Community-led regeneration approach: review

Findings from an independent review into the partnership approach delivered by the People and Communities Fund (PCF).

7. Conclusions and Recommendations


Chapter 7 presents the conclusions and recommendations of the study by bringing together the findings from desk-based and primary research, Realist Evaluation assessment and ToC considerations.

The Chapter is structured in line with the study objectives set out in the study brief.

Testing the PCF Approach

The findings of the study have confirmed that the ToC for the PCF is operating as intended.

The sample of 12 projects has shown throughout that participation involved those community organisations and individuals in need as anticipated and targeted by the PCF. The co-production approaches that were observed through the research differed according to the project's specific circumstances whilst addressing the key priorities of the PCF: tackling poverty and promoting social inclusion.

The research evidenced that all areas of change anticipated by the PCF approach have been achieved. These include:

  • Learning - Community Anchors, partner organisations and beneficiaries gained knowledge, skills and increased their understanding. Overall findings of the research showed that staff often felt more motivated in their jobs due to their increased understanding of the target group's needs;
  • Action - Community Anchors and people in the community improved their engagement with each other, made more social and professional connections, developed trust and closer partnership working, improved and extended their working practices through co-production processes; and
  • Positive Outcomes - PCF funding has contributed to reducing poverty through enabling people to take up employment opportunities and to enhance their employability and financial capability skills. The Programme has also improved life chances and wellbeing. Social inclusion has been successfully achieved through increasing people's social capital and by building their skills and capacities. These outcomes have 'empowered' people to take up more opportunities including volunteering and employment. The 'confidence' which has been built allowed people to feel that they belong to, and are more connected to, their communities. Participants are, therefore, increasingly able to take up a much wider range of opportunities and community engagement activities.
  • In turn, community anchor organisations have been able to become more inclusive, offering a wider spectrum of services to their local communities and increased their partnership work with other organisations.

Recommendation 1 : The evidence suggests that the approach delivered via the PCF is effective and successful. Consideration should be given to continuing with, and building on, the PCF approach for community-based organisations with prior experience in co-production.

Co-production - an underlying ambition

Community engagement and co-production is the foundation of the PCF in terms of how best to tackle poverty and promote social inclusion. The programme makes this a specific requirement through its eligibility criteria. However, the ambition that individual projects should also foster and develop their co-production activities could be made more explicit in the PCF application form. Nevertheless, the research study has found comprehensive evidence that organisations as well as beneficiaries and project partners have increased their engagement, collaboration, co-delivery and co-production activities with and between each other during the PCF funding period.

More could be done by PCF commissioners to further define the concepts and terminology around co-production and engagement to ensure that needs assessment, co-design/creation, co delivery/implementation and joint evaluation/review are understood to be elements of co-production. In addition, the Programme should emphasise the importance of co-production processes to increase awareness and action amongst stakeholders. At the moment, these different terms are often used interchangeably.

Recommendation 2 : Consideration should be given to further define the concepts and terminology around co-production and community engagement to help increase awareness and action amongst stakeholders.

Co-production Models Used to Deliver PCF Activity

The study has identified five implementation models, demonstrating that PCF is delivered in different contexts which determine the extent to which co-production is used. For example, in projects delivering specialised services (money and benefit advice) or specifically targeted training initiatives (modern apprenticeship, or volunteer development programme), co-production is mostly applied through in-depth interviews, signposting, facilitating ongoing feedback and development meetings with service users.

In a different setting where, for example, social inclusion plays a significant role, co-production can be achieved in a much more in-depth manner. For the latter, the study 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. In other projects, this was combined with an intensive involvement of partner organisations offering work placements as well as employment opportunities creating lasting change for individuals.

The study has validated that partner organisations are important players in all co-production approaches. The extent of their involvement and their motivation varies ranging from providing signposting and referral services , to joined-up or even co-located service provision, from being an integral project delivery agent to being a direct beneficiary of the project themselves (seeking to fulfil their Corporate Social Responsibility policies or seeking to work with and through the beneficiaries themselves).

