The dedicated Compact worker paradox

Adam PickeringLet me play devil’s advocate: dedicated local Compact workers can be invaluable in getting local Compacts up and running, but can their influence also prevent the Compact from being self-sufficient?

In our forthcoming annual local Compact survey, we will be finding out  whether cuts to local authority budgets have resulted in a reduction in the employment of dedicated Compact workers to support implementation of Compacts around the country. The impression I get from speaking to my contacts around the country is that numbers have dropped significantly.

You don’t say …But this might not be a negative story…

Where resourcing for dedicated Compact worker support is being withdrawn by a local authority, I have noticed that the same rationale often used as justification:

“Over the past X years the council and its partners has succeeded in embedding the Compact into all our partnership activities. As a result we now enjoy excellent relationships with our partners and therefore we feel that we have moved past the point where we need dedicated Compact officer support.”

Now, before you dismiss this as a half-baked excuse for cutting resources to  support the VCS, and in some situations that may be the case. But what if it’s true? Imagine a local area where local partners had embedded the Compact into everything they did, and made this a priority for the past seven or eight years. Imagine that all new staff learned about the local Compact as part of their induction. Imagine that partners regularly came together to align priorities and collaborate to achieve mutual goals, and that even senior leadership figures saw implementing the Compact as a key responsibility. It is feasible that in this area the need for a dedicated Compact worker would genuinely be redundant.

This could go even further; if the Compact has been fully embedded and its values are being demonstrated by all, then having a named person responsible for supporting the Compact could actually be detrimental to its implementation. Indeed, two potential  drawbacks to such an approach are quite easy to spot:

  1. The responsibility problem – by having a person who has a professional responsibility for Compact it can have the equal and opposite effect on other staff. In other words, if people know that someone is responsible, they aren’t.
  2. The ownership paradox – the more successful a Compact worker is in supporting the development and implementation of a local Compact, the greater the vacuum they leave behind when they leave – particularly if the above is true.
However, dedicated Compact workers have been instrumental in establishing and embedding local Compacts. Without dedicated support many of our best local Compacts would never have flourished and so would not be in a position where the worker wasn’t needed.

Still with me? Good.

So if a dedicated Compact support worker is needed to get the Compact going but not once the Compact is fully implemented, aren’t funders justified in ending their resourcing of Compact workers?
Well, in an ideal world maybe. But the current climate is far from ideal. And the hypothetical situation described above is hard to find.

Though many of successful local Compacts that are about to lose (or have already lost) their dedicated Compact worker, none are so well embedded they don’t need some coordination. Indeed, having had the privilege to work with a number of extremely well respected, passionate and influential Compact workers I worry that their impact is being underestimated.
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