Speaking Up and Speaking Out: The Robertson Trust

At ACF's annual conference in November, a straw poll of delegates revealed that a majority were either undertaking or considering work that they broadly characterised as advocacy. In this series, we are speaking to members about how and why they promote greater representation to policy and decision-makers.

The fifth article in this series comes from Shonaig Macpherson CBE, Chair of The Robertson Trust.

This series first appeared in April 2018's Trust & Foundation News. Read the magazine here.

Advocacy has become an increasingly important element of our work over the last 10 or so years, primarily through our partnership awards. We identify an issue that is causing social disadvantage and work with third sector and public agencies to create a programme of projects to address the issue, with the objective of building evidence that we can then promote to influence policy and improve practice. Our advocacy is entirely informed by the outcomes of our programmes, founded in practice and evidence. We embed third party evaluators into each of our programmes from the outset to identify and assess evidence on our behalf: it is far more powerful if the evidence has been assessed by an independent expert third party to capture our audiences’ attention.

A good example would be our work around criminal justice, particularly young offenders. We worked with the Scottish Prison Service and a consortium of charities including Action for Children and Access to Industry at the Young Offenders Institution at Polmont to identify ways to break the cycle of reoffending. Through that programme, we were able to demonstrate that throughcare support – providing services to young men both during and after their sentences – is of great value for those serving short-term sentences. We published reports and engaged with civil servants and politicians to promote our findings.

Prior to this work throughcare was an established service for those serving sentences of at least 48 months. Now throughcare is more widely promoted throughout the Scottish Prison Service and funding has been agreed from the Scottish Government to support not only throughcare officers in every Scottish prison, but also core costs for prison visitor centres – an essential part of throughcare enabling families to keep in touch with offenders.

Although we no longer fund criminal justice programmes, we continue to use the evidence generated to advocate for the importance of throughcare support, interaction with the families and so forth. The advocacy is important as it keeps the issue alive and ensures that we continue to be involved in criminal justice initiatives with Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service and contribute to how they financially support relevant programmes, including through management of their Reducing Reoffending Change Fund.

This is also true for our Sport for Change work, which uses sport and physical activity to bring about positive benefits for individuals and communities. We have been pleased to see that Sport Scotland, which had previously placed a greater emphasis on performance sport, has now embedded Sport for Change as a key element of its strategy. We believe our own efforts in promoting and advocating for Sport for Change, celebrating the work of the charities we support in that area, has contributed to that shift in emphasis.

All of this requires effective relationships and patience. You need to be prepared to use your influence, be persistent and quietly determined. These systems take time to change, and you need to say the same thing many times to different audiences to get the message across. Of course, working with others helps spread the message and amplify the voice.

Probably the most forward-thinking piece of our current advocacy work is trying to change the language and challenge the public and political assumptions around looked after children and their families. As a first step we have worked with the Life Changes Trust and CELCIS (the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland), and we are funding research by the Frameworks Institute from Washington DC exploring how looked after children and care leavers are understood and presented in the public discourse.

Advocacy also underpins our open awards and scholarship work. We currently support over 500 young people in further and higher education. About five years ago we realised that to improve retention and completion rates for our scholars, we had to give more than financial support. As a result we have developed our ‘Journey to Success’. This is achieving excellent results and we are now promoting that work to the Scottish Government and the Commissioner for Access to Education in Scotland to advocate for our way of doing things – building evidence and disseminating it – as a key element of the government’s own widening access agenda.

As a trusted voice and through the strength of our relationships, we can raise awareness of sectoral issues on behalf of smaller charities that would find it more difficult to bring them to the attention of the public or governments. A current example is the difficulties facing charity members of the local government pension schemes in Scotland. Following a change in policy, charity employer contributions are rising dramatically, or the charities are being asked to leave the pension schemes, triggering increased multiplying deficits that must be paid in a shorter time frame. We are working with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland to raise awareness of the issue.

In all of this we are very conscious of the Lobbying (Scotland) Act but are confident that with our approach we can work within it. We are not lobbyists – we are strong advocates for the work that we do.

Shonaig Macpherson CBE
The Robertson Trust


Other articles in this series

Speaking Up and Speaking Out: Trust for London 
Speaking Up and Speaking Out: Millfield House Foundation   
Speaking Up and Speaking Out: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation 
Speaking Up and Speaking Out: Community Foundation for Northern Ireland 
Speaking Up and Speaking Out: Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust 

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