The study further showed that a 'one co-production model fits all' approach would not be able to address the many different circumstances and target groups involved in the programme. It is, therefore, appropriate for PCF to enable a wide spectrum of co-production approaches to be used by projects so that they can respond in a bespoke and flexible manner to the local and thematic needs relevant to the individual contexts of individual beneficiary groups.

Recommendation 3 : Consideration should be given to raising awareness of different community engagement and co-production models to facilitate sharing of experience to maximise the potential of each model.

How the PCF Approach Contributed to Change

The study method and tools were designed to identify how PCF contributed to change and why individuals achieved outcomes.

All approaches used in the study clearly identified that the intensity of engagement between service provider and the service user / community member was key in bringing about positive change.

Crucially, PCF projects contributed to positive change by providing person-focused, tailored support and bespoke services for people with multiple needs. Often, this involved multi-dimensional service delivery focusing on building social capital and life skills. For the beneficiaries/service users and volunteers this process has also led to increased engagement in co-delivery and co-production. At the same time, this benefited Community Anchors and their partner organisations leading to increased understanding of existing needs and subsequent improved service provision.

Bringing about positive change

This research has identified that, at the core of the PCF, service providers were able to offer a caring, welcoming and nurturing environment for those in need. The research findings clearly show that this was of crucial importance for people to sustain their relationship with the Community Anchor and continue with their respective learning journeys. Feeling respected, not being judged, learning to express themselves, developing social capital and skills, being encouraged to take up opportunities, all raised confidence levels and created a new belief in themselves that many people thought was impossible for them to achieve.

Flexible funding

Although an assessment of the PCF and its programme structures was not within the remit of the review (and for this reason the following findings are not included in the main body of the report), the relevance of providing flexible and multi-annual funding was mentioned frequently in the interviews with Community Anchors. PCF grant support provided the finances for the required resources which were all important to achieving this level of in-depth engagement and positive change for those involved.The study findings indicate that PCF was relied upon for its flexibility, seen as an acknowledgement of the challenges faced by the Community Anchor organisations.

That said, nurturing long-term disadvantaged people back to wellbeing, so that they re-gain capabilities to contribute to society and gain employment must be understood as a long-term process, with invariable fluctuations of engagement and disengagement along the way. This requires a support programme to be long-term and flexible, as such, empowering the delivery bodies to exercise their expertise and community-based approaches.

The necessity of a long-term approach to support those with multiple needs is not reflected well by the one-year funding cycle. Therefore, most Community Anchors needed to access PCF funding for a number of years to enable them to deliver change. The need to apply for funding each year disrupted one project completely ( i.e. all staff moved on to employment elsewhere). Dealing with long-term, multiple needs of the target groups, PCF necessitates more long-term funding to offer Community Anchors a degree of stability, certainty and continuity.

Recommendation 4 : Consideration should be given to extend the PCF funding period to acknowledge better the longer time frame projects need to address the multiple needs of their target groups.

Where the PCF approach does not contribute to change

The study was unable to evidence any circumstances where the PCF approach has not worked apart from two projects encountering problems with the annualrity of funding, which reportedly caused substantial problems for the affected initiatives ( i.e. losing staff).

As the participation in the study was on a voluntary basis a possible bias towards capturing more positive feedback exists (it is less likely that dissatisfied beneficiaries or partners spend their time in workshops or interviews).

Understanding for Whom the PCF Approach Works

The qualitative comparative analysis presented in Chapter 5 showed that the PCF approach worked differently for partner organisations, Community Anchors and beneficiaries. However, a common benefit reported by all three groups was the experience of having gained more trust and better relationships between each other.

Partner Organisation

Overall, primary research findings indicate that partners were able to differentiate a large number of distinct benefits from participation. This is most likely due to being one-step removed and being able to observe change and effects more clearly, therefore identifying more benefits from their PCF engagement than any other participant group.

Most frequently mentioned outcomes included the increased engagement and connectedness with local communities, being a more inclusive organisation, and improved progress towards social inclusion.

Community Anchor Staff

For the majority of Community Anchors, PCF helped to increase the extent of their co-production engagement with the community through which they were able to develop more effective services, and build better relationships and trust with their beneficiaries and partner organisations. A further positive change was that this created an improved sense of influence and understanding of the needs of the community/target group.

