Commissioning for local authority archive services Greater Manchester Archives and Local Studies Partnership
Greater Manchester Archives & Local Studies Partnership (GMALSP) is a formal collaboration between the ten local authority archive and local studies services in Greater Manchester. This partnership provides an over-arching strategy and development plan for the area, bringing benefits in terms of collective sustainability and enabling collaboration on service improvements.
GMALSP agreed to act as a case study or pilot archive service as part of a Commissioning Learning Project lead by The National Archives. The project aimed to develop a framework which would help archive services support local priorities by developing relationships with commissioners in their local areas. The framework included training, written guidance and templates, a project plan along with defined objectives, ongoing mentoring support and a peer learning set.
The pilot commenced in February 2015 and ran for 5 months.
Advice for other archive services considering embarking on the commissioning process
- set yourself a timescale to ensure that you maintain momentum
- acquire a good working knowledge of your organisation’s strategic plans at the outset
- be tenacious – it may take persistence to get a first meeting with a key commissioner. Also be prepared to meet commissioners outside of the hours of the normal working day
- commit adequate staff and time to work on your approach to engaging in commissioning
- listen to advice and take referrals from commissioners; they can lead to other opportunities
- be proactive if an opportunity arises and dedicate time to following it up
- contact other services that have gone through the process and made progress in relationship building
Summary of activity
Archivists from Manchester, Wigan and Stockport completed a mapping exercise to gain an understanding of the commissioning intentions within key service areas, researching documents such as the local authorities’ strategic plans, joint Strategic Needs Assessment and the 1911 census. This facilitated understanding of the councils’ key priorities.
Using the intelligence gathered from strategic documentation, the archivists had a series of exploratory conversation with commissioners from public health, mental health, substance misuse and integrated commissioning. Securing meetings with commissioners was facilitated by sharing a brief with them about the purpose and length of the meeting (no longer than one hour) and being flexible when arranging the meeting with commissioners for example meeting outside normal working hours, and travelling to their place of work.
The archivists then developed an Outcomes Framework clearly linked to the commissioners identified priorities, began to shape new service offers to meet these needs and worked with partners from within GMALSP and also other stakeholders to develop and deliver these activities/interventions.
- a meeting with the Public Health Programme Manager flagged up opportunities to work with the Drugs and Alcohol team and the Market Development Team
- Wigan archives are now developing and piloting supported volunteering opportunities and placement programmes for individuals affected by drugs and alcohol with the council’s Drugs and Alcohol team
- working through the Market Development Team, whose role it is to link service users and service providers, there is an opportunity to develop a bespoke offer for individuals with their own care budgets. Case studies highlighting the benefits of volunteering within archive services have now been drafted
- a referral from the Drugs and Alcohol team led onto contacting ‘Joining Communities’, a social enterprise which works with partners to promote the health and wellbeing in Leigh. Placements and volunteers referred from Joining Communities in Leigh and Adult Social Care have started now
- the possibility of developing an offer linked through Stockport Mental Health Pathways project was flagged up. The commissioner responsible referred to the Five ways to wellbeing and was keen to extend the range of activities offered to support mental wellbeing
- further consideration is also being given to how the archives can interface with Dementia Memory Clinics
- the archive service is working with Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society to create reminiscence packs for use in care homes and libraries
- the archive service also identified an opportunity to contribute a local history session as part of the Storybox creative café, which offers creative activities to those suffering from memory loss
- to further strengthen the Outcomes Framework there is a drive to identify existing case studies outlining the contribution that archives can make to local priorities. This will provide a compelling narrative for commissioners across service areas
Archive services have demonstrated that they can contribute to local needs and key strategic outcomes, having a positive impact on people’s lives and within communities.
What went well and what didn’t go quite as well
It takes time to establish and progress relationships as part of the commissioning progress and the availability of resources including staff time, including that of commissioners can impact on this progress.
Understanding how to describe service impact through strategic, intermediate and service outcomes was a positive step for Manchester Archives.
For Wigan Archive Service meeting different teams within the council and learning how the archives offer could align to their needs was a positive experience with commissioners interested in how they might work with the archive service.
Developing this work in the future
A further actions plan has been agreed to ensure the three participating archive service maintain momentum and commit to follow up opportunities identified at an early stage but which were yet to progress. Being proactive and following up opportunities will also be key. GMALSP have identified a need to improve advocacy and that communicating with commissioners needs to a strand in their future Communications & Advocacy Plan.
Other members GMALSP attended the training, but there is an ongoing need to share learning about how commissioning works and what the three archive services are doing.
Maintaining momentum over the longer term may be a challenge, as the work will need to be balanced with core activity and seeking external funding.
Find out more about commissioning for archive services.