A fond farewell

This week will be my final week working as manager of Compact Voice. To say a lot has changed over the last four years since I joined the team is an understatement. I started with a small team of four others, working alongside the Commission for the Compact and colleagues in what was then the Office of the Third Sector, just as the consultation on the second Compact was closing.

The second draft of the Compact lasted for about six months, and while the Commission for the Compact lasted for a year after that, by the time the third Compact had been launched, the political landscape had changed. Now, nearly three years later, the team has expanded to eight, our engagement is more structured and rewarding, and the reputation of the Compact and those who work on it has increased.

When it was launched in December 2010, the renewed Compact polarised opinion, like much connected with the Compact often has. But government continued to state its commitment to it, twelve years after it was first launched by the previous administration, announcing high profile measures intended to strengthen its use.

But implementation of a voluntary agreement is always tricky. Some have argued that the Compact needed more teeth to ensure it was used. And subsequent policies issued by this government have seemed to challenge some of the principles the national Compact contains. Throughout this, I have continued to promote its use and importance.

Sometimes it's because working in partnership leads to better policies. Other times it's because it can halt or minimise the potential damage caused by unfavourable or ill-conceived policies. In some instances, it's a matter of principle. Mostly though it's because these are the undertakings we negotiated and agreed on behalf of the sector to represent its best interests, and ensuring their use is the right thing to do.

I've learnt a lot over the last four years, and thought I would share my personal views on some things which I think could be done to implement the Compact more effectively:

  1. Compact proofing as a requirement for new central government policy, based on mutually agreed principles designed to get the best outcomes for both sides
  2. A working group for every local Compact, linked to a broader cross-partnership working group and spanning different Compact agreements
  3. Recognising the subjective nature of occasionally negative experiences. The Compact is not always bad because it didn't do x or y. Partnership working isn't always arduous or time-consuming just because it might have been in the past. Tokenistic engagement doesn't mean all consultations are failures.
  4. Policy makers and experts - show your working. You will be considered as much on what you don't say as what you do. Be explicit. Be transparent. Offer reassurance rather than reaction.
  5. If it's important, make sure it's embedded. If it's valuable, make sure it's resourced. If it's not ideal, own up to it.

With these things in mind, I also thought I would share five achievements which I'm particularly proud of:

  1. The Compact being named by No. 10 as a cross-departmental business plan priority. It's only the second year that this has happened, and while more needs to be done, it's getting better, and has the potential to be a very powerful tool
  2. Local engagement and research. We have a brilliant team of engagement officers, and a fantastic researcher who provides support. We know what local areas think, we know how the Compact works locally, we know that what we are saying and doing is based on the needs and interests of our members and networks. I'm proud of that.
  3. Conversions. Sometimes Damascene changes of mind, both locally and nationally, across both sectors, and involving individuals and organisations. Some of the changed minds locally have been astounding.
  4. 15 years later, the importance of working in partnership with the voluntary sector remains a priority. The Compact may be in many ways an imperfect tool, but if there wasn't there, I would guarantee there would be a call for something which ended up being like it.
  5. We can pick up the phone to most government departments or local areas and find out who to speak to about key issues. True success will be when they call us first, and that is happening more and more.

This is a farewell blog, and a lengthy one at that. I am proud of the fact that the Compact feels and seems in better shape than it did four years ago. There are some who will never be convinced, never be persuaded, always expect the worst from governments locally and nationally. And honestly, I don't think the Compact is for them.

The phrase I stumbled onto which gradually became cliché was that the Compact works best at the beginning rather than at the end of relationships. And you have to want it to work, and want it to continue to work for it to make a difference. I’ve been lucky that I’ve worked with some amazing people over the years who want this too.

So the hardest thing about leaving will be the people; challenging, passionate, maddening, skilled, often brilliant and a joy to be around. And that's just the team. And while the same applies for many external contacts in our networks and in government departments, so many of whom I've genuinely treasured working with, it's the team here I will miss the most. Thanks for all the support. You are all awesome.

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