Every year CCPA-Manitoba conducts research on Winnipeg’s Inner City for our State of the Inner City report. Emerging out of conversation and collaboration with community-based partners we examine the issue most pressing to them. This year we heard that community-based organizations (CBOs) are confused and uncertain about the government’s spending review. Many organizations don’t know whether they will continue to receive funding from multi-year agreements signed through the government’s Non-Profit Organization (NPO) Strategy (currently under review), or the more than $600 million pledged to organizations by the previous government.
Some CBOs have had their funding paused, while others continue to receive funding but much later than originally promised, leaving many CBOs scrambling. Some have had to lay off staff, while others are running lines of credit to keep their programs running. Needless to say this is a precarious situation, not just for CBOs, but more importantly for the vulnerable Manitobans who have come to rely on their services.
The Manitoba government has stated that projects approved by the previous government need to be ‘of good value’ if they are to continue to receive funding. There exists however a lack of clarity from government funders about what constitues ‘good value’ and how it will be determined. Under the funding review some organizations have been told that a ‘Value for Money’ (VfM) lens will be used to evaluate their programming while others remain unclear what framework is being used.
The evaluation framework used to measure value matters because it determines what constitutes evidence. ‘Evidence’ in turn is used to determine which programs get funded and which do not. CBOs have repeatedly said that a VfM-style framework fails to capture the big picture of the value they produce because it relies too heavily on quantitative data.
The question of how programs are evaluated is not new: CCPA Mb. has been documenting this issue for more than a decade. In our 2012 SIC, a director of an Inner City CBO noted how one evaluation conducted on their program by their funder suffered from serious design flaws and went on to describe how detrimental such a poor evaluation framework could be on the future of their programming:
Do they really think a kid is going to admit to being in a gang before having established any trust with program staff? Of course not. But six months down the road they might tell you that a whole lot more. The result is that data is inaccurate and works against us. If a kid tells you six months down the road that they are in a gang and taking drugs, something they didn’t admit to when entering the program, the effect is that it looks like they became gang-involved while in the program while in reality they have made progress by being honest with us.
CBOs welcome evaluation of their programming and are happy to be held accountable to their funding partners but stated that they would like their provincial funders to collaborate with them on improving reporting and evaluation frameworks. Clear outcomes measured primarily through quantitative data lack a nuanced understanding of the complexity of the problems they are dealing with. If not designed and employed with a critical lens, these evaluation frameworks can run the risk of missing the true value produced.
A common refrain that we have heard from CBOs is that they want to have a collaborative relationship with their funders. Encouragingly, this sort of government/community collaboration has already occurred in the development of the NPO Strategy. The strategy lowers costs by reducing the time spent by departments reviewing files, making funding recommendations, and reporting. The NPO Strategy needs to be maintained and improved.
Investing long-term and stable funding is the best way for the government to spend our money wiser. Administrating short-term funding from multiple funders is labour intensive and detracts from other important work. Long-term, stable funding, on the other hand, supports holistic programming and produces better value for money.
Secondly, a timely and transparent process for confirming and delivering multi-year funding agreements is required. Effective communication channels between government funders and CBOs must be made a priority. CBOs stated that one of the biggest challenges under the current funding review is knowing whether their funding is going to be renewed or not. Funders should provide CBOs with a year’s notice of renewal decisions, thereby ensuring agencies have sufficient time to plan. Effective communication would accommodate CBO feedback and recommendations about their funding partnership agreements.
The NPO Strategy streamlined the funding and reporting requirements within provincial departments, however improving coordination between various levels of government would make the strategy even more efficient. The NPO Strategy aimed to address the issue of departments ‘working in silos’ however various levels of government and funding agencies also work in silos, creating inefficiencies for CBOs that spend too much time responding to the various needs and expectations of funders.
Evaluation tools should incorporate a holistic understanding of the nature of complex socio-economic issues and evaluation frameworks used to evaluate Indigenous programming should be decolonized. Currently, the Indigenous Learning Circle and other Indigenous organizations have developed Indigenous-led evaluation frameworks to better capture value and measure impact.
Finally, directors frequently stated how difficult it is to conduct evaluations when there is no money allocated to do so. If CBOs are expected to demonstrate their value – something all directors agreed they should - new resources that enable them to do so must be incorporated in the funds awarded.
CBOs cannot be sustainable without government and other types of funding, nor should they be expected to be. They are providing important public services that need to be publicly funded, and they achieve impressive outcomes for a fraction of what it would cost government to do it on its own.
If the government is interested in maximizing value, it should recognize that the NPO Strategy already provides good value for money. An independent evaluation in 2013 found that the strategy improved service delivery, effectively stabilizing organizations by streamlining funding agreements across departments and committing to conditional multi-year funding. Combined with the aforementioned improvements, the strategy could better support the important work these agencies do to improve vulnerable Manitobans’ lives.
Full Report HERE.