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).

4. How effective are the Third Sector Interfaces in the delivery of the core functions?

The TSIs are tasked with delivering four core functions:

  • Volunteering development.
  • To promote and develop social enterprise locally.
  • Supporting and developing a strong Third Sector.
  • Building the relationship with Community Planning; engaging and connecting the Third Sector.

This chapter considers how effective the TSI network is in delivering each of these functions. We also consider what makes some TSIs more effective than others, and explore challenges currently being faced locally, and across the network.

Core Function 1: Volunteering development

The volunteering development function comprises two key outcomes:

  • People have opportunities to volunteer and are supported to do so.
  • Volunteer involving organisations are able to recruit, manage and support volunteers.

Our survey of TSI Chairs and Chief Executive Officers confirmed that volunteering development was central to the offer in all of the TSIs, with the majority of TSIs (85% of respondents) indicating that they thought they were successfully meeting volunteers' needs at the local level and 83% indicating that they thought they were successfully meeting the needs of volunteer-involving organisations.

Survey respondents and participants told us that the integration of the volunteering development function with the other TSI functions had driven improvements and greater impact at the local level - for example, linking volunteer development with organisational development to create stronger volunteer involving organisations, increasing the profile of volunteering and developing better links with communities.

Interviews with stakeholders also supported these views, with TSIs being seen as a useful conduit for national organisations to promote volunteering.

TSIs identified a range of practices that were effective at the local level in developing volunteering. The diversity of approaches reflected the differing issues and needs in each area. For example, in some areas, the TSIs themselves had taken a pro-active approach to supporting the most vulnerable people into volunteering by developing volunteering involvement programmes; one TSI reported co-locating its volunteering services in Job Centre Plus, because 33% of the registered volunteers were interested in volunteering as a route back into employment; and another TSI has been developing volunteering in new environments ( e.g. care homes), creating new volunteering opportunities and delivering outcomes for older people.

Challenges to delivering volunteering development

Despite the many successes identified, we also identified a number of key strategic challenges to delivering volunteering development which are outlined below.

Some TSIs and stakeholders highlighted the increasing 'ask' on volunteering as a key challenge, that is, the demand for volunteers to deliver services parallel to paid staff, rather than to meet specific outcomes for volunteers (personal development, active citizenship, health and wellbeing):

"Council people don't understand what volunteers give. What they expect of volunteers is unrealistic and unsustainable" (Manager of Third Sector organisation delivering social care services)

"We have a slowly growing incidence of 'job-replacement' style enquiries from both Third Sector organisations facing staffing cuts and private businesses seeking to promote 'internships'" ( TSI Chief Executive Officer)

TSIs and national stakeholders highlighted increasing demand for volunteering opportunities for individuals with additional support needs, which in turn require additional resources to support volunteer involving organisations to provide appropriate volunteering opportunities and sufficient support to these individuals:

"The biggest single challenge for us is finding volunteer involving organisations prepared to create roles for volunteers who need extra support. We have tried volunteer buddying (a volunteer buddies another with additional support needs) with some success but if a volunteer involving organisation take on a buddy they need to pay expenses for two volunteers!" ( TSI Staff Member)

"Our single biggest challenge is to find organisations who are prepared to create opportunities for people who need extra support to be involved" ( TSI Chief Executive Officer)

Welfare reform and associated programmes have created a further challenge around volunteer development, with some TSIs having experienced a significant increase in referrals from employability programmes of people who have been 'told' to volunteer because volunteering is recognised as a positive outcome for employability programme providers. TSIs report that these 'volunteers' are often not motivated and are frequently least able to sustain a volunteer placement, making them time consuming and complex to support:

"Additional challenges have been in relation to the growing phenomenon of 'volun-told' where referrals are received from employability providers with a view to 'moving their clients' into volunteering" ( TSI Chief Executive Officer)

We also heard from some TSIs that they have received conflicting messages from the Department for Work and Pensions around volunteering, "telling some people they have to volunteer and others that they volunteer too much".

