Competition or collaboration? Working together as the women’s sector
We are all aware of the rapidly changing environment in which we are working. Not only is there less money available for the voluntary sector in the form of grants, the ‘opening up’ of service providers means organisations are more likely to compete against each other to deliver contracts. The myriad of policy changes that are occurring simultaneously – within the NHS, Local Authorities, police and community safety, devolved decision-making and public sector cuts – makes this a difficult time for women’s organisations. Not only do they have to deliver their services on tighter budgets, but they are often facing increasing demand for their services, more stringent monitoring and evaluation processes to demonstrate their effectiveness, having to link into local structures and decision-making forums, campaign for the visibility of women’s issues within these structures and so on.
WRC is aware that for our membership organisations, many of which are small and have limited capacity, it is a daunting time. However, it is important to remind ourselves that many organisations share the same concerns and with increased collaboration and partnership working, we can keep on top of, as well as benefit from, the opportunities that these changes are bringing about.
WRC has always campaigned for and supported specialist women’s organizations. We continue to emphasise their ongoing need and importance at a time when generic and bigger organisations are in better positions to bid for, and win service delivery contracts. In response to the limitations of commissioning practices that often overlook smaller and/or specialist organisations, partnership and collaboration between organisations is the best way to ensure that expertise is not lost through the closure of organisations and loss of staff. We want all women to get the services that best meet their needs.
This briefing was prompted primarily by the changes happening to Community Safety Partnerships and their funding, which is being transferred to the new Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), who will be elected into post in November. Their introduction also sees them becoming responsible for all violence against women funding streams. These will no longer be ring-fenced to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG). While it is still unclear what funding streams this will actually include, we are concerned that it is likely to include Home Office funding for MARAC’s, ISVAs and IDVAs and Ministry of Justice funding for Rape Crisis Centres. After 2014/15, these funding streams may even cease to exist all together.
With funding for women’s organisations delivering VAWG services on increasingly shaky ground, and the Localism Act ushering in an era of wholesale devolved decision-making and structures with little attention to equality issues, the impacts on the diversity and specialisms of the women’s sector could be dire.
However, it also presents an opportunity for greater collaboration and partnership working to ensure that services are not duplicated, smaller and larger organisations can co-exist, and women can access the services that best meet their needs. In fact, this may be the only way in which smaller and/or specialist organisations can survive the next few years.
One of the recommendations we make about the changes that are happening with the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners is for the VAWG sector in each police area to meet and begin to strategise as a sector. This is because PCCs will be responsible for commissioning local VAWG services as part of their remit to tackle crime, provide victim services and improve community safety. A collaborative approach by the women’s sector would ensure that all organisations, including those that are smaller and specialist are not sidelined.
Whilst an ‘intelligent’ commissioning approach would encourage a bigger range of service providers to deliver services, we know in reality that this rarely happens. Contracts are, in many cases, awarded to those organisations with the capacity to cover wide areas at a relatively low cost. For example, individual, women-only organisations delivering normally either ‘only’, ‘domestic’ or ‘sexual violence’ services (even though it is obviously so much more that ‘just’ this), will stand less of a chance of winning funding to deliver services because of their perceived ‘narrower’ remit and geography than larger generic organisations such as housing associations, which often have little or no expertise in the issues around violence. Working in partnership with other organisations to bid for funding (whether for grants or contracts) makes it easier to argue that you deserve the money because:
a) You make it easier for the commissioner who prefers to award only one grant or contract to deliver all VAWG services in their area
b) It means a more co-ordinated, joined up and efficient service for women and no duplication of services
c) You can pool your evidence that demonstrates the extraordinary value of your organisations and services (e.g. through all of your monitoring and evaluation, broader research about the value and benefits of women-only services, why the women’s sector is unique and value for money, how the different needs of different, marginalised groups of women will be met because of the range of expertise and specialisms that make up the partnership etc.)
It is also good for the sector as it promotes a more unified and collaborative working approach, retains the expertise and independence of individual organisations rather than closing or being taken over, as well as sharing of good practice. In a time of cuts and gender blindness at local level, partnership working may offer the only solution to retaining (and hopefully growing) existing women-only, specialist services.
What forms of partnership working are there?
A Women’s Network brings together a range of women’s organisations in a particular area primarily to raise the profile of the women’s sector locally and do joint local lobbying and campaigning work for the benefit of the sector and women-only services e.g. NE Women’s Network, WHEC.
[button link=”https://thewomensresourcecentre.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/stronger_together_leaflet.pdf” color=”silver”] Download[/button] For more information, here’s our Stronger Together leaflet
Interested in getting involved? Contact the WRC Policy Team.
The PCC will in all likelihood have limited knowledge of intelligent commissioning practices, nor the benefits of women-only and specialist services. A Network that can deliver these key messages and lobby within the new local structures will be better placed to win funding to deliver their services, and ensure that the needs of vulnerable women are met by local services. In addition, a women’s network could feed into the local Safer Future Communities network.
A number of women’s organisations can also come together under a more formal, contractual arrangement where they can then bid as a partnership to deliver services e.g. WSSN case study
The PCC will be in charge of the budget to tackle crime and promote community safety. They will be able to award contracts to organisations delivering services that meet these aims. The VAWG sector is well placed to deliver on reductions in the number of crimes being perpetrated (e.g. through their perpetrator programmes or by providing refuge space that limits the exposure of women to further incidents of domestic and/or sexual violence).
