Following a year of research with the University of Birmingham and supported by Collaborate and the Barrow Cabdury Trust, the framework of Contingent Capacity will be launched later this month.
Building Contingent Capacity describes the ability of an organisation to be responsive to the people it aims to serve and embrace their networks of family, friends, peers and wider public that influence their expectations and aspirations. It’s the intention to unlock the gifts and assets that people and their communities of interest bring and recognise, the knowledge of their lived experience in the design, delivery, management and accountability of services.
In an environment increasingly dominated by monetary forces, it enables values-based organisations operating in the social sector to assert their role as a counterweight to the imperfections of the market economy.
For membership rich organisations, it ensures a focus not just on current priorities, but also on emerging need so that the perspectives of future clients and customers are taken into account.
The convenience of segmentation and labelling have to give way to personal identity. An iterative relationship that works with rather than for people respects their dignity, supports individual reach and promotes self-determination.
Commissioners will understand the social value that accrues when people are able to participate more fully in the decisions that affect them and engage more productively with the communities around them.
Building Contingent Capacity within an organisation, requires a power shift so that the people served, assume greater priority among other stakeholders (staff, volunteers, regulators, institutional funders, individual donors and the wider public).
The framework of Contingent Capacity offers a diagnostic to assess Personal-Community Value. It provides a Toolkit P5 to help organisations recalibrate five levers - people, profitability, politics, principles and partnerships - to facilitate deep and reciprocal engagement.
Building Contingent Capacity enables organisations to understand and enhance the social value they generate. It is a relational framework that correlates the degree of reciprocity with people and with public or market facing interventions.By adopting part or all, of this model, charities, other voluntary groups, social enterprises, CIC’s and mutual, can articulate more clearly the distinctive role they play in the mixed economy. In an increasingly austere world, they can help maintain the long-term vision for an inclusive society that ensures a quality of service and access for the most disadvantaged and those at risk of vulnerability.
The launch is kindly hosted by PWC on 27th October and further details are available from email@example.com
In many ways, I've enjoyed a privileged position and had the opportunity to engage with policy and practice development at a high level. It’s hard to forget for example, working in the advisory group with former Ireland PM Mrs Mary Robinson when she was the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and persuading her that National Action Plans were the best way to follow-up the promises made at the World Conference in Durban. Or indeed, staying up late into the night, negotiating each contentious word and phrase with European Ministers during the drafting of the Equal Rights Directives.
Thankfully, my family have kept me grounded in the challenges facing the most disadvantaged people on a day-to-day basis. Amongst my most humbling moments was standing at a school gate with volunteers talking to mums in their language and persuading them to use the local health clinic. Over the years, I've gained substantial knowledge about what inspires people and learnt how to mobilise and motivate. Having worked with so many gifted people provides a strong network of support and from them, I've acquired the wisdom to know what works. It is rewarding to share these insights and help businesses to develop sustainable services with users at the heart. Sukhvinder
Equality and Elitism – Surely Not?
TedX for Tanner Day, Hertford College Oxford
Saturday 5th September
When it comes to universities, ‘elitism’ is thrown about as a pejorative and yet for athletes, we consider this a prerequisite. Why is it acceptable for a swimmer, dancer or chess master to be elite but not for alumnae of our top universities? Some disappointment would be justified if the British Athletics Association failed to produce Olympians and yet, the public expectations of the Russell Group not just Oxbridge, is debased. No doubt many different reasons account for this, but one is the strong sense that those graduating from these establishments are not necessarily the most intellectually gifted.
Last year, the Commission on Social Mobility and Child Poverty demonstrated that Oxbridge graduates occupy a disproportionately large number of top jobs. Although they comprise less than 1% of the public as a whole, they account for 75% of senior judges, 59% of cabinet ministers, 57% of permanent secretaries, 50% of diplomats, 47% of newspaper columnists, 44% of public body chairs, 38% of members of the House of Lords, 33% of BBC executives, 33% of shadow cabinet ministers, 24% of MPs and 12% of those on the Sunday Times Rich List. The accusation is that they are creating a ‘closed shop at the top’ and ‘locking out a diversity of talents and experiences (that) makes Britain’s leading institutions less informed, less representative and, ultimately less credible than they should be’[i].