At the operational level the challenges in delivering this function are:

  • Demands in the volunteer development role increasing, while resources available to meet the demand have not. TSIs reported that this limited their capacity to target resources on 'harder to reach groups' for example:

"We are limited in reach, however, in terms of services we cannot prioritise with available resources, including neighbourhood outreach services to promote volunteering and its benefits to those most likely to be digitally excluded"

  • Some TSIs reported that tensions between the role of national and local agencies in volunteer development persist, although others demonstrated a pragmatic approach to 'levering in resources' from the national agencies:

"[name of organisation] national promotion of opportunities takes away from locally promoted communication around volunteering opportunities"

"We work closely with [name of organisation] on PVG and ESV (Employer Supported Volunteering). [It] Complements our role. [There are] Historic challenges over local/national role, but we try to sort that out and take what's best/work in partnership. We do local training, but signpost to [name of organisation] for higher level/accredited training. But there is always a fear of national 'parachuting in' without communication at the local level, creating tension/difficulties"

  • A number of TSIs continue to report concerns about the functionality of the national MILO on-line systems which they are required to use for volunteer matching and reporting. As a result, some TSIs are still running their own databases of volunteers due to the difficulties in using MILO:

" MILO… we feel does a disservice to volunteer involving organisations… we use alternative databases" ( TSI Chief Executive Officer)

Additionally, a number of TSIs report continued challenges in using MILO for reporting and management purposes. Although some TSIs reported that MILO had improved their management information and capacity for reporting, it would appear that these are TSIs that have strong in-house IT skills. It would appear that the functionality of MILO has not yet reached a stage where it can be used effectively by all TSIs.

In addition, in rural areas research participants noted specific challenges around:

  • the time and cost of travel for volunteers;
  • developing volunteering opportunities in the geographies and skill areas that volunteers want; and
  • volunteer-fatigue in small communities.

Core Function 2: To promote and develop social enterprise locally

Developing social enterprise is the function in which we identified the greatest variation in the delivery model. In some areas, social enterprise support is delivered by a partner with specialist expertise ( SEN), in other areas by core staff dedicated to the function, and in others it is part of a generic organisational development support function. The model for delivering this function frequently reflects the historical structures in each area.

This is a 'new' function for many of the TSIs. Some have stated that it is the most challenging to deliver, and is the one in which they have least experience.

Some of the issues and challenges highlighted to us about the delivery of this function are:

  • On the demand side, some TSIs report low levels of demand for social enterprise support: there is little awareness of social enterprise and even where there are 'enterprising organisations' they do not define themselves as social enterprises.
  • On the supply side there are different interpretations of the TSI's role in social enterprise development. Historic issues over the definition of social enterprise play a part in this apparent confusion. Some TSIs interpret social enterprise support as a specialism, while others see the function as being about making the sector more enterprising generally. Proponents of the latter view see the TSI role as generic, and then they hand over to the "experts" for support around business planning, feasibility research, market analysis, pricing etc..

Another challenge for TSIs is to identify their unique role in the support infrastructure. Social enterprise support is a function which has seen significant investment in the national infrastructure and there is a plethora of national and regional support intermediaries. It is not always clear what the unique role of the TSI is in this support environment, and there is confusion over the roles and responsibilities of different providers. This can cause confusion for Third Sector organisations but can also result in duplication of services.

Within this landscape, some TSIs have developed excellent relationships with other social enterprise providers and have levered significant added value from working with regional and national providers. Some have developed 'provider forums' to co-ordinate the range of support for social enterprise in their areas, but there are also examples of poor 'joining up' of services (for example, local social enterprise networks operating completely separately to the TSI), lack of co-ordination between the national and local providers (for example, national intermediaries delivering training without consultation with the TSI) and challenging relationships with the national social enterprise bodies.

At the operational level, some TSIs also highlighted difficulties in recruiting for what they saw as a specialist function, and suggested there could be potential for shared resources between neighbouring TSIs to better utilise specialist skills.

Perceptions among the social enterprise sector

The TSI role in supporting social enterprise is contentious in the social enterprise networks.

'Scotland's Vision for Social Enterprise 2025', developed by the Social Enterprise Network reports 'genuine concern across the social enterprise community that this TSI function does not reflect the needs or aspirations of local social enterprises in any consistent or effective manner.' Moreover, there have been calls for social enterprises to have a distinct direct voice in Community Planning Partnership structures, and for Social Enterprise Networks - where they exist - to have a fuller role in local representation and support. [7]

The vision document also reflects concern in the network about the imbalance in funding for social enterprise within the four core functions, and argues that 'the funding allocation for local social enterprise support must also be rebalanced and any associated activity aligned to a formally agreed local Social Enterprise Action Plan which is guided by specific targets that are reported on to the Scottish Government and independently verified.' The allocation for funding for social enterprise is a matter for TSIs but as already noted, the Scottish Government grant is based on an historical allocation and in some areas the subsequent allocation for social enterprise support has been relatively small relative to the other core functions.

