18 who responded to the survey question) who stated it was ‘very useful’ and 5 who reported it was ‘extremely useful’. Only one of the Policy Officers who took part in the survey rated the role as ‘not at all useful’.
Figure 3 - Rating of Usefulness of Policy Officer Role
The following comments help illustrate why Policy Officers found the role useful. They also demonstrate the additionality of the benefits the role creates that may not occur without the Fund:
“I love my Policy Officer role as I get to see the impact of the work of the organisations”. (Policy Officer)
“This has allowed me to be involved with monitoring and supporting an organisation with work they are delivering. It has allowed me to see links that I may not have been able to see before such as around the work they do and who is involved to help deliver this. Also seeing the impact their work has is very satisfying. It is nice to know that I can be that bridge to help support the organisation if I was ever needed”. (Policy Officer)
“The Policy Officer role is certainly not perfect and it relies on both parties being sufficiently proactive but overall I certainly think that it provides a good link between Education Scotland and the Scottish Government and the third sector organisations involved that may not exist otherwise”. (Policy Officer)
“I feel it gives the organisation that peace of mind that Scottish Government are very much with them in what they deliver as a service. The Policy Officers’ role within this allows for direct contact with government creating a bridge that was not always there in the past”. (Policy Officer)
One Policy Officer highlighted the importance of the Corra Foundation in the success of the role.
“The support role that Corra has played has been crucial to the success of the fund and of the Policy Officer model. I have found the model of arranging joint visits between Corra and the Policy Officer extremely helpful for me and more time efficient for the funded organisations”. (Policy Officer)
Policy Officers shared their views on the role’s impact on information sharing and policy development, and identified a number of other specific benefits.
Information and intelligence sharing
In total 13 of 18 Policy Officers agreed the role had enhanced information sharing and intelligence between Scottish Government / Education Scotland and the third sector. The following comments help illustrate how the information and intelligence sharing process works and how benefits arise for all those involved.
“My annual meeting with the organisation provides me with an opportunity to highlight any current policy developments within our area that might be of interest to the organisation. In turn it also allows me to hear more about the work within the organisation that can't be put down on a report”. (Policy Officer)
“I work closely with all of the organisations I lead with. It’s meant that they have a voice more widely in my area of work. It’s been win-win situation in that respect”. (Policy Officer)
“This role keeps me in touch with great practice and I can share knowledge between the organisation and with others. I also feel part of my role is to promote the organisations and their work wherever I can which has been useful”. (Policy Officer)
Two Policy Officers neither agreed nor disagreed the role had enhanced information sharing and intelligence between Scottish Government / Education Scotland and the third sector and three disagreed. Some of these Policy Officers explained they already had a relationship with their funded organisations and the role had not therefore enhanced the sharing of information and intelligence. One Policy Officer highlighted that the role is only beneficial to organisations if undertaken effectively commenting that the Policy Officer “must take an interest and be supportive and not be faceless, rarely or even never having face to face meetings with them”.
Half of the Policy Officers agreed the role improved policy development and use of evidence in policy making in Scottish Government / Education Scotland; seven neither agreed nor disagreed and two disagreed.
“Views from engagement with funded organisations certainly does inform CLD policy in Education Scotland such as input into the consultation for revised guidance on CLD planning in 2017. We have also helped some funded organisations to engage with Scottish Government Ministers”. (Policy Officer)
“On the ground practice can inform development and thinking”. (Policy Officer)
“Having a good relationship with the organisations means that you can involve them in anything to do with policy development or Ministerial visits relatively easily. This raises their profile with politicians and some have been the focus of Parliamentary debates”. (Policy Officer)
Seven Policy Officers neither agreed nor disagreed that the role improved policy development and use of evidence in policy making in Scottish Government / Education Scotland; two disagreed.
“I feel I monitor what they do but I’m not sure if it has influenced any policy making decisions. I am positive they are making a difference but in my opinion, I can't say it has improved policy”. (Policy Officer)
Understanding of the third sector
Policy Officers’ comments show that one of the main benefits of the role has been a better understanding of the third sector. This covered a number of elements such as the services funded organisations deliver, challenges facing the third sector, how organisations operate, the sector’s unique culture, and how organisations collaborate and co-operate with others.
“The role has allowed me to become more aware about the service they provide. It also has allowed me to see who they work with to help deliver the best service they can for the people they support. Our annual meetings has allowed me to highlight how, if needed, I can put the organisation in touch with relevant people within government if they had a question outwith my remit. The reports have allowed me to measure milestones against the outcomes informing me if the organisation are on track to meet what they agreed at the start of the Fund. Looking at these reports has improved my skills further by helping me identify what information is key to inform my end of year report”. (Policy Officer)
“It provides knowledge and insight into the work of third sector organisations, as well as an insight into the challenges they face in relation to funding”. (Policy Officer)
“Very helpful to be able to develop positive relationships with key voluntary sector partners who I may not have had any links with otherwise. I am now much more aware of work being done by voluntary sector organisations in a range of areas including: homelessness, community development and regeneration, employability, youth work, work with BME communities, and gender violence. It also helped me identify case studies of good practice”. (Policy Officer)
“It gives more of an insight in to the fundraising strategies and evaluation techniques that charities and third sector organisations can use”. (Policy Officer)
“Understanding of the organisations and how they meet government objectives. There’s also an appreciation of the pressures and challenges these organisations face”. (Policy Officer)
It was noteworthy that funded organisations also highlighted Policy Officers understanding of the third sector as an important benefit.
“The Policy Officer link has been really, really worthwhile, they are much more aware of us and what we do – that’s got to benefit them”. (Third sector organisation)
Impact on Workload
Relevant Scottish Government and Education Scotland staff spend an average of approximately 10 hours and 20 minutes per month fulfilling the role of CYPFEI & ALEC Fund Policy Officer. The total time takes account of phone calls, emails and meetings with their funded organisation(s) including joint meetings with the Corra Foundation, internal discussions and meetings with colleagues about the funded organisation, reading quarterly reports, and any other tasks specifically related to the Policy Officer role.
There was marked variation in the amount of time Policy Officers spend fulfilling the role with the monthly totals ranging from 25 minutes to three days. Taking account of the number of funded organisations supported, on average Policy Officers spend 3 hours 45 minutes per month per organisation fulfilling the role of CYPFEI & ALEC Fund Policy Officer.
It was noteworthy however that the amount of time Scottish Government and Education Scotland staff spend fulfilling the role of CYPFEI & ALEC Fund Policy Officer is not directly related to the number of funded organisations they support. For example, three Policy Officers reported they spend approximately three days per month fulfilling the role however one of them supported six organisations while one of the others supported only one organisation and the other supported two organisations. Consultations with funded organisations and Policy Officers highlighted that time commitments can stem from both requests for support from funded organisations as well as from proactive input from Policy Officers.
The majority of Policy Officers (11 of 18) reported that fulfilling the role had only a minor impact on their workload. However, a third of Policy Officers reported the role had a significant (3) or very significant (3) impact on their workload. One Policy Officer stated the role had no impact on their workload.
“Due to a reduction in the size of the CLD team in Education Scotland since 2016, there are fewer staff covering the Policy Officer role with the same number of organisations. I have increasingly struggled to devote the time required to the role for every organisation”. (Policy Officer)
“It can be difficult to factor in quality time to scrutinise the returns. However, this is a time management issue for me to address”. (Policy Officer)