Universities should be turning out the most intelligent individuals – those with greatest cognitive ability combined with a restless pursuit of fuller understanding. They should swell the ranks of academics, legislators and philosophers. Certainly, they should be among the decision makers in high office. But instead of nurturing a broad base of intellectuals to develop, explore and scrutinise every aspect of society, universities risk becoming stepping stones for the careers of children from financially privileged backgrounds. This argument is based on the well-established fact that Oxbridge is dominated by pupils from independent schools even though they do less well than their state school peers in their degrees.
Over a decade ago, HEPI – the Higher Education Policy Institute produced data that profiled the achievements of pupils from different types of schools after securing the same standard of A-levels. They demonstrated that children from state schools gain higher degrees[ii]. Despite this, independent schools continue to dominate the top universities. This week’s Telegraph carried the news that pupils from independent schools are twice as likely to attend Russell Group universities and five times as likely to attend Oxbridge, than their peers from state schools[iii]. So… pupils from independent schools are five times as likely to attend Oxbridge than their peers from state schools, even though they are likely to do less well at University.
Part of the problem is an over-reliance in admission on A-level results (and in the case of Oxbridge, entrance exams) . Just as investment managers are obliged to tell you that past performance is no guarantee of future results, A-level results should state that they are a synthesis of the past and not necessarily a prediction for the future. They crystallise achievement rather than promote potential. They may indicate confident and asset rich parents rather than innate ability. Perhaps they are a symptom of years of drilling and acumination. Given a modicum of intelligence, results in A-levels and entrance exams, are an outcome that can be acquired.
The stubborn attachment to performance rather than promise in a student has perpetuated a connection between Oxbridge and the privileged classes that goes back almost a millennium. In his book What are Universities For? Collini writes about the rise and evolution of our most esteemed establishments. Oxford and Cambridge were created as universities around the middle of the twelfth century, essentially as ecclesiastical institutions. They trained ‘future functionaries of state and church, or provided a kind of finishing school’ for the landed gentry[iv]. Not until the Victorian era did the ideal of character formation and teaching of modern subjects like history and natural science take hold. Since then, they have progressed at admirable pace, around 100 years ago, even going as far as opening their doors to women.
Yet, as recently as last year, three independent schools and two colleges could boast sending as many of their pupils to Oxford and Cambridge as 1,800 state schools and colleges. In 2011/12, just 40 schools and colleges provided about a quarter of all Oxbridge entrants. Around 30% of comprehensive schools have at most one or two students progressing to the Russell Group. The proportion of A-level students attending comprehensives and progressing to the country’s 30 most academically demanding universities fell from 23% in 2008/09 to 19% in 2011/12[v]. A small minority of the country’s 2,750 schools and colleges continue to dominate enrollment at prestigious universities.
This must be a transgression. There is no evidence to support the case that a clutch of schools hold the reservoir of academic intelligence. Just as children of wealthier parents have more chance of entering sports like tennis or horse-riding because the costs of professional tutoring may not be so prohibitive for them, similarly, they have more opportunity to do ‘well enough’ to enter the ivy league. Many will exhibit brilliance – but it does not make them all the best. Less well recognised is the extent to which they squeeze out those who haven’t yet peaked. This lazy selection and homogeneous talent pool dilutes intellectual elitism and leads to a mediocrity of its own form, nurturing adequate performance rather than exceptional potential.
There are alternatives. During the Tanner Revolution, Hertford College chose to ignore A-levels and instead, Fellows selected people they wanted to teach. Although somewhat idiosyncratic, this demonstrated the amount of raw talent beyond the usual selection process and heralded the introduction of summer schools and outreach across the university. By contrast, the Sutton Trust offers a Scholastic Attainment Test focusing on aptitude rather than achievement. Others like the University of Birmingham have decided to invest in their own school. Among the benefits, it will help to ensure higher education is not stripped as a choice at an early age, for those from lower socio-economic groups.
But progress is disturbingly slow. Back in 1981, I was plucked from my huge inner city comprehensive to study at Oxford with an unconditional offer based on interview. Like most of my school mates, I was ambitious to learn, but our experiences and the expectations of us were not great. Moving on to ‘poly’ was considered high endeavor. It’s not just economic capital we lacked – but also social capital. Our paths were determined less by earnest parents but more by coming across a teacher in a rare position to influence our choices. Decades later, things have not got any better. The description of the school has barely changed:
Broadway School is a larger than average comprehensive school. It serves an area of significant social and economic disadvantage. The proportion of students known to be eligible for free school meals is well above the national average. The proportion of students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities is well above that found nationally.
