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Overview:

Working towards Big Local outcomes

Overview

This section explores areas progress against the four Big Local outcomes of:

  • Communities being better able to identify local needs and take action in response to them.
  • People having increased skills and confidence, so that they continue to identify and respond to needs in the future.
  • The community is making a difference to the needs it prioritises.
  • People feel that their area is an even better place to live.

Summary

Big Local areas were set the following broad outcomes at the start of the programme:

  • Communities being better able to identify local needs and take action in response to them.
  • People having increased skills and confidence, so that they continue to identify and respond to needs in the future.
  • The community is making a difference to the needs it prioritises.
  • People feel that their area is an even better place to live.

In reality, partnerships struggle to express these as four separate and discreet outcomes with, in most cases, the first three being subsumed into an even better place to live. Further, Big Local areas are working on diverse issues to address these outcomes and the needs expressed by their communities. These range from play and youth work provision, undertaking environmental improvements, providing access to work support, benefits advice and addressing substance misuse. Delivery mechanisms also vary. Some areas focus on small grants to grass roots groups whilst others have entered into service level agreements with delivery partners or undertaken substantial capital projects.

In terms of progress against each outcome:

  • Communities being better able to identify local needs and take action in response to them.
    Partnerships, in the plan development stage, undertook a wide range of consultation activities. As they have moved into delivery this has been less of a priority, though partnerships are aware of the need to keep the wider community informed and engaged.
  • People having increased skills and confidence, so that they continue to identify and respond to needs in the future.
    There is evidence that some partnerships and the individuals involved have developed the confidence to take difficult and complex decisions. Big Local partnerships, often through delivery partners, are developing the skills of local residents (e.g. access to employment) and the capacity of community groups locally.
  • The community is making a difference to the needs it prioritises.
    Big Local partnerships have, in some instances, made a difference to the physical environment locally (e.g. green spaces/play areas) or have plans to do so where this has been identified as a priority. Individuals interviewed also reported that involvement with the partnership (or Big Local supported projects) had made a difference to their physical and mental wellbeing.
  • People feel that their area is an even better place to live.
    Residents and partners report a range of ‘soft’ outcomes in relationship to this goal; the area had more activities – or services that were under threat had been protected. A greater level of community cohesion, reduced levels of social isolation and a better feeling about the community were also reported in some Big Locals.

Overall, whilst many areas have made real achievements, early progress against the defined outcomes has (inevitably, given the nature of the programme) been slower than anticipated and uneven. Whilst some have achieved their early objectives others have struggled and become ‘bogged down’ in issues of governance and partnership incorporation. Partnerships also report challenges in terms of engaging the wider community in the working of Big Local and can struggle to connect everyday activities in their area with their strategic vision for Big Local. Whist change was reported by and for individuals and some groups, the ‘ripple effect’ of this into the wider community is, as yet, unclear.

Reflecting on progress to date, the key learning includes:

  • Change, and embedding Big Local as a way of working takes time and is not a linear process
  • Residents interviewed valued the more open-ended commitment of Big Local and delivery partners – rather than the increasing policy focus on brief interventions
  • Like most area-based initiatives, measuring the impact of, and attributing change to, Big Local beyond anecdotal evidence can be challenging
  • Wider community engagement can be problematic
  • There are risks that partnerships become enmeshed in routine day to day management and activity at the cost of providing strategic direction and relating routine activity to their original vision for their community.

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