Perceptions within the social enterprise sector of TSIs' capacity to deliver social enterprise support have been poor - but appear to be improving:

"Third Sector Interfaces, supported nationally by Voluntary Action Scotland, operate across Scotland's local authority areas. They have a remit to support and include social enterprises. There have been issues in some parts of Scotland with regards to misunderstandings about what social enterprises are, with a feeling from some social enterprises that they have not been included. We believe that the situation is improving and indeed some SENs have become part, or substantially part, of their local TSI, such as in Dumfries and Galloway" [8]

The recent report from Scottish Government's social enterprise roundtable events also showed a highly variable, but improving, picture in relation to social enterprise support across the TSI network and recognised the value in diversity, with a one size fits all approach deemed inappropriate to meet local need. However, continuing challenges were also noted for example in TSI representation of the social enterprise sector locally, and the need for better connectivity, confidence and trust between the TSIs and national intermediaries.

Core Function 3: Supporting and developing a strong Third Sector

Although all TSIs deliver this function, as with the other functions, the scale and scope of the services differs considerably from area to area.

The focus of the work that TSIs' undertake to support and develop a strong Third Sector focuses largely around the provision of support to new and developing organisations (constitutions, advice on setting up a charity, development of structures such as a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation etc.), training and development, governance and funding advice.

Some TSIs also provide services such as payroll or independent examination of accounts and some 'back office functions' for which TSIs typically charge a fee. As evidenced by the Third Sector survey, larger or more established organisations also use these services and access services such as training and workforce development.

The services delivered by TSIs differ across the network based on:

  • Local need: For example in a rural area where work with Village Halls represents a significant area of activity; one TSI delivers a recruitment and HR service for local Third Sector organisations in response to local need.
  • Level of resources available to deliver this function: While all TSIs receive core grant from Scottish Government to deliver this and the other three functions, as we have already highlighted there is wide variation in the associated level of resources due to other funding. For example one TSI which is financially supported by the Local Authority to deliver core TSI functions has a team of eight people delivering this service, another reported having 1.4 members of staff dedicated to this function.
  • The particular skills and expertise within each TSI:Some TSIs have staff with specific skills which enable them to deliver a particular service (for example, Independent Examination of Accounts, quality awards).

Most TSIs deliver a mixture of pro-active and reactive services. Most offer a range of training or advisory sessions on a proactive basis, including support on issues such as funding, governance, legal structures, and also reactive work responding to requests for bespoke support. Some TSIs carry out 'health checks' or diagnostics with Third Sector organisations, but others do not. The range of the 'reactive work' is wide - anything from providing policies and procedures to providing bespoke advice and support on legal structures, procurement, and governance.

TSIs also undertake very intensive, crisis-led work where staff provide bespoke services related to specific funding or governance problems. This work can be exceptionally time intensive: TSIs gave examples of complex governance and funding problems which required support over extended periods of up to six months to resolve.

Challenges in delivering this function

The increasing demands made of the Third Sector

As the role of the Third Sector expands into more service delivery, there is increased pressure on boards to understand policy, legislation, contracting, governance etc.. In focus groups, Third Sector organisations identified the increasing pressures on volunteer board members, and some reported that despite their efforts, it was increasingly difficult to recruit and maintain volunteers on boards because it was "too much pressure":

"They are ordinary people, they get involved because they want to help, but then they get hit with employment law, legislation, and procurement. It's too much for some of them" (Third Sector organisation)

The scale of unmet need

Many TSIs, are aware that there is unmet need (with TSIs identifying/mapping this need in a variety of different ways), but are challenged by the trade-off that prioritising more complex needs means fewer resources are available for services to small or start-up organisations:

"The scale of unmet need… is so significant that we are only reaching a fraction of the organisations we would wish to reach, and are only delivering a small range of the support services which we want to (and have the technical competence to) deliver, were we properly resourced at sufficient scale to do so" ( TSI Chief Executive Officer)

"Responding to growing and more complex demands while resources remain under pressure is a challenge" ( TSI Chief Executive Officer)

"We work across a very wide remote and rural geographical area with thousands of small Third Sector groups. There are therefore capacity issues in trying to reach these groups and some require a great deal of time spent with them particularly where there are governance issues" ( TSI Chair)

While it is clear that TSIs have to prioritise, this means that there are groups or organisations whose needs go unmet. This can affect the reputation of the TSI locally:

"[ TSI] seems to be able to offer very little and not really interested in small local groups" (Third Sector organisation)

The failure of the sector to identify organisational development needs

At the other end of the scale TSIs also reported that many Third Sector organisations do not recognise that they need support until it is too late, especially in relation to issues such as governance. While Third Sector organisations may pro-actively seek support for development or delivery of services, and seek advice on issues such as funding, TSI representatives told us that they are less likely to identify their own organisational development needs and seek support at an appropriate time. This is reflected in the Third Sector survey results: when Third Sector organisations were asked which services they needed 46% said funding advice, but only 14% thought they needed governance advice:

"Governance is a huge issue, but they don't come to us till it's too late" ( TSI Manager)

"We don't see them till there's a problem - and sometimes it's too late" ( TSI Board Member)

Duplication of services

While the development of the TSI network model aimed to declutter the Third Sector support landscape at the local level, the Scottish Government funds a range of national intermediaries who also have roles in supporting the Third Sector. While there are examples of good 'joining up' of national and local resources, there are also too many examples of confusion, overlap and duplication of roles, failure to align resources and pulling in opposite directions.

