Financial capability: are we focusing on the wrong sort of behaviour change?

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 16.23.07 copyIdeas to Impact working in partnership with Vista, CALS and the WEA undertook an evaluation of workshops for older people funded through the Money Advice Service What Works? programme.  The full report is downloadable on the Vista Leading the Agenda webpage or the Money Advice Service Evidence Hub.

The research originally intended to answer the question:

Is support around money management more effective when delivered within the wider context of older people’s lives than solely focusing on money knowledge and skills? 

We ran into some methodological and practical issues in relation to recruitment of participants, and despite reaching some of the most socially and economically excluded people in the country, in particular older Asian women living in the most deprived wards in Leicester, MAS asked us to stop the project before we had completed the evaluation, although we did have 163 survey responses and had run two focus groups from which the results below come.  The issues and implications around the practicalities of running evaluations in the VCS will be covered in a blog post to follow shortly.  In the meantime this post focuses on one of the key issues to emerge from the project.

Does financial capability training and support lead to financial behaviour change?

A report commissioned by MAS, Financial capability and wellbeing[1] states, “behavioural economists report that most individuals do not behave rationally and predictably, when it comes to spending money. Even though an individual may be financially literate, this same individual may behave in an irrational financial manner”.  The paper Financial Literacy, Financial Education and Downstream Financial Behaviors[2] describes a meta-analysis of financial capability interventions and concluded, “Our meta-analysis revealed that financial education interventions studied explained only about 0.1% of the variance in the financial behaviours studied, with even weaker average effects of interventions directed at low-income rather than general population samples”.

Much of the existing literature around financial effectiveness and behaviour change talks as if it were a given that people’s financial goals are paramount in their decision making, as opposed to people deciding not to act in their financial best interests because something else is more important to them. Behaviour change techniques such as goal setting, regulation, social pressure, and rewards are suggested, but no number of techniques focused around financial capability are going to be effective if it’s focusing on the wrong behaviour.

Some of the reasons that people in our project gave for less than logical financial behaviour included:

“My health is bad, if I don’t spend money on myself now my life is not worth living.”

“I don’t want to cause difficulties in the family by asking my husband about money.”

“If I save for the future I won’t have much money now, and I still can’t save enough to make a difference in the future anyway, so I might as well enjoy it now instead of being poor now and poor in the future.”

“I find keeping track of money stressful and I don’t want to do something that causes me stress.”

“I do not use savings accounts because they are not Islamic.”

“I know direct debits are cheaper but putting money into a meter I know what I’m spending.”

“I stay with British Gas because I know they’re a good company.”

What does this mean for practice?

The statements above are all logical decisions in some way, it’s difficult to fault any of them, and yet we may still believe that there is a need to change financial behaviour.  This means and there is a need to look broader than financial capability knowledge and skills to change them, for example:

  • Running whole-family workshops, or workshops around financial capability that were targeted at how to talk to family about money perhaps depending on how good people’s relationships with their families are?
  • For the woman who was worried about cultural traditions and upsetting her husband, support needs to be focused around how she addresses this first.
  • For the man who feels he has to spend money or his life is not worth living, behaviour change could address how he could feel as though he could make his life worth living through activities that are low or no cost, or how improving his mental and emotional health might be key to reducing spending.

Of course, this will be no surprise to the agencies who are at the sharp end of supporting people day in and day out.  After all, money advice did used to be called debt counselling, and advice agencies supported people across a wider range of issues than “just” advice.  To some degree the change towards a more focused financial capability intervention and away from the broader issues was caused by a positive effort to stop advice being given by people who were well meaning but legally-challenged, for example with the development of the Community Legal Service Quality Mark, which I was involved in developing on behalf of the advice sector with the now defunct Legal Services Commission (the Quality Mark is now the Advice Quality Standard).  On the other hand, commissioning of advice services has become more restrictive and it is often difficult to find grant funding for advice, so it has also divorced many advice services from being able to take a more holistic approach.

