Author: Caroline Masundire

/ Articles posted by Caroline Masundire (Page 2)
BIG Assist approved supplier

BIG Assist approved supplier

Rocket Science announced as BIG Assist approved supplier

BIG Assist is a programme for infrastructure organisations in the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector; delivered under contract to the Big Lottery Fund by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).

The programme works to support infrastructure organisations based in England, to be more efficient, effective, sustainable and better able to adapt to the current and future operating environment. For more information on the BIG Assist programme visit the BIG Assist website:

Rocket Science have been approved as a BIG Assist Supplier to offer support to infrastructure organisations. We can be found in the BIG Assist ‘marketplace’ here

This recognition builds on the work we have done supporting a range of voluntary sector organisations and infrastructure to support their organisational development and resilience as well as their impact and income modelling.  You can find out more about our range of support here.

For more information contact James Turner in our Newcastle office or Caroline Masundire in our London office.

Parent power  – how parent networks could improve social mobility

Parent power – how parent networks could improve social mobility

We looked at how parents’ networks could be used to create improved work experience opportunities for young people in school, regardless of their family status. Using technology to pool opportunities into a universally accessible database where young people could track their experience and skills.  We applied for funding through the tech and innovation funders but it was rejected… we think it has a lot of potential?  What do you think?


Get in touch if you want to find out more.

Caroline Masundire

From learning to earning .. the Corsa years

From learning to earning .. the Corsa years

Or can I borrow some money for petrol to get to work Mum?

So its been nearly a year since I last updated you about my son and how he has got on at college and his electrical installation course.  For those of you new to this saga, I have been charting the last four years of my son’s education from Year 10 through to his attempts at getting an apprenticeship – his learning to earning journey.  You can grab a full recap here.

Well the last year has been both interesting and very expensive.  The good news is that my son managed to finally get a GCSE Grade C in Maths so that he could move up to his Level 3 and reduce down to a one year rather than two-year course.  However he fared less well in his attempts to get an apprenticeship through the traditional routes.  His college seemed only able to get a couple of vacancies to share among 60 students and training providers would only accept him if he had already bagged an employer.  He applied for six apprenticeships online and never received any replies.

Now I know what you are thinking, he probably did not fill out the right forms or had a good enough CV.  My thoughts exactly.  But if you have ever tried to offer advice and help to a truculent hormonal boydult with a  ‘you can’t tell me anything cos you are a parent’ attitude, you can bear witness that parents are in a no-win situation.  On one hand I admire him for standing his ground and being confident and on the other I despair.

My sister who is a trained counsellor in mental health blames this on the teenage brain; emerging evidence that the adolescent brain does not reach adult maturity until the early 20’s which unfortunately means that I have got another three years of sighing, rolling of the eyes and incomprehensible grunting that only gets clearer when a demand for cash/petrol/clothes/loan/phone/oil/MOT/repair is looming.

After two attempts (at theory and practical stages)  my son passed his driving test in November which started an onslaught of an adolescent version of pester power to honour my commitment to get him a car and pay for his insurance for the first year.  This was a deal I struck up with him years ago when it was obvious he would not be going to university like his sister. In the interests of balance and fairness I agreed (stupidly) to give him the same amount towards a car that I paid towards her fees and maintenance, which he reminded me of at least three times a day and managed to extend in value by at least 33%.  However he had given me a very difficult task to find a new model Corsa (3 not 5 door), it had to be silver, a 1.2 engine and less than 80000 miles on the clock.  As you can imagine choices were limited, the mere hint of an alternative or 06 number plate had him raging and flailing his arms about with accusations of me being a bad parent, reneging on my promises and being  ‘just just … oh forget it!’ (cue flounce out of room and silent treatment).

In the end I managed to find the car of his dreams, which needed a bit of TLC, new tyres and apparently a new exhaust system (which I had to replace just five days after purchase).  Add this to the cost of his insurance which I managed to get for a mere £1500 through one of those black box deals, lets just say I paid out far more than I bargained for.