Another issue that was raised a number of times during our fieldwork was duplication with Local Authority community learning and development ( CLD) services. TSIs told us that this can result in organisations being given conflicting advice and that it creates confusion for the client. There are good examples of protocols being worked up and greater definition of roles, but there remain on-going challenges in other areas.

Core function 4: Building the relationship with Community Planning; engaging and connecting the Third Sector

The TSI model aims to support better connectivity between the Third Sector and with the community planning process, and to enable Third Sector organisations to influence and contribute effectively to the design and delivery of Single Outcome Agreements and Community Planning Outcomes.

Third Sector perspective

The responses to the Third Sector survey (reported in the previous chapter) showed that there was a wide variation in the satisfaction with the TSIs in their role in connecting the sector to each other and to Community Planning Partnerships.

Representation versus facilitation

A key challenge for TSIs in connecting the sector to Community Planning Partners stems from differing interpretations of the role. The TSI's role is often described as 'representing' the Third Sector in partnerships, however the TSI's capacity to effectively represent the sector is contested - the TSI role is in advocating for the sector and 'facilitating representation' but this is not always what happens in practice with TSI Chief Executive Officers and other staff often taking on the "representative" role.

Within the sector there are those who challenge the TSI's 'right' to represent them. In some cases this is born out of low trust or respect for the TSI in the sector, but there are specific groups which have challenged the 'right' of the TSI to represent them:

  • The social enterprise sector feels that its specific issues are poorly represented at Community Planning Partnerships by the TSIs [9] .
  • Some national Third Sector organisations, many of whom have their own historic relationships with Community Planning Partnerships do not see the relevance of the TSI as an intermediary in that relationship:

"The nationals [national third sector organisations] were very organised here. The development of the TSI has been a bit traumatic for them. But as a Community Planning Partnership we need to go through the TSI - we need to give the TSI its place and push the nationals to recognise the TSI" (Director of Services, Local Authority)

There is strong contention about the ability of a TSI which itself delivers services (or has developed social enterprises) to be able to represent the sector effectively, because as service providers they are also competitors in the sector, although as we have already stated there are occasions when local need may dictate this.

At the other end of the spectrum, there were many organisations who are content for the TSI to represent them on their Community Planning Partnership, including small volunteer-led organisations who reported that they need the TSI to represent them because they do not have staff to do so themselves.

In some areas, TSIs are developing structures for self-representation by the sector, and building the capacity and confidence of the sector for self-representation in planning structures.

In one of the selected fieldwork areas, a voluntary sector sub-group of the Community Planning Partnership has been established, and the TSI maintains a Third Sector representational matrix identifying all mandated individuals. The Community Planning Improvement Programme ( CPIP) process was also instrumental in supporting and facilitating this progress:

"The key driver has been persistence and the implementation of effective structures, processes and relationships between the TSI and Community Planning Partnership" ( TSI)

In another area, the TSI has worked with the sector to develop a strategy for Third Sector representation, role descriptors for Third Sector representatives, and a Scrutiny Committee to oversee the election of Third Sector representatives. The representatives report back to the Third Sector Forum, an independent network of Third Sector groups organised and chaired by the TSI. In addition, the Third Sector has a 'seat' on each of the three delivery groups of the Community Planning Partnership.

In another area, the TSI is currently working with Edinburgh University to develop new structures for Third Sector representation. The proposals for a representative structure were based on widespread local consultation, and democratically selected by the sector.