Call to action

What can be done?  None of this is rocket science, many organisations are already doing this, but there may be opportunities for further partnerships:

  • For advice agencies getting out into the community to deliver advice in conjunction with other organisations.  This will also help with the need that many participants expressed to have support on an ongoing basis rather than as a short term intervention.
  • For community organisations inviting advice services into your organisations and looking at joint funding bids.
  • For funders and commissioners – recognise the important role that advice plays in communities, but also that this will be a revolving door or have reduced impact without addressing the broader issues that people face.
  • For all, consider how your practice captures the range of factors that people might use when financial decision making and equip your staff with the knowledge and skills for effective behaviour change.

[1] Money Advice Service (2015) Financial Literacy, Financial Education and Downstream Financial Behaviors, available from https://mascdn.azureedge.net/cms/financial-capability-and-wellbeing.pdf

[2] Fernandes et al (2013) Financial Literacy, Financial Education and Downstream Financial Behaviors, available from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2333898

The “innovation partnership” – how to (legally) work with the VCS collaboratively on designing and delivering better services

European Public Procurement Directive 2014/24/EU, which came into force last year creates a new category within procurement law that allows public services to work with a group of providers at the development stage of commissioning and then purchase the services from those same providers without going through a new procurement process.

This means that potentially a local authority can work with a consortium of VCS (and of course other) organisations to co-produce new services rather than carrying out two stages, one of research / needs analysis /  consultation / specification development and then a separate stage of procurement, which tends to have a “winner takes all” outcome.  This is similar to the process that Ideas to Impact designed for the Leicester Big Lottery Ageing Better bid, that also involved older people in designing services and making decisions about what they wanted to see.

There is no doubt much that still needs to be worked out in the detail, but this could be a fantastic opportunity for the VCS to work together on tricky problems in a collaborative way rather than the usual formality about process and has the potential to massively improve the way in which services are delivered and joined up for clients.

Recital 49 of the Directive above says,

Where a need for the development of an innovative product or service or innovative works and the subsequent purchase of the resulting supplies, services or works cannot be met by solutions already available on the market, contracting authorities should have access to a specific procurement procedure in respect of contracts falling within the scope of this Directive. This specific procedure should allow contracting authorities to establish a long-term innovation partnership for the development and subsequent purchase of a new, innovative product, service or works provided that such innovative product or service or innovative works can be delivered to agreed performance levels and costs, without the need for a separate procurement procedure for the purchase. 

The European Commission states that

The Innovation partnership allows for the combination of research and procurement

  • The competitive phase takes place at the very beginning of the procedure, when the most suitable partner(s) are selected on the basis of their skills and abilities. The contracts establishing the innovation partnership are awarded using the criteria of the best price-quality ratio proposed.
  • In the next phase, the partner(s) will develop the new solution in collaboration with the contracting authority. This research and development phase can be divided into several stages during which the number of partners may be gradually reduced, depending on whether they meet predetermined criteria.
  • In the commercial phase, the partner(s) provide the final results.

This process should only be used in limited circumstances where:

  • the goods, works and services that are sought are innovative
  • there is an intention to include both the development and purchase elements in the procedure, provided they correspond to agreed performance levels and maximum costs.

Ideas to Impact has experience in consultation, client needs research, partnership and collaborative working, co-design of services, and developing specifications and can help with any stage of the commissioning process.

 

The future of VCS infrastructure

One East Midlands front cover-page-001Regional VCS infrastructure organisation One East Midlands announced last year that it intended to close, following the closure of similar networks in the East, Yorkshire and Humber and the South East.  Ideas to Impact undertook an impact and legacy report for One East Midlands, which demonstrated that many people felt there was still a need for some sort of regional infrastructure, but a lack of resources to pay for it.  This isn’t just the case at a regional level, at a national and local level infrastructure organisations are also closing down.

Our research showed that people would miss One East Midlands, in fact one of our findings was that commissioners and other public sector respondents to our survey were the most likely to say that they would miss it.  There was also a concern that its closure would affect small to medium local VCS organisations more than larger organisations or national charities who have networks into influence through other means.

