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NESC Review of Community Call

In 'Community Call: Learning from the Future' NESC looks at how Community Call was established, how it has developed, and the learning from this innovative programme.  It found that organisations working together across boundaries were able to effectively identify vulnerable people and their needs, deliver a range of services to them, and co-ordinate to cover any gaps in service provision. Inter-organisational structures, such as the Community Call Forums led by each local authority, made a significant difference to the ability to coordinate and deliver rapid responses. The community and voluntary sector also played a key role in the work of identifying and supporting the vulnerable.

A range of new structures were set up to co-ordinate work at local level, and to raise issues which could not be resolved at that level, to regional and national level decision-makers who were able to resolve them. Community Call helped local authorities to become more connected to community and voluntary groups in their areas. Changed working practices in, and between, statutory and community and voluntary organisations were also evident, with faster decision-making, and more autonomy given to on-the-ground organisations. Community Call was able to use and adapt existing administrative and IT systems, but has also shown scope for how these could be improved.  The learning from Community Call has important longer term implications for ways of working.  It adds to recent research on Public Participation Networks which are a very effective mechanism on engaging local communitites and local authorities on policy.  It is important to look at the results of these pieces of research and to look at how the innovative aspects of the work can be supported and built on, going forward.  It can provide guidance and inspiration to those seeking to address other problems associated with the pandemic, and beyond it, during Ireland’s recovery.

Six key lessons are identified in the report:

  • Lesson 1: The more granular and cross-cutting way of identifying the vulnerable and their needs in Community Call delivered better services and highlighted gaps;
  • Lesson 2: Community Call helped Local Authorities become more connected to communities and this can provide a basis for re-thinking roles and relationships within local areas;
  • Lesson 3: Changed working practices in, and between, statutory and community and voluntary organisations delivered improved outcomes, and this has important longer term implications for ways of working and funding;
  • Lesson 4: Inter-agency structures made a significant difference to the ability to coordinate and deliver rapid responses;
  • Lesson 5: The community and voluntary sector played a key role in identifying and supporting the vulnerable, and there is a need to look at how such work can be sustained; and
  • Lesson 6: Community Call was able to use and adapt existing administrative and IT systems but has also shown scope for how these could be improved. 

Covid-19 and the Community and Voluntary Sector
The pandemic has shone a light on the major role and value of the community and voluntary sector in the social and economic fabric of our country.  Across the country thousands of community and voluntary organisations are working together with State bodies, schools, our postal service and frontline services to bring supports to those in need, while helping to inform policy on protecting the most vulnerable at national level. 

Community and Voluntary organisations have a long history of providing services and infrastructure at local and national level. They are engaged in most, if not all, areas of Irish society.   They provide huge resources in energy, personnel, finance and commitment that, were it to be sourced on the open market, would come at considerable cost to the State.  They have developed flexible approaches and collaborative practices that are responsive and effective in meeting the needs of diverse target groups. There are an estimated 189,000 employees in registered charitable organisations in Ireland.  Over half of all registered charities have between one and 20 volunteers, with three per cent having 250 or more.  It is estimated that the value of this volunteering work, using the minimum wage, is €648.8 million per year (this increases to €1.5 billion when using the average income)[1].  It is important to note, however, that this report is based on those charities that are required to register with the Charities Regulator, which accounts for approximately 300,536 volunteers.  The CSO put the number of volunteers at nearer one million, when sporting, human rights, religious and political organisations are included. 

During the recession Government funding for the Community and Voluntary sector reduced dramatically and this has not, as yet, been restored.  It is essential that Government appropriately resource this sector into the future and that it remains committed to the principle of providing multi-annual statutory funding.  Government must build on the lessons from the NESC report, and the important role of the community and voluntary sector in responding to local needs.  A strong, thriving and innovative community and voluntary sector is key to vibrant, healthy and engaged communities.