The CPIP programme has also supported the development of representative structures in some areas. Where successful, the critical factors have been the committed engagement of all partners to the Community Planning Improvement Programme, and also a high level of trust in the TSI by the sector and partners:

"The TSI is a valued partner, an equal partner. Without the TSI we wouldn't be able to get the sectors views, wouldn't be able to involve sector in design and delivery or identifying need" (Community Planning Partnership Executive Board Member)

"The CPIP programme has been critical in strengthening and progressing Third Sector participation within Community Planning, and has resulted in current delivery of a comprehensive three-year Third Sector Community Planning Improvement Plan" (Community Planning Manager)

Relationships with the sector are critical to the TSI's capacity to act on their behalf. While there are acknowledged tensions in the 'representation/facilitation' role (over legitimacy to represent National Third Sector organisations and over competition) the tensions were less detrimental where the TSI had good relationships with the sector:

"There are always going to be tensions in the model. But we have good relationships with the TSI and I know that I can talk to them and we can sort it out" (Third Sector organisation)

In other areas, there has been significantly less progress in facilitating representation. As the comments from Third Sector organisations show, there continue to exist TSIs that have not gained the local sector's trust:

"There is little communication, no feedback and very little is known about their function. They sit on committees but rarely seek views" (Third Sector organisation)

"Frankly our TSI seems more focused on representing themselves than the wider sector" (Third Sector organisation)

"We receive more information and support through our own networks and SCVO, including links to community planning, we find the Interface bureaucratic and a barrier to engagement" (Third Sector organisation)

Relationship building with Community Planning Partnerships

A critical success factor in the role of 'facilitating participation' is that the TSI is trusted by the partners. In many of the fieldwork selected areas, TSIs and Community Planning Partnerships reported that relationships with the TSI had been developing (often from a poor base), but that these relationships had been critical to improving the Third Sector's engagement:

"It's all about relationships. They [ TSI] have built relationships with the sector, relationships with the Local Authority and other partners. When you've got good relationships you can come together in an open transparent way - and get better outcomes for everyone" (Community Planning Partnership Member)

There have been a number of catalysts for the change in the relationship between TSIs and Community Planning Partnerships. These are outlined below.

TSIs and Community Planning Partners reported that a single point of 'access' to the Third Sector had been beneficial:

"Being a single TSI has helped. The improvement in our reputation since forming a single, new TSI has been hugely beneficial" ( TSI Chief Executive Officer)

"The TSI provides us with a way to get the sectors views in a way that we couldn't before" (Community Planning Partnership Partner)

The Reshaping Care for Older People ( RCOP) Change Fund in which the TSI was mandated a role as a strategic partner enabled TSIs to develop relationships with the sector and with partners. RCOP also created opportunities (in some areas) for Third Sector involvement in service delivery. This has contributed to relationship building, to confidence in the TSIs capacity to co-ordinate the sector, and to growing confidence in the Third Sector's delivery capacity as well.

While the TSIs had varying levels of engagement in RCOP Strategic Partnerships, the requirement to include the Third Sector in Strategic Partnerships, and for the TSI to sign-off on the RCOP Implementation Plans, validated the role of the TSIs as conduits for Third Sector engagement in RCOP.

For many TSIs, involvement in RCOP has been a 'turning point' in building their relationships with the local sector and other partners, their knowledge of health and social care structures, and their own capacity to operate as a strategic partner. Many TSIs also report that they built their credibility as local partners and contributed to developing partners' confidence in the Third Sector's delivery capacity.

This has helped to consolidate the role of the TSI as a strategic partner and provides a useful example of where the TSI model can bring real value.

In a number of areas, Community Planning Partnership managers highlighted their growing confidence in the TSI as a mechanism for co-ordinating the Third Sector involvement in planning:

"Before the current iteration of the TSI in [area] we didn't have any structure for effective representation of the sector, for having that Third Sector voice articulated in our planning. That has changed for us. The TSI has created a structure that the Third Sector feeds into. I have confidence that they [the TSI] can represent the sector" (Director of Services, Local Authority and Member of Community Planning Partnership)

"We now have a good solid Third Sector network in our area. We didn't have that before (the TSI). The TSI co-ordinates the sector - what gets fed into the planning structures comes from the Third Sector and shapes the agenda going forward" (Community Planning Partnership Manager)

In these areas, there is also a discernible growth in partners' understanding of, and trust and confidence in the sector:

"It's all about confidence in the TSI and confidence in the Third Sector. We've got confidence that the Third Sector can deliver. We've got confidence that they are supported to do that. We've also got confidence that the TSI can pick things up when they are failing. When [local organisation] was failing, we knew that the TSI could pick that up" (Chair of Community Planning Partnership)

In one area, the Community Planning Partnership has agreed to increase funding for Third Sector services where other statutory service providers were subject to budget cuts. In another area, the Integration Joint Board had protected funding to Third Sector services, although statutory sector services suffered budget cuts.

