With a key focus on building community capacities and skills, the People and Communities Fund ( PCF) addresses two priorities: tackling poverty and social inclusion by supporting local Community Anchor Organisations such as Registered Social Landlords, Community Development Trusts, and voluntary sector organisations. With a distinct focus on community engagement and co-production, PCF supports local communities to address their needs, identify their aspirations, develop skills, and bring about positive change. A range of different thematic areas and activities are funded, including training, advice, community services, employability, mentoring and volunteering. The fund aims to achieve lasting change and improve lives.
This study explored if and how the PCF and its community-led/co-production approach is effective in contributing to positive and sustainable change for individuals in some of the most disadvantaged communities across Scotland.
The study aimed to understand how the community engagement and co-production process works in PCF funded projects and if the Programme achieves the outcomes it is intended to achieve.
The study applied a mix of desk-based and primary research methods involving Community Anchor organisations (delivering the PCF funded project), beneficiaries (service users and volunteers) and partner organisations. All study tools were designed in a bespoke manner in line with the PCF Theory of Change ( ToC), which showed how the planned resources (inputs) and activities were intended to lead to change in learning and action, and ultimately contribute to positive and sustainable outcomes for people and their communities.
Using qualitative research techniques including Realist Evaluation, the study focused on exploring how the 12 sampled projects effected the participants, what changes have been reported and how achievements have evolved through participation. The study method and information about how the projects were sampled is presented in Chapter 2 and detailed in Appendix A .
The 12 selected PCF funded projects are delivered by community-based organisations of various size, thematic focus and organisation type across Scotland. The intensive fieldwork of the study engaged with 136 community organisation staff, partner organisations, beneficiaries and volunteers. The selected projects are summarised in Chapter 3 and five are presented as more detailed case studies in a separate document.
'Co-production', a delivery method which distinguishes the PCF from other regeneration approaches is increasingly recognised as a new way to deliver public services that enable positive and sustainable outcomes for people and their communities.
On the basis of the research findings, five co-production models were identified by the study team illustrating how the 12 projects implemented the co-production approach. It was clear that there is no 'one size fits all' model and that co-production needs to adapt to the different circumstances of the local communities, their organisations and target groups.
For example, Chapter 4 shows that in more single-issue projects such as training in a particular skill set, the co-production process can involve in-depth interviews and ongoing engagement with the trainee through providing feedback channels to help improve service delivery and design new services (Model 1). Whislt in a multi-issue environment, co-production can involve a wider range of services that are available for an individual to help build trust and develop essential life-skills before volunteering can contribute towards strengthening confidence and building self-respect and forming part of a pathway towards accessing new opportunities and life chances (Model 5).
The study has identified highly successful cyclical approaches where former service users can become volunteers and mentors for the next cohort of service users through which employability skills and confidence of the former service users can be substantially enhanced. At times, this was combined with the intensive involvement of partner organisations offering work placements as well as employment opportunities creating lasting change for individuals.
Benefits derived from the PCF approach
The detailed analysis of the research findings is presented in Chapter 5 and describes how all participant groups benefited from PCF.
Common to all stakeholders was that the co-production process effectively facilitated the building of trust and strengthened relationships between all participant groups. There was also strong evidence that in the majority of cases, PCF supported an increase in community engagement/co-production.
' We had no hope of success with our community group, now we have'.
The beneficiaries often experienced life changing, empowering impacts through participation in PCF funded activities, were able to improve communication skills, benefited from increased well-being, and self-worth.
' I love my job, I never thought I would say this'.
The study workshops provided an opportunity for the participants to reflect on their experience with the PCF funded initiatives. This was often very personal with participants sharing their stories, which in many cases have resulted in life-changing achievements.
' [The Community Anchor] has become my family'.
The study identified a number of enablers that have led to a successful implementation of the PCF approach:
- Person-focused approach;
- Ability to offer access to a diversity of services;
- Good and close partnerships with other organisations;
- Linking social inclusion with employability pathways via volunteering;
- Flexibility and time to allow for personal development;
- Funding for work placements; and
- Involving partner organisations with a social remit such as social enterprises.
' The staff inspired me and encouraged me to be ambitious'.
' Being given the opportunity, we now can believe in ourselves, we have purpose in our lives now'.
The research findings also identified a number of barriers. Importantly this included that the current benefit system discourages benefit recipients from volunteering as their benefit payments would be stopped ( i.e. if you are fit enough to volunteer, you are fit enough to work). This stands fundamentally in the way of a pre-employability pathway that uses volunteering as a successful way of building vital employability skills.
Other minor barriers included the annularity of funding, consequent delays with the programme commencement and varying levels of familiarity with the co-production process.
In Chapter 6, the findings and the qualitative analysis of outcomes, is put into context of the PCF ToC and the detailed Realist Evaluation analysis. This technique identifies what lies at the heart of PCF implementation, triggering early positive outcomes for the majority of participants ( Appendix A provides more technical detail).
At the core of PCF success lies the intensive, person-focused support provided by the community organisations from the outset, engaging with individual service users. This triggers feelings of trust, confidence, pride and belonging which create the basis for individuals to achieve important and sustainable outcomes.
Being able to access a wide range of activities and being encouraged to take up opportunities has enabled beneficiaries to improve skills, knowledge and understanding, including improved well-being, social inclusion and increased social capital thereby also helping to tackle poverty and promote social inlcusion in a sustainable way.
These achievements frequently enabled people to increase their engagement with the community organisations and elsewhere, by volunteering and contributing to the co-delivery of services (often to other new service users).
Following a consideration of refining the ToC, the Chapter finishes with a validation of the existing ToC on the basis of findings across all areas of the research.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Chapter 7 concludes that the co-production approach and intensity of engagement between the funded community organisations, their partner organisations, and the beneficiaries was key in bringing about positive change, and helping to address social inclusion and poverty.
The PCF approach successfully created the right context for personal development, capacities and skills to emerge. This was particularly clear in community organisations that were able to nurture and support seldom heard, disadvantaged individuals.
The study findings have confirmed that:
- PCF funding was central to achieving considerable positive change in beneficiaries' lives through gaining skills and capacities which impacted positively on their community engagement; and
- The co-production process enabled community organisation staff to gain a deeper understanding of their target groups and helped to improve partnership engagement between organisations at operational and strategic levels.
The key recommendations are that consideration should be given to:
1. Continuing with, and building on, the PCF approach i.e. supporting community-based organisations with experience in co-production.
2. Further defining the concepts and terminology around co-production to help increase awareness amongst stakeholders.
3. Raising awareness of different community engagement and co-production models to facilitate sharing of experience to maximise the potential of each model.
4. Extending the PCF funding period in recognition of the time frame projects realistically require to address the multiple needs of their target groups.
5. Formulating characteristics to differentiate projects more appropriately than by 'themes' which currently overlap within activities. This could range from introducing greater flexibility into the application form ( e.g. multiple choice) to restructuring themes and activities, and how they link to one another.
6. Reflecting on the refined ToC and further clarify the definition and activities with regard to co-production.