Some of you might be thinking what a fool I have been, but it appears that this investment has started to pay off.  It seems that you are much more likely to bag an elusive apprenticeship if you drive and have your own transport.   As soon as he had his car my son’s success rate at getting in front of people doubled overnight and he got four weeks work experience within a couple of days.  Unfortunately the experience did not last too long as the company only wanted to pay cash in hand and offer work as it came in.  At the time my son was also working 16 hours a week at Iceland and in one week clocked up nearly 50 hours in work… something he could not sustain alongside his studies.

Most of his friends have bagged their apprenticeships through friends and family.  One of his mates has got an apprenticeship paying £25,000 a year, learning one day a week a college with his uncle who owns an electrical company, his other mate’s Dad runs a construction company and has found him a job with one of his sub-contractors; another knows someone who knows someone.  In fact none of his friends have got their apprenticeships through the Government’s apprenticeship portals, or through providers and or through the college.  They have managed to get them through the ‘its not what you know it’s who you know’ route.

Being a family with absolutely no connections to the building trade we began to lose hope until a passing conversation with my partner’s neighbour, whose sons’ own their own electrical business, revealed that they would be interested in having a chat with my son.  After a week of persuading him to ring them up and send his CV, they took him on a week’s trial back in March.   I am pleased to report that he is still there, working on the days he is not at college and will this week be signing up to an apprenticeship with them (crossing fingers the college will pull their finger out and sort out the paperwork quickly).

Working out why we have eventually been fortunate is not difficult.  My son has held down a 18 hour part-time job since leaving school rising to a deputy supervisor within six months – he has developed employability skills; hard work, flexibility, personal communication (but not with his mum!) and responsibility but most importantly he has access to transport and a driving license – an absolute must have for a role in the trade – how else can you pack in eight jobs a day?

He has had a firm foundation of skills and support, which has reminded me of the importance of family and continuous support to keep him in line and focused. We cannot just rely on the educators but they should have provided more than they did by accessing more employers and jobs, give better CV and interview support.  And it seems to me to be a no-brainer for the Government help pay for driving lessons and a licence to improve the chances young people will have of getting an apprenticeship (for low-income families or rural areas) where it counts?

The apprenticeship system surely has to change, we have been talking far too long about the failure to serve young people and employers.  But we also have to change our views on what social mobility really means, we must not talk just about the elite jobs, we need to talk about all jobs and routes to progression as the ‘who you know’ rule is entrenched in all classes.

Caroline Masundire

You can follow Caroline @evaluationista


Managing grants – the FAME way

Managing grants – the FAME way

FAME: Fund – Assess – Monitor – Evaluate!

We have developed tried and tested processes which together comprise a full grant-management service, from the inception and co-design of a fund, through to its evaluation and impact assessment. Our support for funders goes beyond ensuring effective grant-making, and includes services which are increasingly described as being “funding plus.”


In the current economic climate, funders are under considerable pressure to ensure that they make the best use of resources in pursuit of clear but realistic goals.  We support grant makers to articulate their objectives, designing a fund’s eligibility criteria so that funding particular inputs and activities has every chance of translating into relevant outputs and sustainable outcomes.


Funders need to be confident that they are selecting grantees and funding projects which have the best chance of meeting particular needs and desired outcomes.  Over the years, Rocket Science has developed our highly accessible, but increasingly intuitive on-line Bid Assessment Tool (BAT) which gives grant-makers confidence in their decision making and funding awards.


Monitoring is often regarded as the least exciting part of the grant making process.  Yet, our design and application of an appropriate and proportionate monitoring regime is often critical to ensuring that grants are deployed as effectively as possible, minimising the risk of fraud and waste, whilst building the capacity of a programme’s grant recipients.


Evaluation is not just an end-of-grant report, but should be an ongoing process of learning that adds value and insights throughout any grant programme, as well as contributing to an evidence-based assessment of a fund’s overall impact.  We work with funders to co-design evaluation frameworks and tools which bring together project and programme-level information in highly-accessible formats.

Standout from the crowd – Tips on funding for the VCS

Standout from the crowd – Tips on funding for the VCS

So the election has come and gone and many commentators predicted that whoever won,  many of the challenges facing voluntary and community organisations would remain the same.  Central and local government funding has been on a downward trend, but cuts to public services  are accelerating the scale of funding reductions and competition to get grants from major funders and trusts is very high.

