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The question at the heart of replication

15 March 2013

On Wednesday 13th March, BIG held the second in its series of seminars ‘Getting to Grips with Replication’. The audience heard from four excellent speakers including Rob Owen of the St Giles Trust. St Giles Trust aims to help break the cycle of prison, crime and disadvantage and create safer communities by supporting people to change their lives. Their services put reformed ex-offenders at the heart of the solution, training them to use their skills and first-hand experience to help others through peer-led support…

Rob Own

Rob Owen, CEO of the St. Giles Trust

At the heart of replication has to be the question: “why?”

Why does your service, idea or organisation deserve replicating, especially in a time of scant resources when every pound has to be spent ever more wisely? Why does your service deserve to be one of the chosen few? Look at yourself critically – does it really make life exponentially better for your clients? Will your new approach radically improve results for real people, your clients, often the most vulnerable in our society, and for the funder who will be investing in you? Is the service user really at the centre of the solution? Is the solution really that radical?

If you can answer “yes” to all this, then you get my vote for replication. What we all must fight against is replicating poor services that don’t address real needs, which are poor shadow images of current services that just now happen to be cheap and getting cheaper. As a charity we must not enter the race to the bottom.

Replication for us is about evidencing that we can do it smarter, better and yes, more effectively pound for pound. But this takes bravery and trust on behalf of funders to allow us the space and freedom to do it right. This also means a degree of unrestricted funding, the gold dust that supports effective go-getting charities to achieve more of their much needed potential. We were very lucky to have such an injection in our early days from the Impetus Trust, who helped us to become a genuine learning and adapting organisation. None of us operate in a static environment and to paraphrase Darwin, those that don’t adapt won’t survive.

But replication, like the natural cycle of any ambitious organisation, needs investment in its growth spurts. So replication needs a plan. And although we spend a great deal of time planning, it often comes down to being strategically opportunist. Sadly none of us have a crystal ball to guide us, but we can make ourselves luckier and at the heart of that I think there are two simple things.

Firstly, you need hard and robust evidence that what you do uniquely well really does work. Secondly you need staff and volunteers that are willing go the extra mile for their clients, who are more than brilliant caseworkers: they are fabulously credible role models too.

If your organisation really spends time enabling your team to love their job, then you really deserve to think big. And you deserve to be replicated.

Rob Owen is Chief Executive of St Giles Trust.

What do you think of Rob’s guest blog? Join the discussion on Twitter using #BIGreplication or leave your comment below.

The third of three ‘Getting to Grips with Replication’ seminars will be held on Thursday 21st March. There are a handful of spaces left – email peter.bailey@biglotteryfund.org.uk if you would like to attend.

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