In areas that exhibited good partnerships between the sector and Community Planning Partnership partners, a critical factor underpinning the relationships was trust in the TSI:

"Partnership works when officers trust each other - [ TSI manager] is trusted here. Partners here are confident in working with her." (Senior Officer, Local Authority)

"We have real trust in the individuals - she does what she says she'll do" (Senior Officer, Integrated Joint Board)

Often trust in the TSI came as a result of strong leadership:

"The leadership shown by the [ TSI] Chief Executive Officer is exemplary" (Community Planning Partnership Executive Board Member)

"We have seen brave leadership from the TSI" (Member of Community Planning Partnership Executive Board)

" TSI staff take a proactive approach to partnership, sharing accountability, responsibility and skills with Community Planning Partners, and leading by example" (Community Planning Partnership Partner)

In some areas, the TSI is being recognised as leader within the Community Planning Partnership. In one area, as a result of the Community Planning Improvement Programme, the TSI has been leading on developing structural changes to the Community Planning Partnership. Within that new structure, the TSI now chairs one of the key operational groups:

"The TSI is leading the Community Planning Partnership in grappling with community empowerment" (Director of Services, Local Authority)

Challenges in this role

Increased demand from emerging policy areas and structures

A key operational challenge is the increasing number of policy areas requiring Third Sector engagement, and an increasing number of structures which the TSI has to service and facilitate engagement with. This has implications for the level of resources focused on the other functions.

Inevitably, as Community Planning Partnerships move towards locality structures, the requirement to facilitate Third Sector engagement at the local level will further increase the demand on the TSIs locally.

Competition in the sector

A number of research respondents highlighted the challenge facing some TSIs in relation to delivery of services. Some TSIs are perceived to be delivering services in direct competition to other local Third Sector organisations - which is unsurprising due to the way in which most Third Sector organisations are funded (through bidding for funding in competitive tendering/application processes). In some areas, there remains a lack of clarity about why the local TSI is delivering a particular service, however we also found examples of TSIs who had been explicitly asked to deliver a service by other local organisations (either because they were best placed to do so, or because no other organisation was willing to take on the role).

Local Community Planning context

Through our fieldwork visits we saw a number of areas where TSIs had developed positive relationships with Community Planning Partnerships and were brokering Third Sector involvement in planning structures. However, there are also areas where there has been little meaningful Third Sector engagement in community planning and little evidence of their involvement in the design and delivery of services.

In some areas, weaker TSIs have failed to develop the relationships and trust that have underpinned positive partnerships in other areas, but there are also structural barriers which have impeded meaningful Third Sector involvement. It is evident that in some areas, Community Planning Partnerships have not created an enabling environment for Third Sector involvement.

Throughout this research we were told by TSI representatives and local stakeholders alike that many Community Planning Partnerships are still failing to engage with the Third Sector effectively. In some areas, local stakeholders acknowledged that Community Planning Partnership engagement with TSIs was tokenistic, and allowed them to 'tick the box' to say that the Third Sector was involved, but that there is no real engagement of the sector:

"Our local Community Learning and Development planning process was Council-driven, and involved no element of consultation with area partnership, the Third Sector or community organisations. What went wrong?" (Community Planning Partnership Manager)

"There are uncomfortable relationships in our Community Planning Partnership. The TSI has far less clout than other partners. It is very difficult to build alliances within this culture" (Community Planning Partnership Manager)

"Within the Community Planning Partnership there is a lack of realisation that it takes time for representing organisations such as a TSI to ensure it is able to gather views adequately. Setting a two-week deadline as has happened is no good" (local Third Sector organisation)

These findings are corroborated by the Audit Commission's Community Planning update [10] , which identified that many Community Planning Partnerships are failing to redeploy resources to address the preventative agenda and that for many 'involving communities fully in planning and delivering local services still remains at an early stage in many Community Planning Partnerships.'

Local stakeholders also identified a lack of understanding among Community Planning Partnership partners (especially those who haven't worked with the Third Sector historically) to understand the value of involving the Third Sector, but also referred to 'ingrained professional cultures' that have acted as a barrier to the development of new services at the local level:

"We've got a long way to go to change cultures, and change attitude to risk to really get our heads around preventative services. Officers will always revert to 'this is way we do it here'" (Community Planning Partnership Member)

This view is corroborated by the Scottish Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services 2011 [11] , which comments on the inability of the public sector to change in response to the new agendas. It concluded that: 'A culture of professional dominance in public bodies has made them unresponsive to changing needs and risk averse about innovation.'

The external environment

Some TSIs also report that there is sometimes a lack of understanding (and, in some cases, lack of respect) for the TSI role by national intermediaries. For example:

  • The TSIs report that some national intermediaries attempt to initiate local activities/programmes without consulting with or informing the local TSI; and
  • TSIs have experienced unrealistic expectations from national intermediaries who seem to think that TSIs 'are there to roll-out their programmes' and services 'because that's what you're funded to do'.

