Working out how we can play our best role

In developing a new strategy for NCVO, we’re asking some big questions, including:

  • What’s the role of NCVO within the voluntary sector and in relation to volunteering?
  • What activities should NCVO do in the future? What products, services and opportunities should NCVO offer members, the voluntary sector and broader civil society?
  • What should NCVO stop doing?

These are standard questions for a strategy process. The challenge we face, as do all organisations, is that there are many things that NCVO could do. We’re hearing from our members about a wide range of opportunities for us to harness, and challenges for us to address. Our sector is very diverse, and very ambitious.

But we have finite resources. So, the question perhaps is this. How can NCVO play its best role? Of all the things that we could do, where are we uniquely placed to make a difference? Where could we make the biggest impact? Where should we instead support or amplify what others are doing?

To help us answer these questions, we need to know:

  • What do our members and other stakeholders think our role should be?
  • What are other organisations doing? What does the ecosystem of support for the voluntary sector and volunteering look like? Where are others focusing now, and where do they plan to focus in the future?
  • What services are we currently delivering? What needs are these services meeting?

We want to gather lots of data to answer these questions. Taken together, we can then map out how the needs and opportunities that our members and stakeholders want addressed compare to what we currently offer, and to understand what is available from other organisations that we can work with and alongside. We’'ll carry this out by drawing information from three areas.

Three areas of work to inform our understanding

Firstly, to understand the views of our members and other stakeholders we’re running events, calling our members for one-to-one conversations and interviewing other stakeholders. You can find out when and where our events are, and feed in your thoughts here.

Secondly, to understand what other organisations are doing, we’ll be aiming to map out (as far as we can) the many other organisations that work as part of the ecosystem of support. We’re in the early stages of planning this work – if you’ve done anything similar, we’d love to hear from you. We’ll aim to share as much as we can openly.

And thirdly, to understand what we’re currently delivering we’ve started to map out our services. In December, we met with some other charities that are also doing this to share how we’re approaching it and what we’re learning.

Snez from Cancer Research shares her approach to service mapping at the ‘show and tell’ workshop with NCVO, Addaction and British Red Cross
Snez from Cancer Research shares her approach to service mapping at the ‘show and tell’ workshop with NCVO, Addaction and British Red Cross.

In mapping out what our services are, we’re following some principles that we’ve learned from the service design community:

  • A service is something that helps someone to do something.
  • You don’t get to decide what a service is. Your users decide what they need to do and you get to help them.
  • Good services are verbs, not nouns.

Lou Downe, author of a new book on service design, explains the above points brilliantly:

To a user, a service is simple. It’s something that helps them to do something — like learn to drive, buy a house, or become a childminder. It’s an activity that needs to be done. Imagine walking into a crowded room and trying to find a doctor, and only once you've learned her name can you ask her to help you.

Lou Downe, Good services are verbs, bad services are nouns

This means mapping from the perspective of the organisations and people we support, not based on our own names for things, structures or budget lines. It sounds simple in theory but difficult in practice!

Taken together, this work (we hope) will help us make better decisions about our future priorities. The key challenge we’re grappling with at the moment is the right level to aim for – not too granular, and not too high level. We’ll be trying different approaches. It would be great to hear from you if you’ve done a similar exercise and, again, we’ll aim to share as much as we can openly.

Page last updated: 07 January 2020