For those Community Anchor organisations with high levels of co-production at the outset of PCF funding, the PCF project implementation led to an intensification of engagement ( i.e. more contact with community members, more volunteers employed, more opportunities offered for community members to become involved in decision making).

Community Members/Beneficiaries

The majority of all beneficiaries reported that they had achieved improved skills, knowledge, aspirations and a sense of well being and belonging.

The most prominent positive changes reported included increased 'trust', 'confidence', 'self-esteem' and 'pride' and 'opportunities'. In many cases, beneficiaries believed that the welcoming, encouraging and appreciative environment which their Community Anchor offered provided the context for these achievements to evolve. Importantly, the more positive outlook on life that many have managed to achieve is closely related to a wide range of employabilty and other transferable skills that they have developed.

For most beneficiaries, PCF activities enabled them to increase their participation in co-delivery and co-production with their respective Community Anchor organisation.

In seven projects, there was a substantial increase from not being involved with the Community Anchor to now sharing co-delivery, volunteering opportunities and being board members. Only in a small number of cases (three projects) did PCF beneficiaries enjoy reasonable levels of co-production at the outset of engagement. In these instances PCF projects were used to intensify their engagement. In the remainder of cases (two projects), medium levels of change in co-production were observed.

Circumstances and Context for Results to Emerge

For sustainable results to emerge in terms of increased community engagement as well as gaining employment or progressing to training and further education, people need to have a certain level of confidence and social capital.

The research findings indicate that PCF funding has successfully created the right social and cultural environment for those personal development skills to emerge, primarily by funding community organisations who are able to nurture and support those seldom heard, most disadvantaged individuals until they have gained sufficient self-esteem and self-worth to progress. As such, gaining confidence, skills, social capital, self-esteem and self-worth were fundamentally seen as a pre-requisite for building employability skills and addressing poverty in a sustainable manner.

The vast majority of projects involved in the study addressed both PCF priorities 'social inclusion' and 'tackling poverty'. In view of the beneficiary groups targeted by most projects, the combination of both makes sense.

To successfully address the needs of economically and socially disadvantged people requires the Community Anchor to offer a flexible and diverse range of services and activities. The study has shown that a diverse range of activities (ranging from social interaction, personal development and life-skills, to employability and social enterprise creation)is most effective in engaging with economically and socially disadvantaged people to build trust, confidence and create a connectedness to the Community Anchor and its staff and volunteers. This then forms the basis upon which improved life chances, skills and wellbeing are being created.

Recommendation 5 : Consideration should be given to formulating additional characteristics to differentiate projects more appropriately than by 'themes' which currently overlap within activities ( e.g. social capital building as a pre-requisite for addressing poverty and employability issues).

In this context, recent evidence from behavioural research emphasises that behaviour change necessitates improvement in three areas: capabilities, opportunities, and motivations [9] . There may be some value in encouraging projects to identify the activities or strategies that will contribute to these core aspects of behaviour change as part of funding applications and using such information to characterise projects according to the balance of their focus as well the domains in which they may work e.g. employment, food, etc. This may better indicate their likely contribution to key mechansims and outcomes.

Unexpected Results

In terms of unexpected results that have emerged through PCF project engagement, partner organisations were often surprised about what can be achieved through community engagement. Project involvement raised their knowledge and confidence levels in engaging with the target groups.

Similarly, Community Anchor staff did not expect the extent of positive energy that has been created by projects and how this has affected their staff and even their families.

For community members/beneficiaries, engagement with the PCF initiative provided a wide range of unexpected results mostly in the area of improved wellbeing, boosted confidence levels, and new friends. Many reported a new sense of purpose in their lives. Many were surprised that they were 'seen as a person' and respected. This has enabled them to now help others in need. There was also surprise regarding the ways in which the improved sense of wellbeing reflected positively on their families and children.

Barriers and Enablers in Delivery

A number of barriers and enablers towards successful delivery of the PCF approach were identified at project and programme levels.