However there are opportunities as the VCS is very good at delivering services to communities, reaching those that other public services find hard to engage with and legislative changes, such as the provision of health and social care services, are creating openings for the VCS to move from a funding relationship to a commissioning relationship.   The trouble is that smaller voluntary and community organisations find it difficult to show the impact they are having on their community and don’t shout about it to the right people.

I run a popular workshop called Perfect your Pitch, which is designed for groups to help them articulate their offer and impact in applications and when they get the chance to meet the right people.  We take people through a process to identify their unique point of difference and get them to practice this in front of a ‘dragon’.  Nearly 250 people have been through the course and I wanted to share this learning to help you think about how to use these techniques the next time you put in an application or get a chance to meet a commissioner.

Tip 1 – Don’t chase the funding –to me this is the most important tip –  sit back and think about what funding you need rather than what funding is available.  Yes it sounds simple but a lot of organisations get caught up applying for funding without thinking why and how they are going to deliver it.  I had one attendee that spent a whole month applying for ten different opportunities and did not win any of them.  They were of course very disheartened, but when we worked it through only two of the opportunities were really relevant to the service the organisation provided, splitting her time across ten applications, meant she could not do a good and thorough job on any of them.

Tip 2 – Prepare, prepare, prepare – this follows the first tip in that you cannot expect to write an application in half a day from scratch.  By focusing your efforts on fewer higher quality proposals you are likely to get better scores when they are being assessed and a greater chance of winning.  We run grant programmes for funders and assess applications, as with most funds, we are always oversubscribed for the funding that is available.  This means that you could still put in a very good application but just miss out by a few points as we have a cut-off point on scores.  We often find that applications score less well either on their response to evaluation (impact) and monitoring or on making the case for their project.  And sometimes it is really hard to work out exactly what the project wants to achieve… think about the reader, we don’t know you, we can only judge you on what you tell us.   I use the Nana test… if your Nana understands what you want to do then so will everyone else, keep it simple and clear.

Tip 3 – Need to scale up? – work with others.  We cannot change the fact that is much more cost effective to contract with one organisation rather than with many.  This is happening across all public services and with some funders, cost savings are made on management by contracting with a ‘lead contractor’ or ‘lead partner’ who will then do all the management on behalf of the commissioner and sub contract with other organisations to deliver services.  Whilst it makes sense, it does mean that smaller organisations miss out because they are not connected into the right ‘lead partner’, or there is not an obvious one to work with – we think this is particularly challenging in rural areas.  In a lot of cases organisations and particularly their trustees can be resistant to change and collaboration as it feels risky, but there is greater risk on your sustainability if you need to rely on public funding to keep afloat. So if you want to access funding to support your communities, working with other areas and organisations will help you provide the scale and reach to make you a viable proposition to a commissioner.

Tip 4 – So what is good about you?  Why should we fund you? Why should we work with you? – can you really answer these questions in a succinct way with impact?  I suspect not or at least you would need to really prepare your response.  There is something about the British personality to be a bit self-effacing and we can find it very difficult to be bullish about what we have achieved and what we can do.  You need to work out what your point of difference is from another organisation

  • is it about your reach and trust in the community? – which means you can access them far quicker than someone else
  • is it that you have lots of things going on in your building that can help the people you are working with? – which means you can provide added value support they would otherwise not be able to access
  • is it that you have a team of volunteers that make it much more cost effective to run a lunch club or cafe

Identifying two or three things you do that make a real difference can be very powerful and keep you in people’s minds.

If you would like to find out more about our training and support contact Caroline

How do you solve a problem like Childcare?

How do you solve a problem like Childcare?

Caroline Masundire gives her take on the eternal challenges of childcare and where some opportunities lie for innovation.

