After months of engaging with the third sector in Wales and striving to reach those voices in the sector that are heard less often, we are pleased to finally wrap the work up and are indebted to the sector for its efforts, passion and commitment to the work, to each other and its service users.
You can read the full report here.
Early in 2021 Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) identified that:
“building resilience is going to be vital for organisations in the context of ongoing change, uncertainty and crisis. Whilst resilience has been an issue for Welsh charities for a number of years, this has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, and the subsequent recession.”
But what does resilience mean? It is certainly a term we hear more than we once did in discourse about the sector.
A ‘Resilient Wales’ is a headline goal in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, while one academic we read in our literature review notes how the concept of resilience has in recent years ‘saturated’ policy and strategies.
Does it mean different things to different people? Different things in different contexts? WCVA drafted the following definition and invited us to take it to the sector for refining and improving. In addition, WCVA proposed twelve factors that contribute to organisational resilience and we took these to the sector too.
What did we do?
Via focus groups, interviews, online surveys and ‘randomised coffee trials’ we invited organisations in the sector to tell us about the impact of the pandemic on them and their organisations. People could participate as a worker in the sector, volunteer as a trustee, or multiply should they wear – as many people do – more than one hat in the sector.
The main focus of the enquiry was on organisational resilience but given the all-encompassing impact of the pandemic it was difficult to break the enquiry down into component parts and so we incorporated a narrative and storytelling approach to our methodologies: by letting people tell their stories of the pandemic in the way they wanted. One focus group participant said:
We’re all resilient every day, to some extent aren’t we? Everybody’s home life changed when covid hit
And this sense that resilience is an ‘everyday’ state that people find themselves in – that there is nothing heroic or superhuman about it – came through throughout the enquiry.
But it was clear that for some groups – people with a disability and people from ethnic minority communities for example – the everyday demands to be resilient in the face of inequality, discrimination and other forms of oppression do require deeper reservoirs of fortitude; or, in keeping with an emerging theme within resilience discourse, requires constant adaptations, innovations and fine-tuning of individual, collective and organisational responses.
What did we find out?
There was a broad consensus in support of WCVA’s definition and the twelve indicators. For many of the participants in the enquiry the working definition, resonated with what they and their organisations experienced during the pandemic for example the adaptations to engaging with people, how volunteers were re-deployed, innovations in service design or use of technology, or around finance and governance.
But there were several departures from this consensus.
Some people felt that the definition’s reference to the ‘long term’ was problematic because many in the sector lacked resources to adequately plan that far ahead and that significant effort was required to remain resilient (howsoever defined) in the present and the short term.
Others felt that the focus on ‘crises’ was potentially misleading, perhaps creating the impression that occasions of extreme stress or pressure can only be sudden and unexpected. Yet, many cited, for instance, the impact of over a decade of fiscal austerity or welfare reform, when pointing out that adversity can also emerge slowly and in plain sight.
A small, but vocal constituency within the enquiry – approximately 15% of participants – preferred to reject concepts of resilience altogether. They tend find it patronising or obfuscating of wider structural inequalities, for example in the economy, at the hands of climate change, or in the way funding is distributed
We have distilled the work into thirteen points that can be viewed below, and via this download:
One theme emerged strongly in the enquiry and which has led to us suggesting an additional element that we think potentially offers value to debates about resilience.
Many people felt it is not enough for voluntary organisations to focus solely on their own organisational resilience, but recognise that building solidarities can further enhance collective and mutual resilience across the sector.
To this end we suggest that the sector in Wales makes:
A commitment to shared learning
That by being prepared to both share their reflective learning and to learn collaboratively with others, organisations can grow the sector’s collective resilience by being able to better adapt, respond and, when appropriate, resist adversity.
There was no way in which our enquiry was going to resolve once and for all the debates around what defines resilience. Indeed, if resilience is less a goal to strive for or a state to attain, and is more fluid, requiring regular adaptations and flexible responses, then so too is the definition likely to continue to evolve.
But the organisations we spoke to clearly demonstrated an appetite for contributing to ongoing debates. It is likely that time will reveal further ways in which the pandemic has had an impact, potentially unequally, on society, and debates about the sector’s role in addressing these will inevitably refer to resilience.
It was also clear that an array of rich insights and lessons have emerged during the pandemic and, in response to the findings, we are compiling for WCVA an Ideas Bank of some of the ways in which the sector has innovated in response to the pandemic, and in which in the future organisations can deposit and withdraw these insights for the benefit of the wider sector.
We hope that we have played a small part in helping the sector in Wales make its voice heard in the ongoing discourse around resilience.