I was the first to attend Oxford and the last. At the time, there were certainly others as capable as me and it would be surprising if there were not many more since. But the odds remain stacked against state schools. While one in 20 private school pupils can expect a place at Oxford or Cambridge, only one in a hundred can dream of such opportunity[vi].
This wistful anecdote illustrates that Oxbridge and perhaps other members of the Russell Group aren’t viewed necessarily as ‘centres of highest learning’, but places for people who use it as a stepping stone for their careers - buying into patronage, exclusive networks and bloated salaries. They have precipitated and perpetuated a notion of ‘elitism’ built on privilege rather than promise.
By aligning equality with elitism, Oxbridge and the Russell Group can claim their place as producers of the brightest and most agile minds. Like we expect our athletes to win gold, our academics should be world class. There is no shame in this. Identifying, nurturing and advancing people with the greatest cognitive ability combined with a relentless curiosity and search for understanding, is what our universities should be for.
Without equality of opportunity however, university performance risks being mediocre and further alienating the wider population. The talent pool of youth blessed with mental agility and the sheer determination and wonder to make the most of it, is based on a wide cohort and not just those bestowed with great heritage. The role of the university is to nurture promise rather than respond to privilege. Languishing among those schools striving against the odds, are plenty with the appetite for knowledge and aspiration for learning. It behoves the vanguard of universities to scout and source raw elites, not just those with inherited advantage.
[i] Elitist Britain? (2014), Commission on Social Mobility and Child Poverty Ref: ISBN 978-1-78105-409-3.
[ii] Widening Participation and Fair Access: An Overview of the Evidence (2003), Bahram Bekhradnia for HEPI.
[iii] Race to the Top (2014), Lee Elliot Major for the Sutton Trust.
[iv] What are Universities for? (2012), Stefan Collini. Penguin.
[v] Widening Participation in Higher Education (2014), Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/328475/widen-partic-HE-2014v2.pdf
[vi] Destinations of key stage 4 and key stage 5 pupils: 2011 to 2012 (2014), Department for Education.
Last months report from Collaborate (Supporting Social Change: A New Funding Ecology) commissioned by the Gulbenkian Foundation and the Big Lottery Fund has forced open an aching wound within the voluntary sector. Benevolence rather than common cause, still dominates. Edwardian and Victorian philanthropy, which sits indelibly at the heart of many voluntary sector institutions, is built on and from power inequalities. Whether it’s the sympathetic charity providing for the underprivileged or bountiful foundations grant-aiding worthy organisations, disparities in privilege that pervade society are mirrored and amplified in antiquated practices among donors and fundraisers.
It is easy to underestimate how much the voluntary sector actually belongs to the people and not the philanthropists. When a cause matters to them, they rally around it. Some ten years ago, when I was particularly concerned about the future of the voluntary sector, I persuaded six fellow foundations to form a coalition to fund research into the independence of the sector. The results were notably unspectacular. The research confirmed that managing interdependence and not independence was the issue and that irrespective of the ebbs and flows of funding, voluntary organisations continue to sprout in social gaps. Many of the voluntary sector movements that have changed society, the equality campaigns, awareness of domestic violence and shelter for the homeless for example, were borne off the streets and a direct response to vacuums in social justice.
As a funder at the time, it taught me the power of self-help and the humble role of supporting and facilitating collective response. This is even more, true now. As age-old hierarchies crumble and folk no longer doff their caps, we’ve seen beneficiaries become users and increasingly curators. There has been a recalibration in the position between individuals and the institutions around them. Of course the co-operatives and mutuals have always recognized the imperative of parity. The slow but adamant rise of social enterprise also testifies to the preeminence of values over altruism.
For charities, this means reviewing internal gradients of power and remaining close enough and salient, to the people they serve. For major funders, it means staying vigilant to new and emerging detriment, remaining accessible and, continuing to promote egalitarian relationships. Without this, there is a risk that the charity model becomes increasingly inapt. Sadly, 19th Century concepts of benefactor and beneficiary smack of the stigma of the poor laws and evoke an archaic distinction between privileged and unprivileged. Empowered by twitter, bolstered by choice and driven by compassion, we are all more equal now.