Two years ago,  I published a blog called Goodbye Childcare, Hello Freedom which charted the challenges I faced as single parent organising childcare in the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s.  Reflecting back on this and my subsequent blog on the Government’s childcare strategy, More Great Childcare, I have put some thoughts together on the challenges of developing and supporting childcare, which cannot be resolved just by extending free provision in early years or pump priming new provision.  Since the 90s, the childcare sector has been subject to a lot of change:

  • Initiatives and some investment from government and regional agencies e.g. extended schools (labour) which attempted to incentivise schools to offer wraparound childcare, through to current Government investment to pump-prime start up provision with a micro grant, the extended free childcare offer which provides 15 hours of free childcare a week and childcare tax credits.  Many of the regional development agencies prior to their demise in 2011, established regional childcare investment programmes and some back to work programmes offered unemployed individuals a childcare subsidy paid to providers to help them manage their transition into work;
  • Professionalisation of the childcare workforce through vocational qualifications and accreditation which has become an integral part of the regulatory assessment of quality childcare but has had a subsequent impact on the cost to run childcare provision;
  • The changing role of local authorities moving from an assessment and regulation role to becoming stewards of the local childcare market, identifying and supporting the development of provision through Childcare Sufficiency Assessments, their requirements around Children and Young People and Economic Wellbeing and their role as brokers of childcare information through their Family Information Services including access to online information;
  • The change to employment conditions (atypical hours, zero hour contracts, short term contracts) and working hours of parents has placed a demand on providers to become more flexible in their childcare offer.  However the pace of that change is hindered by the cost to provide what parents need compared to the scale at which those costs can be recovered through requirements around staff to children ratios.

In short there has been a lot of specific investment in developing provision and some tinkering around the edges, but it still remains a big problem. On top of these challenges recent policy influences are also having a big impact:

  • Welfare reform and the move for parents on Income Support to Job Seekers Allowance once their youngest child reaches school age has increased demand for out of school childcare;
  • National Minimum Wage (NMW)  and commitments to a Living Wage impact both on parental income and the costs of running provision;
  • Potential impacts of Universal Credit (UC) on household income as well as areas such as London where housing costs are significantly impacting on costs of living and affordability.  This in turn is forcing families to move out to more affordable areas to live, extending their commuting time and need for childcare outside of core hours (8am-6pm).

Understanding the tensions between what parents need and what is provided

I think many actors with an interest in childcare understand the tensions but find it hard to resolve the challenge around what parents need and what can they afford against what can the market supply that is both affordable and sustainable for the provider.

We cannot escape the fact that decisions about childcare are complex, something I feel policymakers often ignore.  Parents have to make judgements based on what is Available – around the age of the child (ren) and at times to suit, what is Accessible – where is it and how does it fit around travel to work and finally what is Affordable.  I refer to this as the three A’s which determine parental choice (something we used in sufficiency assessments back in the 00s.

For example look at the needs of a parent with a school age child of eight years and a baby of seven months.  Their childcare has to fit around the school day for the eight year old, so needs to be near or at the school, whereas there is more flexibility for options for the baby for which location is not a ‘dealbreaker’.  In this scenario (which reflects my own experience) the parent has limited choices.  If the school does not provide wrap around care nor has a nursery attached, the formal childcare available will likely be a local childminder that offers places for both under and over 5s and covers school runs to this school.

Another example is for a single parent on in-work benefits with three school aged children under 10 that works five days a week part-time on National Minimum Wage during the school day and does not need to rely on childcare during term time.  Yet during school holidays the parent has to find childcare to cover those hours and find the money to pay for childcare costs for the three children – making childcare unaffordable and out of reach.

What these examples also highlight are the challenges facing providers and local authorities in terms of addressing the different kinds of choices parents have to make based on their varying needs and circumstances.  Whilst quality of the provision is at the fore front of parental concerns, choice is also determined by the practicality of using the options available.  Sufficiency assessments provide an overview of need and offer at a local authority perspective, but providers need to have assurances around that they can cover costs and remain sustainable and profitable.  So it is unsurprising that there is a lack of choice; providers are guided by simple market forces and will offer provision where they can be assured of income, often resulting in lots of provision of early care and lack of provision in wrap around and out of school care.  The latter need is often met and supported through informal childcare which although affordable and often free is less reliable and breaks down.

Some opportunities for innovation

There are opportunities to look to innovation to address gaps both in terms of diversification of provision and collective action by local agencies to support the childcare market.  Here are my top two!

Innovation 1 – From Atypical to typical

There are significant opportunities for formalising the informal market for atypical provision. Atypical working hours describe working patterns which do not fall within the 8am – 6pm standard hours, and includes shift work, irregular hours, over-time, being ‘on call’, and weekend work.  Commuting (common to London workers) can also turn a typical working day into one of atypical hours; 16% of working people in London travel for over an hour to get to and from their workplace.

