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Designing volunteer models to succeed

6 June 2017

Last year we shared key findings from an evidence review by Parents 1st and the Institute for Voluntary Action Research, which explored how volunteering initiatives can benefit the development of babies and young children. The evidence review was commissioned to support our strategic investment A Better Start.

The review found that volunteer initiatives can make a unique and valuable contribution to early childhood outcomes, complementing professional support. They can build relationships of trust and equality with parents and reach parents who don’t engage with other services, creating conditions that can lead to change.

From the review came a set of key principles for commissioners and providers and a framework that follows an evidence-based method for designing, adapting and implementing a volunteer programme.

Celia Suppiah, CEO for Parents 1st tells us more about how the framework can help practitioners to design volunteer models to succeed.

The framework assists commissioners and providers to work through a staged approach that engages key players along the way, promoting engagement and ownership whilst aligning the volunteer programme objectives with local area context, priorities and goals.

One of the key things we found is that many great volunteer schemes are conceived with noble aspirations for the people, families and communities they support. But, all too often there are examples of schemes that don’t achieve the outcomes they hope for. Many are un-sustained over time, either due to lack of continued investment, policy or even workforce changes that mean they lose momentum. Furthermore, programmes are often commissioned as an ‘add-on’ rather than being embedded into the landscape of the local ‘system’.

An important next step was developing a support package to guide local teams of planners, decision makers and practitioners to use the framework. We ensure a step by step approach is used that helps local partners to build consensus around direction and how the volunteer programme fits with local strategy. This enables teams to develop a clear theory of change to underpin their volunteer programme, plus a logic model and implementation plan. The design process needs to genuinely take into account the local context/picture and the need for local ownership.

Recently we’ve been working with Ripplez CIC, an innovative social enterprise in Derby to support them in the design and implementation of their new “Pregnancy Pal and Birth Buddy” volunteer programme. This first involved bringing commissioners and partners together for a design session. This not only provided vital opportunities for expressing their hopes and fears about the new volunteer programme; but also involved mapping out each player’s contribution as part of a ‘whole system’ approach to achieving early childhood outcomes. At the end of the session each partner pledged their contribution to helping it succeed, one partner said, “It has reduced my concerns, helped me to understand the peer support role better, and encouraged me to both enhance the programme and support it”.

To find out more about the support package contact

You can find the full evidence review and framework here.

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