Author of Building Contingent Capacity - enabling organisations to be more responsive to the people they serve and CEO of the Barrow Cadbury Trust 2001 – 2009.
Especially in such impecunious times, there is a clear and justified obligation to demonstrate impact.
For a charity dependent on grants and voluntary funding, accountability and efficiency are
paramount. Funders expect reassurance that each pound is well spent. Stakeholders want to be
confident that public benefit is delivered. Staff motivation is strengthened by knowing they are
making a difference. The goodwill of the public is enhanced by palpable signs of success. Despite
this imperative for proving positive effect, the measures at hand remain archaic and incongruous.
Over-emphasis on counting and responding to short time horizons, undervalues the full potential of
voluntary organisations. It risks mission drift and skews activity away from sustainable
development. Voluntary and community sectors have become prey to the same sort of
commoditisation so prevalent in the public and private sectors. Our beneficiaries are treated as
consumers and the value of what we do is determined by the markets within which we operate.
Within each market, what gets counted, gets valued.
It’s not even that counting is easy. Charities are working extremely hard to establish more
progressive measures of impact. Among the best is St Giles for example, which worked with Pro
Bono Economics to compare re-offending rates among their clients with a group of ex-offenders not
supported by the charity. They reported that for every £1 invested in the service, UK taxpayers
potentially saved £10. These are highly compelling results and a strong indicator that the techniques
deployed by St Giles, are far more effective than those of other providers. But in order to
demonstrate impact, charities like St Giles, have had to adapt to ‘the market’.
In ‘the market’, transactions replace relationships in people’s dealings with one another. Among
what is distinctive and most desirable about the voluntary sector, is the relationship building.
Joining up public services at local level and strengthening social bonds contribute to equality and
cohesion. However, market forces mitigate against such solidarity and it is the attrition of these ties,
that disrupt and disable weaker communities and expose vulnerabilities. Arguably and in extremis,
charities are often patching up the failures of the market economy rather than adding value per se.
Markets favour the strongest consumers and leave the rest to cope. The real impact of a charity
must be its ability to shore up the resistance of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable to the
selective and sometimes Darwinian, effects of the market. Preventative action, such as increasing
independence and self-determination of beneficiaries and their wider communities, is as valuable as
Markets also force ventures to compete rather than co-operate and shield rather than share their
insights. Such action runs counter to the values of the voluntary sector and its commitment to
public benefit. Over the last 50 years, much of the improvements in equality, environment and
justice, have come from networks and coalitions where voluntary organisations have pooled their
knowledge and resources. Personalisation and the breakdown of institutionalised care for example,
have been pioneered by the disability movement; ‘nothing about us- without us’. Increasingly,
public and private sector bodies are realising that service improvement and quality assurance can
come from user involvement and by capturing and learning from the experiences of the public. It
behoves the voluntary sector to adopt measures that promote innovation and service improvement
rather than succumbing to the doctrine of competitive advantage.
When it comes to assessing bangs for the buck, speed is of the essence. Most contracts are
reviewed annually. Longer term commitments are driven by price savings rather than improvements
in results. For many years, I was CEO of the Barrow Cadbury Trust and funded community groups
working with some of the most vulnerable people. WAITS (Women Acting in Today’s Society), based
in Birmingham provided peer support to those experiencing domestic violence. The Barrow Cadbury
Trust provided core funding for over a decade. We provided a series of three –five year grants with
the requirement of reporting back to us every six months. The purpose of the monitoring was to
understand progress and challenges, not to assess impact. But impact has definitely been achieved.
Many of the clients are now advocates and champions for other women. Together, they have
changed public and police tolerance of domestic violence and benefitted numerous families. WAITS
itself has expanded into a diverse organisation supporting women on a variety of issues. It has
developed a strong national and international platform so that the voices of women can be heard.
Changing lives and life chances is a long-term project.
My plea to the voluntary and community sectors is to avoid capitulating to market control in
demonstrating impact. Our beneficiaries are not commodities but individuals who respond to due
care and attention. Our role is not to treat members of the community as consumers, but enable
them to become confident citizens, more engaged and self-determined. In demonstrating impact,
we should not necessarily become better at counting what we do, but valuing what we do. It is what
is valued that should get measured.
Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott emphasizes attention management rather than old fashioned time. Only a couple of weeks ago, Forbes ran an article about executives resorting to performance enhancing drugs. In the hyper competitive digital age, managing complexity and change trounces competence or confidence.