Research conducted by the Resolution Foundation suggested that “[c]urrent market failure in the provision of childcare outside core hours and international examples of best practice indicate that there may be a broader role for government in developing a childcare market that is responsive to the needs of parents working atypical hours”. A survey from the Daycare Trust highlighted that 53% of parents reported problems accessing childcare before 8am and 66% had problems accessing childcare after 6pm.  It also showed that only 9% of local authorities in England reported “sufficient childcare” for children of parents with atypical work patterns.

Research also shows the difficulty of demonstrating demand to be a major factor in establishing atypical childcare. The demand for atypical childcare can be untested because parents are not aware that there is even an option to request this from their local authorities. As a result, the “majority of parents, particularly those from low income groups, fill this gap with informal childcare” (Daycare Trust) – that is, grandparents, friends and other family. However, this is not always possible, particularly for migrant families without a support network, and this kind of support is not a long-term solution as informal care is more likely to break down.  The development of using innovation in atypical provision is challenging but achievable, both in terms of modelling a sustainable solution (a business model we developed for the London Borough of Brent which focused on an estate based solution) and facilitating the exchange of childcare services and payments through currency models such as Time Credits for two hours or less.  Both of which need to be ‘close to home’.

Innovation 2- Joint investment focused on assets and shared resources

We know that there is often a disconnect between local actors that have responsibility for the local childcare market and local economy.  Our review of innovation in childcare in Wales highlighted  failures in local authority departments to ‘join the dots’. Departments often make investments in isolation from one another and do not see the connections between their policy and funding decisions.  Closing the gap in perception between economic development and childcare professionals is a key challenge.  Otherwise, it will not be possible to form effective partnerships to deliver more effective use of local assets and resources.  In our view such partnerships have the power to transform how the market operates.   Our key recommendations from this review included the following

There needs to be greater collaboration and working between policy, commissioning and providers to design childcare solutions that better meet the needs of parents and ensure the sustainability of provision.  This may include:

 The sharing of resources and funding for the development of provision, linking into community venues such as schools and helping providers to work together to provide a wider range of services.

    • The sharing of costs and associated administrative burdens of delivering childcare i.e. DBS registrations, management through a managing agent model to bring different providers together.
    • A multi-Agency approach, which is based on more coherent communication between Family Information Services and providers around childcare options to help manage parent expectations of what is childcare and the costs and benefits associated with it and possibly wrapped into wider benefits and money management advice and support”

So what next?

There seems to be very little in the election promises in 2015.  Without having in place a universal childcare offer in the UK (a dream but an impossibility) we can look forward to more tinkering and short term investment, with a bit of regulation thrown in, which has been the default position of all government administrations since before I can remember. Which leaves us with the question. Do we sit back and wait for the next initiative or do we grab the opportunities that innovating our ways of thinking about and working towards solutions present us?  I know which one I prefer.


Follow Caroline on Twitter @evaluationista

Innovating childcare provision

Innovating childcare provision

Innovating childcare through aytpical provision.

Rocket Science were asked by the London Borough of Brent to identify models for childcare in the borough and their potential for development into a social enterprise.

Following an initial scoping of the market and opportunities, we agreed to research the market demands for provision of atypical childcare provision for lone parents moving onto Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) in the London Borough of Brent. Our rationale for this focus was that access to employment for long term unemployed parents was being hindered by inaccessible childcare and that following welfare reform changes, parents entering the labour market were being directed into NMW entry-level jobs which often required shift work and did not reflect school hours.  We worked closely with the children’s team and through our detailed assessment of estate tenancies and family make up matched against labour market trends, we were able to make the case that action needed to be taken.

Following research with parents, Jobcentre Plus and other stakeholders we presented a series of options for the council to adopt and latterly with the council developed an innovative, feasible and sustainable business model, funded through local partners, that provided extended wraparound childcare (6.30 – 9 am and between 5 and 9 pm) targeted at residents across three estates. It built in opportunities around volunteering and training. We modelled the business plan and developed assumptions around staffing, costs and payments, working on achieving sustainability in Year 3.

For more information contact Caroline