ESRI report examines training provision delivered under the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme

Today (21 October 2016) the ESRI published new research examining training interventions provided in 2014 by the Local and Community Development Programme, now known as the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP).

SICAP is managed by Pobal with the objective of tackling poverty, social exclusion and long-term unemployment through partnerships between disadvantaged individuals, community organisations and public sector agencies.  As part of a programme operating from April 2015 to December 2017, 45 programme implementers have been contracted to deliver the goals of SICAP, covering 50 geographic areas across Ireland.

While SICAP performs a number of functions, this report investigated direct training interventions only, which include education and training programmes, personal development courses and labour market activation initiatives. SICAP provides such interventions for participants who experience barriers to inclusion, including household joblessness, low educational attainment and substance misuse, which may impede access to alternatives available from mainstream agencies.

The research examined a number of aspects of training provision, including the distribution of training courses and training expenditure across SICAP programme areas, whether the distribution of training provision delivers on the objectives of SICAP and the geographical variation in distribution of provision by population, level of deprivation, programme objectives and costs. The research also assessed if such training provision should be subject to formal evaluation.

Main findings

The researchers examined information relating to 21,000 individuals who received training interventions in 2014. The data were taken from the Integrated Reporting Information System (IRIS) developed by Pobal to capture information about interventions and outcomes associated with SICAP. The main findings are listed below.

  • SICAP activities fall under three programme areas: (i) social inclusion and capacity building, (ii) lifelong learning and (iii) employment. However, it was found that two-thirds of training places are in the area of employment. The high level of unemployment during this time period may account for this distribution.
  • While overall resources are primarily targeted at areas with high levels of social deprivation, there is limited access to one-on-one programmes in areas with particularly high unemployment and a high concentration of individuals facing barriers. The finding that the average spend on one-to-one interventions tends to be lower in areas of more intense deprivation suggests that resources may be too thinly spread in these areas. This could be addressed by imposing minimum spend guidelines in order to ensure access to one-on-one supports, as opposed to group supports, in areas of particularly high need.
  • Programme implementers are currently required to distribute spending evenly across SICAP’s three goals. However, the research questions if this should be the case as flexible allocation of resources may help providers respond to differing priorities.
  • It is important that interventions in the community development space are subject to scrutiny in order to ensure value for money. However, there are a number of considerations involved in any decision to evaluate actions in the particular programmes in this space.  The nature of the work carried out under SICAP, and the particular barriers faced by their target groups, creates a need for both qualitative and quantitative analysis. While this would be a costly process, investing in improved data infrastructure could lead to more effective monitoring of outcomes.