Hasn’t regional Government gone?

Although regional Government has “gone” – in reality there are still bodies for the VCS to connect with at a level above local authorities – we identified Local Enterprise Partnerships, the DCLG and BiS Midlands Growth Team, East Midlands Funders Forum, Public Health and NHS England, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, regional Cabinet Office presence with responsibility for the VCS, and East Midlands Councils, although many of these don’t follow “East Midlands” boundaries so we concluded that any future support needed to have fuzzy boundaries depending on need.  Our survey found that the top roles people identified for regional infrastructure were to:

  1. Support engagement with regional or sub-regional commissioners and decision makers and other bodies
  2. Build cross sector relationships and partnerships
  3. Coordinate tenders and funding applications for programmes that are above local level, e.g. two or more cities / counties.

Can’t local infrastructure do this?

In some cases, yes, but there was general agreement across all stakeholders that despite various national programmes, including ChangeUp, Capacitybuilders and the Big Lottery’s Transforming Local Infrastructure, that local infrastructure was still patchy both in terms of services provided and the quality.  There was also some distrust about local infrastructure “competing” with frontline providers for funds.  Ironically One East Midlands’ determination to remain a “pure” infrastructure organisation is one of the reasons given for them being so highly trusted, but it has meant finding funding has been more challenging.  There is funding out there for projects, but not for “being there,” which was valued by commissioners and funders in particular because of the relationships, knowledge and trust.  Many people told us that having Rachel Quinn there as Chief Executive was key to the organisation’s success.  However, having to continually chase bits of funding is exhausting, whatever type of organisation you are, particularly if there is no core there to support this work and when the national press then accuses you of spending too much on “administration”.

What are the challenges now for the VCS and its infrastructure?

Some of the issues that came up during our research included:

1. How to engage with devolution – the picture is still unclear but it’s important for the VCS to be involved with discussions, including transformation around health and social care.

2. Consortium development and bidding for larger tenders, e.g. Work Programme and Transforming Rehabilitation are examples of national Government programmes tendered across different city / county areas – there are consortia in some areas, for example Reaching People in LeicesterShire and Commsortia in Northamptonshire, but there is not coverage across the region – analysing what is likely to be tendered at what value and how the VCS will be able to respond is crucial.  At the same time the emergence of new VCS Consortia could create shifting sand for existing local infrastructure organisations.

3. The need for the VCS to be more coordinated in leading change, delivering services and demonstrating impact in specific areas of work – some of the Big Lottery programmes such as Talent Match or Ageing Better have encouraged the VCS to do this, giving one point of entry that makes it so much easier for the public sector and others to refer into services and understand the pattern of provision and puts the onus on the VCS to demonstrate its collective impact rather than this happening piecemeal.   This might be better done at a local level, but perhaps would be made easier by a mechanism to share ideas and good practice at a higher geographical level.  This is a change for many VCS infrastructure organisations who deliver services based on the demand of individual organisations – there will always be a need for this type of work but it’s not always easy to demonstrate how this meets local priority need or to measure the impact.

What happens next?  Ultimately, One East Midlands was created because the local VCS saw a need and created it.  Something similar may happen again; there a lot of great people around who are strategic and good at networking.  The sector works by identifying a need and developing something to meet it – but these are challenging times that require us all to remember to look outward and not inward to identify how we can support each other.

Becky Nixon, Director of Ideas to Impact, has worked for 20 years in national infrastructure (National Homeless Alliance, now Homeless Link, and Advice Services Alliance), regional infrastructure (Engage East Midlands now One East Midlands) and most recently as Deputy Chief Executive at Voluntary Action LeicesterShire.  Andy Robinson of Langton Brook Consultants also brought his extensive senior level public sector experience to the project.  See about us for more information.

Ideas to Impact carries out a range of consultancy to support the VCS and public sector through change, including consultations, research and evaluation, impact measurement, change management, organisational development and facilitation.  These are detailed on our services and support packages pages.