Identified enablers were:

  • Person-focused approach: this is at the core of triggering successful outcomes. It is essential to have time to engage with the service user to identify his/her needs and develop a trustful relationship and ability to support the individual in a variety of ways. Effective co-delivery and co-production processes require a continuous process of reviewing peoples' needs and opportunities.
  • Diversity of Service provision: Funding community organisations able to offer a wide range of inter-linked services to address multiple issues of disadvantage and deprivation (either through in-house provision, co-located or in close partnership with other organisations).
  • Advanced partnerships with other organisations: effective co-delivery and co-production processes require a continuous process of reviewing the complementarity and inter-linkedness of services and opportunities.
  • Directly linking social inclusion with employability development via volunteering: a step-by-step approach to nurture socially excluded people into wellbeing provides a very effective approach to build confidence and self-esteem when combined with informed guidance into volunteering.
  • Flexibility of the Programme to accept that progress for seldom heard groups can take time and might need to accommodate temporary drop-out for individuals to return at a later date.
  • Funding for work placement to compensate for lost benefit payments enables higher levels of beneficiary participation.
  • Incorporating partner organisations with a social remit into direct PCF delivery, e.g. social enterprises and private sector companies with Corporate Social Responsibilities policies and aims.

Barriers included:

  • The current benefit system discourages volunteering by benefit recipients ( 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.
  • The annularity of funding is too short for most projects to address multiple needs of seldom heard groups. In most cases, confidence and building of self-esteem and self-worth takes a long time after being socially excluded for many years.
  • Delays with programme commencement - particularly for project-specific funding, can be disruptive for small community organisations, resulting in them potentially losing staff.
  • For less experienced community organisations, accompanying assistance and awareness raising of co-production approaches would be helpful ( e.g. building strategic relationships with other service providers at a locality level).

Need for a Revised ToC?

The PCF ToC has been substantially confirmed by the findings as reflecting a realistic set of expectations for how co-production processes can lead to positive change in those who participated in the study.

There are a small number of areas where refinement could be undertaken, and this is primarily regarding the use and definition of terms used (as suggested in Chapter 6).

For example, PCF implies that projects would assume a community-wide scope, such as developing or delivering a community development strategy, a neighbourhood action plan, getting involved in participatory budgeting and such like. In this context, the ToC mentions 'thinking about local issues and solutions', understanding the 'value of community-led work' implying that the whole community would be a partner in a PCF project. However, apart from one rural project, most other initiatives researched in this study, while positively impacting on the wider community to some considerable extent, were nevertheless focusing on the needs of a particular target group rather than the needs of the entire community as a whole. While the difference is subtle, the ToC could therefore refer more specifically to 'people in need' and 'target groups' in addition to the terms it currently uses such as 'community members', 'communities'.

Similarly, the projects selected to be part of the study did not relate well to some parts of the PCF ToC aiming for 'increased ownership and management of community assets' and 'improved management of services'. It is, therefore, less clear how PCF is intending to achieve these outcomes. Having said this, the study only included a small number of projects and might have missed those that have targeted wider community projects more specifically.

Rather than being pro-actively promoted and encouraged, co-production is implicitly assumed by PCF, subsequently awareness raising of this underlying programme aim is low.

Recommendation 6 : Consideration should be given to reflect on the refined ToC provided in the findings and further clarify the definition and activities with regard to co-production. Encourage greater clarity among projects about the strategies (and other elements of context) that are anticipated to lead to changes in mechanisms and outcomes.

Additional, more subtle observations

In cases where projects aimed at delivering services via a social enterprise model this proved successful in those initiatives that dealt with existing, well-established social enterprises (providing work-placements). However, even in these cases, the success of the projects depended heavily on the availability of funding - for example, to replace lost benefit payments for the participants. In cases where the social enterprise was supposed to be created as part of the PCF funding period, lack of wider funding support and short-term funding periods of PCF made this very difficult (Growing Gardeners project). In those cases where social enterprises were created alongside the core services, these initially tend to be fairly small scale.

Although the PCF programme differentiates projects into a number of themes (such as volunteering, training, advice and support), the study found that projects tend to offer a holistic mix of activities covering all themes in order to provide a people-focused, multi-dimensional approach enabling each beneficiary to take up a range of diverse services and activities.


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