Third Sector Interface network model and Voluntary Action Scotland: evaluation

Independent evaluation of Scotland’s Third Sector Interface (TSI) network model and Voluntary Action Scotland (VAS).

1. Introduction and context

Purpose of the evaluation

As part of the Scottish Government's commitment to developing the role of communities and the Third Sector, it invested in the development of a network of Third Sector Interfaces ( TSIs) across Scotland. This aimed to ensure that the Third Sector was adequately supported and enabled to participate in Community Planning and contribute toward the achievement of local and national outcomes.

TSIs are funded by the Scottish Government to deliver four core functions:

  • Volunteering development (support for volunteers and organisations who support volunteers).
  • Social enterprise development (to promote and develop social enterprise locally).
  • Supporting and developing a strong Third Sector (support for Third Sector organisations on setting up a charity, training and development, and funding advice).
  • Building the relationship with community planning (acting as the conduit and connecting the Third Sector with the implementation of the Single Outcome Agreements and Community Planning Process).

Since the establishment of the TSI network in 2011, the policy and operational environment has changed significantly, and there are new demands on TSIs to facilitate Third Sector engagement in a range of structures and to take on new roles in developing and supporting new collaborative approaches.

In February 2016, Blake Stevenson Ltd together with Arrivo Consulting Ltd. was commissioned to undertake an evaluation of Scotland's Third Sector Interface network model and of Voluntary Action Scotland ( VAS). The aim of the evaluation was two-fold:

  • To evaluate the role, function and effectiveness/impact of the Third Sector Interface network model and Voluntary Action Scotland.
  • To explore with research participants what the future strategic direction and approach to Third Sector support in Scotland should be at the local level.

The TSI network model and VAS are key parts of the current Third Sector infrastructure in Scotland and the research sought to explore what is working well and what does not work in the TSI network model and VAS, the impact they are having, and what would contribute to improvement in this infrastructural context ( i.e. what changes, if any, ought to be considered to ensure an effective infrastructure is in place to enhance the success of the Third Sector).


The methodology for the study was comprised of a multi-stage approach involving:

  • desk-research and a literature review to explore models of Third Sector support in other countries;
  • a comprehensive online survey of all TSI Chief Executive Officers and Chairs providing us with contextual information about individual TSIs, feedback on the effectiveness of the TSI network model, feedback on delivering outcomes for the Third Sector and their views on the role and impact of VAS. We received 70 responses from TSIs in 31 out of the 32 local authority areas invited to respond to this survey, giving us a robust set of data to inform this report;
  • interviews with VAS;
  • depth studies in 11 selected fieldwork areas (see Appendix 1). It is important to note that the purpose of these depth studies was to enable us to learn about the way in which the TSI "model" works in practice - they were not undertaken to evaluate the effectiveness or impact of individual TSIs. The studies comprised interviews with Chief Executive Officers of TSIs, Chairs and board members of TSIs, focus groups with TSI staff, Third Sector organisations, and volunteers. We also interviewed key members of staff in Community Planning Partners ranging from Chief Executives and Directors who engage with the TSI at the strategic level and operational staff who work directly in partnership with the TSIs;
  • a non-representative survey of Third Sector organisations in the 11 selected areas to determine the extent to which they engage with their TSI (if at all) and their experiences of the services being provided. We received 705 responses to this survey (603 from organisations located in the selected areas). This survey was distributed to all organisations registered with Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator ( OSCR) in the 11 areas and was publicised by individual TSIs and Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations ( SCVO);
  • interviews with a selection of wider stakeholders (see Appendix 2);
  • interviews with key Scottish Government policy officials;
  • value for money assessment; and
  • analysis and reporting.

Background to the development of the Third Sector Interface ( TSI) network model and Voluntary Action Scotland ( VAS)

In March 2008, Scottish Ministers reviewed the funding of the 120 separate organisations delivering support for volunteering, social enterprise and Third Sector organisations at a local level, resulting in the creation of 32 single funding agreements to support a network model of integrated service delivery and representation - the Third Sector Interfaces.

The aim of these interfaces was to provide a single point of access for support and advice for the Third Sector within the local area and to create strong coherent and cohesive representation of the sector to better align it with the Community Planning Partnerships and the Single Outcome Agreements.

There is now a 'single interface' in each of the 32 Local Authority areas, but the organisations differ in structure. There are currently 22 TSIs operating as single organisations and 10 as partnerships.

Voluntary Action Scotland

Voluntary Action Scotland is the intermediary body representing the 32 Third Sector Interfaces. Its role is to develop, support and represent the Third Sector Interface network through:

  • promoting the positive impact that the Third Sector Interfaces have at local level;
  • encouraging good practice;
  • raising the profile of the Third Sector Interfaces at national level; and
  • facilitating peer support to the TSI network.