Having a partnership of organisations that can deliver all VAWG services in an entire police area will stand a greater chance of being awarded this contract rather than individual organisations. Not only because of the capacity of the partnership to deliver more services across a wider area, but also because they will be better able to demonstrate how they can meet the needs of different groups of vulnerable women through one contract e.g. BME women, refugee women, women who have experienced sexual violence, those with drug and alcohol dependencies etc.
Benefits of partnership working
|Benefits for smaller and/or specialist women’s organisations||Benefits for larger and/or more generic women’s organisations||Benefit for the women’s sector, women-only services and women|
|More likely to win contracts to deliver services for victims of violence as part of a partnership||Don’t have to ‘buy in’ specialist expertise of service deliverers||Women-only services are protected and not replaced by generic and/or mixed organisations|
|Shared load of a limited capacity||Opportunity to support smaller, specialist organisations, their input and expertise is useful in service planning and delivery||Women’s sector has a stronger voice at local level in terms of decision-making for the benefit of women in the area|
|Opportunity to retain specialist service/staff/expertise||Greater strength of collaboration that puts you in a stronger position against generic organisations when bidding for contracts||A sector that can share resources, knowledge and build capacity will be more efficient|
|Retain independence of your organisation and expertise of your staff||Retain independence of your organisation and expertise of your staff||More diverse sector better able to meet women’s needs|
Overcoming barriers to partnership working
1. Logistics and practical knowledge of building partnerships and networks
The first step is to see if there are any women’s sector networks, forums or partnerships in your area. If there are, it is worth getting in touch if you want to be involved and build on the work that is already taking place. To see a list of Safer Future Communities networks and find your local network contact, go to: Safer Future Communities network contact
If you are thinking of setting up a formal partnership to bid for service contracts, it may be worth approaching existing women’s sector partnerships for advice. At any rate, local mapping is a must, if only to avoid duplication and possible tensions and conflicts further down the line. See WRC’s membership map for help with your local mapping exercise.
This document is crucial reading if you are thinking about setting up a network, partnership or forum
For an example of an existing partnership’s contract please click here:
2. Overcoming existing divisions within the sector locally
Organisations are set up at various times and in various contexts. The increasingly marketised environment, coupled with the lack of grant funding available to voluntary organisations inevitably creates a more competitive environment, which can impact on how organisations relate to each other. While there may be perfectly legitimate limitations as to when and how organisations can work together, WRC would like to suggest that divisions based on a reaction to increased competition should be reconsidered.
WRC’s function as an umbrella body for all women’s organisations means our focus is on promoting a diverse and thriving sector. If a ‘protectionist’ strategy by individual organisations is adopted (e.g. working independently, larger organisations ‘taking over’ smaller, specialist organisations etc.), in the long term we will see a diminished sector, both in terms of the number of organisations, specialisms, expertise and collective voice. We would ask larger organisations to be mindful of their ‘position’ in relation to other organisations (primarily in terms of funding, resources and capacity) and to seek a more collaborative strategy that will benefit the whole sector (and therefore different groups of women).
Thrashing out differences and expectations is a must before embarking on any kind of collaborative project. Professional, independent and strong facilitation can be sought here e.g. for joint visioning exercises. While this is imperative for formal partnership arrangements, it is also useful to bear in mind for other sorts of collaborative working e.g. local campaigning projects. For more information please contact our development team.
3. Building local knowledge
There may be existing networks, forums and partnerships in your area, which could be built upon rather than starting from scratch. If you are not involved already in a local women’s sector network, click on our membership map to see if there are any you can contact in your area as an important step towards building an increasingly collective voice at local level.
Many organisations will already be linked into various local networks and forums. It is worth having a discussion about how they will operate differently as a reaction to the changes in decision-making structures and funding and commissioning decisions.
4. Making a business case
These pages on WRC’s website have links to a number of documents that you may find useful when thinking about how to promote your specialist work to commissioners and funders.
The links here provide evidence of the need of VAWG services, as well as existing strategies that can be used as levers to build your case:
- Keeping it Legal: A guide for third sector organisations on public law and equality rights (November 2009). Explores how groups can use public law to challenge unfair decision making.
- Demonstrating the economic, social and environmental impacts of your work (Social Return on Investment)
- WRC’s research into the importance of the women’s voluntary and community sector.
- Facts and statistics on women’s inequality in the UK
- Useful policy and research on violence against women and girls
- Women’s organisations’ expertise and experience mean they have valuable contributions to make to policy and public debates and responding to consultations can also be a way to raise awareness about the work you do. See WRC’s responses to policy consultations for examples of how you can do this
Making the case for your work:
These resources can help you with supporting a case for your work with funders and government. They can be used as evidence and in lobbying work and should support the work you are already doing with other research and information.
These practical factsheets take you through some of the key ways in which you can make your organisation more financially stable.
We’ll be adding more resources to this page over the next few months. Contact us with your suggestions for factsheets you’d like to see.
The Safer Future Communities Partnership, funded by the Home Office to ensure the voluntary and community sector are aware of and engaging with the changes happening with the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners, has commissioned some work you may find useful locally. You will be able to view statistics from each police force area pertaining to the Home Office priorities, one of which is violence against women and girls. This data can be used by you to make the case of prevalence of VAWG and that such services are needed. This information will be available shortly, and a link will be provided in due course.
Other useful publications that provide VAWG data broken down into regions are:
Other useful WRC publications are:
Case study: Women’s Strategic Services Network, Brighton
Follow the link for a summary of this successful partnership of four organisations in Brighton:
For more information about developing any of these issues further in your local area, please contact email@example.com