07.11.2011 0 Comments

Genuine community engagement isn’t built in a day …

Genuine community engagement isn’t built in a day …

In recent months, I’ve been struck how different this Coalition Government’s approach to project funding is from the previous administrations.

The most striking difference is whereas the previous government was happy to provide 100% of funding to underpin the full costs of delivering a particular project, this government is much more interested in leveraging value out of the market, using co-financing models that require bidders to bring additional ‘match funding’ to the bid. Notwithstanding the current financial pressures in the public sector, it perhaps comes as no surprise that a centre-right administration favours such a ‘free-market’ approach which is predicated on a principle that encouraging the market to co-invest in delivering public services will encourage higher levels of entrepreneurship and stimulate greater levels innovation.

Another thing that has become apparent to me of late is how challenging some parts of the public sector can find it to deliver co-investment projects, particularly where they have had a long legacy of delivering using top down ‘welfare led’ delivery models.

Firstly, in my experience many people simply miss the clues that the funder can sometimes plant in their call for proposals, indicating they’re looking for solutions that are based on a co-financing approach. In a number of recent cases I have seen, some funders simply haven’t explicitly stated this was their desire, favouring instead to litter their specifications with euphemism’s like ‘value for money’, ‘partnership’, ‘stimulating economic development’ and ‘innovative models’. In truth, these phrases appear to have been used by the funder as clues for their desire to encourage bidders to bring forward bids which are build on shared investment models.

In addition, many bidders simply lack the skills or experience in community engagement and partnership facilitation, to bring forward investment from the market – particularly if they have been used to ‘top down’ or corporate’ delivery models.

In order to be genuinely successful at building co-investment models, you need to identify who the major partners are for your potential bid, pull them into a room and discuss with them what ‘gap funding’ they need from the public purse to change their behaviour or to take a particular course of action.

Notwithstanding the difficulties some organisations experience in identifying partners for their potential bid, many simply find it’s just simply too difficult to get genuine engagement with partners. Securing investment can sometimes take two or three meetings, and may need to be part of a facilitated process, rather than a simple one off request. In addition, it can often require board level agreement from your partners to commit ‘match’ funding to a bid. Notwithstanding these project governance issues, building the content and the text for ‘bottom up’ bids is often more time consuming and complex than more traditional ‘top down’ approaches.

Government sometimes hasn’t helped the process – issuing funding calls at very short notice and giving very little time for organisations to genuinely engage with the market to encourage them to bring forward additional investment.

In my experience, the public sector managers that tend to perform best at rising to the challenge of the ‘new’ funding model that central government is increasingly asking the public sector to adhere to, are those that already operate in sectors where there is already an established culture of Community Development, Partnership Working or Supply Chain Development.

In these sectors, managers tend to recognise that the outcomes they are capable of delivering are built on the capability of their partners. Many of them have already developed well established, robust mechanisms for engaging with their supply chain partners and will find it easy to work with their partners to respond to a funding opportunity which might arise which asks for a co-investment model.

Conversely, those that have no history of engagement will struggle to turn a quality bid around in sufficient time.

Perhaps the best way to overcome this situation, is for managers in the public sector to recognise that the current penchant for ‘private sector’ or ‘market led’ (rather than ‘state-led’) delivery models is unlikely to go away; and build strong alliances with their supply chains and local businesses, in the event that central government issues a potential call for funding.  

Whilst this might still be a challenge – as many businesses will still need a reason to engage – its perhaps a little less challenging than trying to convince them to co-invest in a project to deliver public sector outcomes at very short notice and from a standing start. After all forewarned is forearmed!

Jim Sims is Head of Strategy & Development at Ngage, to discuss bidding strategy or bid writing support email jim.sims@ngagesolutions.co.uk or call 01865 568 954.

Photo courtesy of TaxBrackets.org