The changing environment within which Third Sector Interfaces operate

Since the inception of the TSIs, the environment in which they operate has changed significantly. Policy changes have resulted in an increased focus on people and communities and increased opportunities for the Third Sector to participate in the design and delivery of outcomes. Key contextual policy developments include:

  • Public Service Reform
  • Community Planning
  • Reshaping Care for Older People
  • Health and Social Care Integration
  • Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act

An analysis of these key policy developments is provided at Appendix 3 of the report.

What is the current Third Sector Interface network model?

History of the TSI network model

The aim of the 'single interfaces' was to provide a single point of access for support and advice for the Third Sector within the local area and to create strong, coherent and cohesive representation of the Third Sector to better align it with the Community Planning Partnership ( CPP) and the Single Outcome Agreement. This model was also to provide a single point of access to the Third Sector for the public sector.

In early guidance on the development of the single interfaces Scottish Government was not prescriptive about the form of each 'interface' and recognised that the solutions would be different in different localities. It did however prescribe the core functions, to ensure parity of access across the country:

"The Scottish Government will not be the arbiter on responsibilities nor distribution of funds; these will be matters for partnership agreement with the CPP. However, while the interface is to be developed very much locally, to meet local needs and arrangements, our funding will require that the interfaces meet a minimum set of functions, likely to be:

  • support to voluntary organisations operating in the area;
  • support to and promotion of volunteering;
  • support and development of social enterprise; and
  • connection between the CPP and the Third Sector." [1]

Community Planning Partnerships had responsibility for signing off on local interface proposals and Scottish Government determined that a single funding agreement, within each local area, was to be achieved by March 2011 (although many areas had achieved single funding agreements well before 2011).

In 2009, Scottish Government established an intermediary body - Voluntary Action Scotland ( VAS) - to represent the 32 Third Sector Interfaces ( TSIs). It is a membership body which develops, supports and represents the TSI network.

Purpose of the TSI

The agreed mission of the TSI network is to "achieve the best outcomes for people and communities of Scotland".

As the intention was to ensure that there was some equality in the access to services available to the Third Sector across Scotland, the TSI network developed a set of common values, approaches and services which would underpin the work of every TSI - these common values are leadership, collaboration, integrity, diversity, equality and excellence.

The Common Services Framework established a mechanism to outline the core services that all Third Sector Interfaces should provide. It incorporates a set of common outcomes which in turn drive the work plans for each TSI.
These are:

  • more people have increased opportunity and enthusiasm to volunteer;
  • volunteer involving organisations are better able to recruit, manage and retain volunteers;
  • social enterprise develops and grows;
  • Third Sector organisations are run well and deliver quality services;
  • different organisations and sectors are more connected and understand each other better;
  • Third Sector organisations feel better able to influence and contribute to public policy; and
  • Third Sector Interfaces are well run and quality driven organisations.

Other responsibilities

In addition to the four core functions, in the Scottish Government grant offer letter to TSIs it specifies that one of the main objectives that must be delivered by TSIs is that, "The Third Sector Interface is responsive to the diversity of the community and is well managed, governed and effective".

We explore the extent to which TSIs have delivered on these responsibilities later in this report.

Accountability and reporting processes

Each year, TSIs submit a work plan to Scottish Government, incorporating a description of activities being carried out against each outcome, relevant performance indicators (including ones set locally) and their targets and timeline for the year. At a mid-point during the year they are required to submit progress reports to Scottish Government, followed by an annual monitoring return.

An approach to monitoring and evaluation of the TSI network has been developed which seeks to gather consistent information from around the country. All TSIs are required to report against a set of key performance indicators for each of the common services specified in the Common Services Framework. There is also a common evaluation framework which again seeks to provide a consistent approach across the network.

Funding and resources

Scottish Government funding

The Scottish Government provides the TSI network model with core grant funding amounting to £8.154 million in 2015/16, and amounting to £44 million since 1 April 2011.

There are 32 TSIs and each received a share of the total funding based on the historic level of funding paid to Council for Voluntary Services ( CVS), Volunteer Centres and social enterprise functions in each area.

Currently, funding is distributed as follows:

  • Twenty-two of the 32 TSIs (two-thirds) get a sum between £182,400 and £250,000 - the average award being £192,626.
  • Eight TSIs get between £269,600 and £375,000.
  • One TSI gets £459,800.
  • One TSI gets £683,200.

It is the responsibility of the TSI to distribute funds for the delivery of each of the four functions based on need in the area. Where there is a single organisation, the allocation of resources to the four functions is a matter for the board/management. In partnership TSIs this allocation is agreed between partners.

The level of funding and the allocation has not been reviewed since the inception of the network.

In addition to Scottish Government funding, TSIs have other sources of income to varying degrees. TSI funding and resources are examined later in this report.


Jacqueline Rae:

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