Ninja’s use the CORD Model (collecting all your information, organizing it, reviewing and then doing). Three cascading lists (Projects, Master Actions and Daily To Do), capture every single item consuming your attention. The mind is freed to exist in a zen-like state and a second brain is created where all the pressures are held safely and reliably.
There is nothing super-human about the Ninja – they are a homage to Stephen Covey’s ‘Highly Successful People’. Their secret weapon’s are super new apps like ‘Buddhify’ and ‘Toodledo’. While at times the array of techniques appears quite complicated, the underlying logic is compelling. This is the digital filo-fax that enables every second awake and asleep, to be used productively. It’s worth your attention.
Speaking at a conference on responsible capitalism last month, David Cameron said,
‘ We won't build a better economy by turning our back on the free market...
...we'll do it by making sure that the market is fair as well as free.
While of course there is a role for government, for regulation and intervention...
...the real solution is more enterprise, competition and innovation.’
He could easily have added the role of consumers. Confident consumers can force competitive behaviour, illuminate bad practice and demand fair play – they can help shape markets. Right from the outset, the Coalition Government expressed a clear desire to move away from regulation and ‘find intelligent ways to encourage, support and enable people to make better choices for themselves.’ This was followed up in their ‘Better Choices, Better Deals’ White Paper which set out a consumer empowerment strategy. Alongside advances in technology, there is now the potential to revolutionise approaches to consumer empowerment. Collective switching, crowd clout and access and control of data can displace the traditional emphasis on information and protection.
More capable, knowledgeable and better equipped consumers mean less regulation and greater transparency and public accountability for providers. Already, there are countless examples of price comparison sites, user feedback portal and even apps to navigate the complexities of gaining redress.
But despite the emergence of a wealth of tools, progress remains somewhat fragmented and there is no systematic co-ordination. There is also little understanding of the ‘empowered consumer’. We risk polarising people into the privileged early adopters and the disadvantaged who fall even further behind.
Up to now, Consumer Focus appears to be the only agency that has begun to consolidate and develop practice, wholly in the consumer interest. With CF Labs, its digital unit and the vulnerable and disadvantaged team, it has undertaken robust research on consumer experience and made an impressive start in devising an empowerment agenda. Specific sectors have picked up on this. In social care for example, lead regulator CQC has been prompted to capture user experience to improve quality assurance. In utilities, OFWAT has encouraged companies to establish Customer Challenge Groups to represent the interests of consumers.
There is a strong case for a wider and more organised approach to consumer empowerment. Such an approach would not only provide a support infrastructure to develop and promote tools and techniques for individuals, but also to help consumers working collectively to stimulate corporate social responsibility.
One reason for the limited progress so far, is due to the absence of facilitators and mediators. Consumers, especially those who are vulnerable or disadvantage, often rely on third parties for support. Even ‘average’ consumers appreciate a degree of leadership. Individually, we are just too busy, overwhelmed or impotent against, mighty and impermeable corporations. Of course many pay for support – the legion of lawyers and ambulance chasers indicate the level of need. But many more individuals often turn to trusted charities for help.
Citizen Advice for example, is a beacon of hope for redress. Age UK go as far as bulk purchasing and subsidising for their beneficiaries. Numerous disability charities have successfully lobbied for improved provisions for their clients. However, these organisations rarely view their activities through the lens of consumerism. They are advocates, equality experts and proponents of civil rights. Now, there is an opportunity to engage these facilitators and mediators as champions of consumers. Not only to support individuals and collective action but also to help drive up service standards, promote affordability, stimulate greater product choice and become guardians of fair play.
Up to now, the role of voluntary bodies in empowering consumers has been limited. Government’s commitment to invest in Citizen Advice signalled that voluntary sector intervention was beginning to be valued. The Fuel Poverty Alliance provided a bridge between campaigners and energy suppliers. New research being conducted by NCVO on behalf of Consumer Focus will map out the full extent of voluntary sector activity in the supply of products and services. Voluntary groups can work with and alongside individuals to influence and shape markets, so that the consumer voice and corporate social responsibility attains greater salience.
VCSE in the Emerging Health Economy
Building Contingent Capacity
Equality and Elitism - Surely Not?
Benefactors and Beneficiaries
Citizens Shaping Fairer Markets
Consumers or Citizens?