The consortium developing plans to provide technology support - including circuit riders - to the UK community and voluntary sector now has a substantial web site . It looks as if the aim is to provide comprehensive coverage, and for the consortium to manage, or facilitate, knowledge resources and support nationally and locally:
"The aim of the ICT Consortium is to develop a range of resources that are available locally. Some of these resources (e.g. good practice guidance and discounted deals) will be more effectively developed on a national basis, whilst being accessible locally. Other resources (local consultants and support services) are better developed on a sub-regional (or local) basis."
At the more local level the consortium plans to choose one partner with which to work:
"On a sub-regional level, our intention is to work with one consortium / organisation in each sub-region who will be primarily responsible for developing local resources, and will also act as a principle channel for both raising awareness of the resources available through the consortium and channelling relevant local information back to the ICT Consortium. We envisage that in many areas there will be existing initiatives who can be commissioned to take on this work."
The consortium - whose project management is provided by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations is inviting other organisations to apply to join them within pre-determined guidelines, and I guess this will be a difficult choice for those who may favour a less centralised approach, but fear they could miss out on funding that could be channeled through the consortium.
The web site touches on the rather messy situation that arose last year, when the Home Office Active Community Unit was meant to be developing an infrastructure plan for consultation with the sector, but failed to do so. What happened was the consortium in effect took over the role, so (it seems to me) is both developing national strategy and promoting its own model.
The site explains: "The members of the ICT Consortium have been working with the ACU for over two years as part of the ACU advisory group developing an ICT infrastructure strategy for the sector. In late 2003, we submitted a draft ICT Infrastructure strategy to the ACU as part of the Infrastructure Consultation Exercise.
"The original intention was for the ACU to develop an ICT infrastructure strategy which would go out to consultation across the sector. A final version would then be published by the ACU and this was to have been the framework for assessing proposals for Exemplar funding. However due to slippage in this process, a draft version of the ICT infrastructure was only being formulated at the same time as applications for Exemplar funding were requested.
"Consequently at the time we applied for Exemplar Funding (within an open bidding round) there was no agreed ICT infrastructure strategy, and therefore our Exemplar bid was based on own strategy document.
"The ICT Consortium has received £75k Exemplar funding to develop a business plan over a six month period (April - October 2004), which would provide the basis for implementing the ICT infrastructure strategy developed by the Consortium. The ACU's Capacity Building Infrastructure Framework (CBIF) is currently in draft form and a summary of consultation responses was published in May 2004. It is anticipated that a final version will be published in June 2004. We will be having an ongoing discussion with the ACU as to how the CBIF and the consultation around this may impact on our work."
My declaration of interest: I'm a member of the DirectSupport consortium that also has - with partners - six month funding to develop proposals, although I'm not directly involved in the project. Their proposals aim to build on the skills and resources of local community-based technology centres. I shall be interested in whether the two groups join forces.
I'm a little cautious of further comment, since my earlier posting Circuit riders scoop the pool - maybe seemed to ruffled some feathers, even after corrections. I had a meeting with the NCVO project manager, and thought we had agreed to an email interview to clear up any points. Nothing came of that, but the web site does cover the points of substance, and provides the key documents as downloads so I'm not complaining, or criticising the consortium (please note:-).
However, I do think that the consortium have ended up in a difficult situation not of their making. Their infrastructure model - however well worked out - is only one of the ways that support might be delivered. Because the Home Office failed to offer any independent consultation the consortium proposal has become the de facto strategy. NCVO - as it says on its web site "works with and for the voluntary sector in England by providing information, advice and support and by representing the views of the sector to government and policy-makers".
On that basis, one can understand that the Home Office - which funds NCVO - might feel that NCVO and others in the consortium - including the National Association of Councils for Voluntary Service - are the main people to deal with, and anyone else should just join in the show. Maybe everyone will be happy, and I'm just stirring things up for the sake of another posting (as blogalysts do). If so apologies. Let's see what happens on the consortium web site when the forum there opens. Meanwhile I'm delighted to invite comments below.