Cultural Playing Field

Modernising volunteering structures by Robin Simpson
May 22, 2009, 10:12 am
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On Wednesday afternoon I attended the final meeting of the ‘Modernising Structures Action Group’ – one of six action groups established to follow-up the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Volunteering. This group, chaired by Stephen Dunmore (former Chief Executive of the Big Lottery Fund) has been looking at ways of strengthening and supporting the volunteering infrastructure in England. We heard a presentation from Martin Simon, Executive Director of Time Banks UK, about ‘timebanking’ and the role that Volunteer Centres might play in relation to Time Banks. We also considered an analysis of the roles of ‘Volunteer Champions’ undertaken by The Red Foundation as part of the National Support Service Modernising Volunteering stream. See:

Robin Simpson.


Reviewing the draft NCA Arts Manifesto by Robin Simpson
May 22, 2009, 9:49 am
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On Tuesday I was in London for my regular meeting with Louise de Winter at the National Campaign for the Arts. We discussed in detail the draft NCA Arts Manifesto for the next General Election and I suggested a number of small amendments and additions. It was interesting to compare the new NCA Manifesto with its predecessor from 2004/05: I like the new approach which is more focussed on what the arts can do and why they are important and makes a small number of general demands of government rather than a lengthy and very specific shopping list. I was pleased to see the voluntary arts no longer dealt with in a separate section but fully integrated throughout the manifesto (starting with a mention in the second sentence of the introduction!).

Robin Simpson.

NCVO Members’ Assembly by Robin Simpson
May 15, 2009, 6:28 am
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On Wednesday I was in London to attend the first meeting of the new NCVO Members’ Assembly. NCVO’s recent governance review reduced the size of its Board of Trustees but created the Assembly as a way of retaining the representative voices of all parts of the NCVO membership. The Assembly comprises about 50 people representing geographical regions and thematic electoral colleges: I am one of two representatives of ‘recreation and culture’. All of which sounds fairly formal and stuffy, but there was a determination to make the bi-annual Assembly meetings as informal and creative as possible. Wednesday’s meeting used ‘Open Space’ techniques to allow Assembly members to dictate the agenda and it worked really well. There was a massive noise level in the room throughout the day as people got stuck in to hundreds of intense conversations. Every single person made a substantial contribution to the debates – which is not something you can say very often about a meeting of 50 people! – and the closing comments indicated a high level of enjoyment, enthusiasm and inspiration. I worry a little that this may have created very high expectations – both for the next meeting and for how the NCVO Board uses the ideas and opinions that came out of the Assembly: this is now a key challenge for NCVO. As part of our exploration of the future of civil society, I led a discussion on ‘the conundrum of infrastructure’ (which I still think sounds like an Indiana Jones film!). The key message generated by this discussion was the danger of infrastructure organisations getting too distant from their members and beginning to exist for their own sake. Infrastructure organisations should be less focused on perpetuating themselves and concentrate on enabling their members to do what they do better: we may need to work harder to stay rooted with our members. This might usefully be applied to all infrastructure organisations, including NCVO itself.

Robin Simpson.

Catching up with the Office of the Third Sector by Robin Simpson
May 8, 2009, 9:46 am
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On Wednesday I was at the Cabinet Office in London for my regular meeting with John Knights and Sophie Chapman of the Office of the Third Sector. That morning OTS had published the results of the National Survey of Third Sector Organisations. This survey shows what local authorities need to do to meet their key performance target (National Indicator 7) in relation to the way they work with the third sector in their area. The results showed that third sector organisations who feel they are able to influence local decisions, and those that have some current contact with statutory organisations, are much more likely to feel that local statutory bodies help them to succeed (giving an NI7 score of 75% compared to the overall national score of 16%). Where there is dissatisfaction with the ability to influence local decisions and little or no current contact with local statutory bodies, third sector organisations give an NI7 score of just 3%. Interestingly these factors seem much more important to third sector organisations that whether or not they are receiving funding from local statutory bodies. The full analysis is on the National Survey website at: I was pleased to discover that OTS is about to announce the development of an online participation portal which will direct people to local volunteering opportunities and chances to participate in arts and sports activities. The portal will be available for voluntary arts groups and others to enter their details from September 2009 and will be launched to the general public early in 2010.

Robin Simpson.