Some stakeholders and TSIs felt that the actions of Scottish Government departments could also undermine the TSIs at local level. For example, some Scottish Government departments have bypassed the TSIs and gone directly to national intermediary bodies when they want to engage with the Third Sector or use Third Sector expertise. In one of the fieldwork areas, a government agency had commissioned work which directly duplicated services that the TSI delivers locally.

Other objectives of the TSI

The Scottish Government grant offer letter to TSIs specifies other objectives that the TSIs must meet. It states that "the Third Sector Interface is responsive to the diversity of the community and is well managed, governed and effective." The following sections consider the extent to which the TSI network achieves these objectives.

Responsive to diversity

Across the board, TSIs stated that addressing inequality is at the heart of what they do:

"Tackling inequality is our 'raison d'etre - that's why we exist' ( TSI Board Member)

Equalities is one of the core values of the TSI network, and inherent in the common approach. The commitment to Equalities in the Common Services Framework is:

  • Develop flexible responses to meet different needs; e.g. opening times, drop-in facility, outreach locations, telephone helplines and online facilities.
  • Make our services, publicity materials and premises as accessible as possible.
  • Be proactive in engaging all of our stakeholders.
  • Focus limited resources towards those who need them most.

TSIs provided numerous examples of how they promoted equalities within the sector (for example raising awareness of equalities, or providing training on equalities and diversity for the Third Sector), and how they worked to promote services and engage with more disadvantaged groups.

Examples of the ways in which TSIs are fulfilling their commitment to equality and diversity include:

  • Staff being members of local equalities networks.
  • Some TSIs are committed to the Scottish Government's Partnership for Change which encourages 50/50 gender balance on boards by 2020 across the Third, public and private sectors.
  • Work with local groups e.g. community councils, schools to respond to all sections of the community.
  • Working with minority groups such as the travelling community and undertaking outreach.
  • Achievement of the LGBT Charter of Rights which involved training for all Board members, volunteers and staff and they have an LGBTI champion on their board.
  • Accessible property that provides an inclusive physical environment.
  • Staff trained in good practice in diversity and equalities.
  • Running conversation events in places where people meet to support them to influence policy and legislation.
  • Being a partner in a local equalities partnership involving statutory agencies.
  • Undertaking Equality Impact Assessments to ensure that all equalities groups are communicated with around all processes.
  • Providing support to equalities organisations.
  • Engaging the advice of specialist local Third Sector organisations ( e.g. sensory impairments).
  • Involvement in research.
  • Including an equalities audit in the annual survey.
  • Taking into account the National Standards for Community Engagement.
  • Support to Equality and Diversity Fora.
  • Delivering the local Equality and Rights Network.
  • Chairing/co-chairing a Community Planning Partnership sub-group on disability.

As can be seen above, there are a plethora of examples of good work on-going in relation to equalities and it is clear that equality of access is simply a "given" for TSIs and something that they see as integral to their core purpose.

From the Third Sectors perspective, 63% of Third Sector survey respondents agreed that equality and diversity considerations are at the heart of what the TSI does.

However, TSIs also acknowledged that resource limitations inevitably limit what can realistically be achieved, and whilst equality of access is what all TSIs aspire to, the scale of their potential market and the diverse range of needs that TSIs are required to meet pose a significant challenge in prioritising services:

"We would like to do more outreach to connect with people who are digitally excluded, but don't have the resources to do that" ( TSI Chief Executive Officer)

Governance and management

There are expectations among stakeholders and within the network itself, that TSIs should be seen as exemplars of governance but during our fieldwork in the 11 selected areas it was clear that the quality of governance and management was variable.

Some TSIs exhibited strong governance structures and leadership which was respected by and had the confidence of internal and external stakeholders. Other TSIs had weaker governance structures, and in one TSI governance was perceived by its members to be failing on a number of levels and a governance review is currently underway.

In addition, over recent years there has been a number of failing TSIs where weaknesses in governance have been central to the failure.

Some of the specific challenges being faced by TSIs in relation to governance include:

