The surprising and the difficult
Twelve months ago, after an intensive assessment process, we selected the seven pioneering local authorities that we would work with to adapt Cities of Service to the UK.
It’s been an incredible effort from all the cities to hire Chief Service Officers (CSOs), identify initiatives, develop impact metrics and get the initiatives up and running. We’re still very early on in the journey but learning a vast amount on the way. Here are some of our reflections so far.
If you’ve seen one Cities of Service, you’ve seen one Cities of Service…
Although there are standard principles of impact focused initiatives, cross-partnership working and strong leadership, we’ve seen very different implementations of the model: from who is selected as ambassador to how each initiative is implemented. It’s been really interesting to see the different approaches each city has taken to governance for example: some opting for a very broad Steering Group incorporating partners and the wider voluntary sector, whereas other have opted for a small strategic group made up of internal decision makers, or using existing reporting forums.
Some are recruiting volunteers through specific volunteer partners and others have done an open call through local press and media to generate interest. Each city is using their locally branded website in different ways - Portsmouth Together has aspirations to be a central point of volunteering for the city whereas I’m In Kirklees is more focused on their two Cities of Service initiatives.
We can’t say that any one model is better than the other but we will be interested to see whether one format or another makes for greater impact in initiatives or an ability to create a broader culture change in the councils and cities.
You need to plan enough time to develop a plan
It took 9 months to get the Service Plans developed and in reality there are still elements that are being tweaked for individual initiatives. There was lots of iteration needed to test the assumptions for each initiative to understand how they would deliver impact, what metrics would be used to measure it and to develop the delivery plan.
We’ve had to manage expectations about what can be delivered in the initial 12 months, but it has helped tremendously in thinking about what needs to be in place before initiatives can start. Many of the initiatives are already underway – you can now plant bulbs in Barnsley or become an Energy Champion in Plymouth for example – and the remainder are due to start early in 2015.
Associates have been able to get up and running much quicker
Despite not having a dedicated post to lead the programme, the 3 Associate cities (Barnsley, Swindon and Telford & Wrekin) have been able to get their programmes up and running very quickly. They’ve had to use existing resources and teams and been able to build on existing relationships rather than needing to establish themselves internally and externally as Chief Service Officers have had to. Whilst the Associate cities are only focusing on one or two initiatives, it’s been interesting to see how these are already starting to yield results despite having less dedicated resource.
Deciding on your impact metrics is just the start
One of the main aims of Cities of Service is to have a stronger impact story and evidence base when it comes to making the case for volunteering. But this is important because we know it’s hard to do! Capturing community level impact, such as pride in the neighbourhood after community clean-ups or demonstrating greater social cohesion is challenging. It’s not something that can be easily measured with a simple survey.
Through the process of developing a Theory of Change and completing a detailed Impact Metrics Framework with an Evaluation Consultant, each city identified what they wanted to measure and how - but the reality of doing so has been much harder. It has been a key lesson that operational staff need to be in the conversation about collecting data if there’s any chance of it happening the way you need it to. It’s also good to remember that when there are dependencies outside of the programme - for example council-wide surveys - you need to have a back-up plan in place in case they change.
Unsurprisingly, people don’t do what you expect them to
Getting volunteers hasn’t always been the biggest challenge, with many initiatives such asPride In Your Community in Telford having much greater interest than expected. Sometimes it’s the people they’re trying to help that have been the bigger barrier.
For Circles of Support in Swindon, which matches local volunteers with older people with low-level social care needs, volunteers have been coming forward thick and fast but there’s been a lot more persuasion needed to engage older people in the programme. Households in Portsmouth are really enthused about Love Your Loft, but many are happy to help themselves to clear their lofts ready for insulation rather than need volunteer support.
In Plymouth, fewer families than expected have responded to the initial call to receive free fruit and veg for a year, though there has been lots of demand from social housing tenants. It demonstrates the need to really test the initial assumptions in initiatives to understand that there is sufficient demand for the service within the target cohort.
But the response has already been very positive – even before initiatives have really got going!
The Chief Service Officers and city leads have shown a real appetite to build the movement beyond the initial initiatives, using their role to engage current and potential partners across the city. The Cities of Service programme and brand has helped them to engage with others internal and external of the council, and they’re already getting positive feedback from other departments about potential initiatives.
Portsmouth are already thinking about how they can support the America’s Cup through Portsmouth Together; Love Where You Live is becoming a well-recognised symbol in Barnsley; and Our Plymouth is being used as a starting point to think about other inequalities in the city. There remains a balance between wider movement building and delivering impact per initiative, but the response has already been very positive to what Cities of Service can achieve.
This has all been invaluable learning as we think about how Cities of Service could be adapted from the US to the UK context. As we ring in the New Year, we’ll be looking forward to the next phase of lessons and surprises in the journey.
Photo credit: Daniel McDermott via Flickr