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Learning Partner to the Test, Learn & Review Initiative – exploring voluntary and faith sector relationships with Primary Care Networks (PCNs) in neighbourhoods

IVAR will work as a Learning Partner to the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System, alongside voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise sector (VCFSE) partners and Primary Care Networks (PCNs) in five areas, namely Central Lancashire, Pennine, Blackpool Wyre & Fylde, West Lancashire and Morecombe Bay/South Cumbria to facilitate emerging learning across a range of partners as part of the Test, Learn & Review initiative.


This initiative aims to look at ways to harness the leadership, power and capacity of communities to improve their own health and wellbeing. This in the context of the changing role of commissioning with a more community centred focus, in a future Integrated Care System (ICS).


This will involve two main areas of work:


  • Facilitate a learning process amongst this group of VCFSE partners, PCNs and Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS around topics of common interest to the group. IVAR will provide bespoke learning support to the five areas to help them embed this initiative.


  • Share learning from this experience of the five neighbourhoods and show case it for all other primary care networks in the Lancashire and South Cumbria footprint

Evaluation and Learning Partner to the Community Leadership Academy

Local Trust has funded Just Ideas and IVAR to work alongside the new three year Community Leadership Academy in a collaborative and creative way throughout its lifetime. The Community Leadership Academy provides a unique mix of support, training and personal development to Big Local residents making their neighbourhoods better places to live.


Just Ideas and IVAR will together undertake the role of Evaluation and Learning Support Partner throughout this programme. We will help Local Trust learn how best to develop leadership within Big Local and use creative methods to reflect on the process and track change.  


Created by Local Trust in partnership with Koreo, the Young Foundation and Northern Soul, the Community Leadership Academy provides structured support for community-led change as part of the Big Local programme and aims to increase understanding and investment in community leadership skills.


The Community Leadership Academy consists of a range of individual and group sessions, including personal coaching, to work on their own strengths and leadership style, develop leadership in others and set strategy.


Running from 2020-21 it is designed to identify and support local residents so they are equipped to shape the future of their communities.


The Community Leadership Academy is a Big Local support offer. Providing at least £1m to each of 150 communities in England,  Big Local is funded by The National Lottery Community Fund and managed by Local Trust.


Trust, power and collaboration: Funding relationships

Newcastle Business School (part of the University of Northumbria) is drawing together case studies on the way people and organisations are approaching better ways to understand local commissioning processes and manage performance. Complexity-informed practice looks at different forms of accountability and has a focus on building a healthy system, developing trust and relationships, joint learning and capturing the effects on users of services.

IVAR has been funded by Tudor Trust to support and add value to this research by extending its scope to include a specific focus on Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) organisations. The overarching aim of this additional work is to consider the implications and requirements (e.g. skills and relationships) of new and different approaches to commissioning for VCS organisations. We will facilitate a series of conversations with VCS organisations, which we expect to focus on the themes of trust, power and collaboration.

This will contribute to a more complete picture of what is needed to ensure systems work for the people they are designed to serve, both locally and nationally.

Learning partner for Comic Relief intermediary funding

IVAR will work with Comic Relief as the Learning Partner for their work with intermediary funders in the UK to support reflection and learning of their processes and experiences. We will support Comic Relief and its partners to question, learn from and adapt the work in real time. In practice, ‘working alongside’ will include acting as a sounding board; sense-making; synthesising both informal and formal data; and facilitating group conversations. Given the exploratory and innovative nature of this initiative, IVAR will ensure that it creates a space within which it feels safe to share, challenge and question – in part, that will require careful preliminary thought about the appropriate role for Comic Relief in the process. The aim will be to create relationships of trust that allow for candid dialogue outside of the constraints of grant management.

This will involve two main areas of work:
  • Facilitate a learning process amongst this group of intermediary funders and Comic Relief around topics of common interest to the group
  • Support Comic Relief to reflect on and test some of the assumptions that underpin our approach to working with intermediary funders

Thinking about… risk

Funded by the IVAR Research Development Fund, in partnership with William Grant Foundation.

IVAR research on funding practices and grant making processes has brought to light issues of concern to many funders, relating both to risk management and appetite for taking risks. In particular, our recent work suggests that there can be a lack of alignment within trusts and foundations in terms of understanding ‘what risk means to us’ and how it is best measured and mitigated. This can be especially marked in relation to the funding of smaller organisations who, in an operating environment characterised by turbulence and uncertainty, continue to engage with society’s hardest to reach groups, working holistically and in ways that are responsive to different contexts, with income trajectories that remain volatile.

Five funders (The National Lottery Community Fund, United St Saviour’s Charity, City Bridge Trust, Blagrave Trust, Community Foundation for Northern Ireland) agreed to take part in the research, which explored what this operating environment requires from funders in terms of risk culture and processes. We are considered risk in relation to the application, assessment and decision making stages of grant making, in order to draw out possible ways in which funders might rethink and reframe ‘risk’. 

We have developed a framework which we are now looking for funders to help us test, here

Logos together

Connecting for Change

Help on Your Doorstep aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people in Islington, especially those who are vulnerable and isolated. The programme aims to work with residents to find solutions to the issues which make life difficult, strengthen communities to do more for themselves and enable people to improve their life chances. IVAR has been appointed to conduct a four year evaluation on the Connecting for Change programme to assess its effectiveness. The approach will be formative, collaborative and aimed at informing Help on Your Doorstep’s future activity, as well as generating learning for relevant partners in Islington and the broader social sector.

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust commissioned the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) to review its approach to the Avoidable Blindness Programme.

The purpose of this review is to share the Trust’s experience of working over a relatively short timeframe to achieve strategic focus and deliver impact at scale and to identify learning that may be of value to other independent funders, both in the UK and further afield. 

Exploring opportunities to align grant reporting

‘Funder-led. Bureaucratic. Time-consuming. Misunderstood.’ All words that have been used to describe UK grant reporting – the process (or processes) by which charities report their progress to funders. No matter how simple and clear an individual funder’s system might be, the current approach forces charities to repackage similar information for different funders, on different dates, with different word counts and in different formats.  

A group of funders and charities have developed a set of principles to make grant reporting a shared, more meaningful and mutually beneficial experience. These have now been published, and are being tested by nine independent funders. We are asking for feedback from UK charities and charitable trusts and foundations. 

Read more about the project here, or get in touch to join the group of funders testing the principles. 

Economic assessment of assets in community ownership- Power to Change

A study for Power to Change working in partnership with Centre for Regional Economic & Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University. We will exploring community-owned assets through; literature review; mapping; economic assessment and case studies in local authorities.

Trust for London evaluation of funding plus activities

IVAR has been commissioned by Trust for London to evaluate its funding plus approach to supporting organisations. Trust for London’s approach encompasses a range of activity – from direct support provision, to commissioning research and convening networks. The evaluation will focus on whether their approach has contributed to the Trust’s ambition to increase the ability of funded organisations to influence policy in their areas of focus. The evaluation will examine this aim as well as shed light on any unintended outcomes. Through this evaluation, Trust for London hopes to gain a better understanding of effective grant making through funding plus activities.


This evaluation builds directly on IVAR’s extensive body of research and evaluation in the funding plus field, as well as expertise in working alongside trust and foundation staff, supporting them to evaluate funding approaches.