  • Challenges in recruiting board members: In some areas, especially those that are smaller, areas with predominantly small local organisations and in more disadvantaged areas, TSIs experienced challenges in recruiting board members with the range of skills and knowledge that they require. In addition, we heard of TSI boards finding it challenging to recruit the range of trustees they need to represent the disparate communities that they serve (geographic, sectoral etc.) and the functions that the TSI delivers, as well as having appropriate 'professional' skills and experience such as human resources.
  • In partnership TSIs there is contention about the extent to which directors of individual partners represent the interests of their own organisations rather than those of the TSI.
  • We also heard from Community Planning Partnership staff and local Third Sector organisations of disagreements taking place between partner boards that can and have adversely affected the TSI's operation and its reputation locally.
  • Memorandum and articles of association which have not been reviewed or updated since the TSI's inception and which may no longer be fit for purpose.
  • Tenure of membership of boards being too long.
  • A wider challenge is that there are times when governance issues have not been addressed by local boards. As independent organisations, responsibility for governance, leadership and legal compliance rests with their governing body.
  • TSIs must already comply with relevant laws and conditions of grant so they cannot be further compelled to strengthen their governance. Scottish Government and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator already have the scope to intervene. However, there is no structure or process in place to compel TSIs to seek assistance when governance is compliant but weak, and it is therefore for individual TSIs to engage with and take up such offers of support. Voluntary Action Scotland has provided support to individual TSIs and provided guidance more widely but has no mandate to intervene when a problem is identified.

Ensuring good governance needs to be given far higher priority within the model than it currently is. It is imperative that any future model has at its heart a culture of continuous improvement and self-evaluation, backed up with support mechanisms to ensure this is followed through on.

TSIs boards should take responsibility, supported by their intermediary body, to address governance issues and ensure that they are well functioning governing bodies working to best practice.


It is challenging to define effectiveness, as the range of local circumstances and the differences in the resources available mean TSIs have different capacity to deliver services. (It is also recognised that there is variation in the quality of delivery across the network). However, through the evaluation it became clear that where TSIs are most effective this appears to be due to a number of key factors:

  • Maturity of organisation.
  • Effective leadership by the Chief Executive and a strong strategic lead from the Board (good governance).
  • Achieving the right balance between a strategic and delivery role.
  • Relationships with/trust of local Community Planning Partnership partners:
    • Community Planning Partnerships which recognises/supports the value of the sector and supports Third Sector engagement in design and delivery of services.
    • TSI is recognised as a strategic partner and is empowered and supported to deliver that role.
  • Resourced by local partners:
    • Some TSIs receive funding from Local Authorities and other sources to enhance all or some core functions. This is a key determinant in their capacity to extend the reach of services.
  • Strong relationships with the local sector.
  • Trust of the local sector.
  • Relationships with local and national partners (who deliver services to the sector):
    • Capacity to co-ordinate services from a range of providers and lever additional resources around local need.
  • Skills and expertise:
    • Some TSIs have a particular set of knowledge, skills and existing relations that will influence how it operates (often related to the organisations that pre-dated the TSI).
    • Intelligence on the sector and understanding needs and capacity locally.
    • Skills of delivery staff.

Chapter Conclusions

In this chapter we specifically sought to establish how effective the TSIs are in the delivery of the core functions. We found that there is a significant variation in how these functions are delivered and that whilst good practice can be identified across the functions, effectiveness in delivery is also variable. The following key findings are of particular relevance to consideration of any future model of delivery:

  • There is no one way of delivering the four core functions and it is clear that a "one size fits all" approach would be ineffective. The current approaches being taken are determined by a range of factors including access to additional funding, demand and the local strategic context.
  • There is variation in the quality of delivery of the four functions and the effectiveness of some of the TSIs overall. Good leadership and good governance; maturity of the organisation; adequate resourcing; strong relationships locally and nationally; having the right skills in-house; and managing the balance between the strategic and delivery role well appear to be key to effective delivery in the most successful TSIs.
  • The social enterprise function is the most contentious, with some research participants questioning the TSIs' role in delivering social enterprise support. This function seems to be being delivered most effectively where the TSI acts in a facilitating and sign-posting capacity, but again local circumstances may dictate that a TSI should have a more hands-on role in delivering social enterprise support. Developing a local solution to the TSI's role seems key to getting this right going forward.
  • In some areas, TSIs have been successful in developing mechanisms which enable the sector to engage with partners in the design and delivery of services. In others, the TSI formally represents the sector in planning structures, but has been less effective in brokering connections between the sector and the partners.
  • The effectiveness of the Community Planning Partnership and its willingness to engage with the TSI and the Third Sector, directly affects the TSI's ability to fulfil its remit effectively.
  • Increasing levels of demand from local Third Sector organisations and stakeholders in relation to policy developments is affecting TSIs' ability to deliver a quality service.
  • There is a lack of clarity with regards to role definition/unique selling points between the TSIs and national intermediaries and in some cases relationships between the two are poor. This is particularly significant in relation to the TSIs' role in delivering the social enterprise function, given the significant amount of resource going into other social enterprise support mechanisms.
  • All TSIs are committed to equality of access however addressing the diverse range of needs in local areas is currently inhibited by resources available to TSIs.
  • Good governance is not exhibited by all TSIs and more must be done to improve governance across the network.


Jacqueline Rae:

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