We have just launched the LARIA Prospectus which sets out what we have achieved to date and our development plan for 2015-2020 . It was developed by the LARIA Council and is now open to comments from members. If you want to offer a comment, or volunteer to support a particular activity, please contact us by the end of year at the latest – email with your views or we would be happy to arrange a time to discuss.
The Local Area Research and Intelligence Association (LARIA) is a membership led organisation which was established in 1974 and has consistently provided an invaluable support network for its members over the years. Its aim has been to support local researchers in the public sector. It has achieved the following in the last few years:
- Active Knowledge Hub and Linkedin bulletin board discussions
- Developing networking links for members with Health Statistics User Group, Public Health England, INLOGOV, Improvement Service, National Records of Scotland, COSLA, MRS, Society of Local Authorities Chief Executives (SOLACE), Social Research Association, Royal Statistical Society, ONS and LGA
- Establishing a set of National Occupational Standards to promote CPD for local researchers
- Increased membership numbers and income
- Launch of the LARIA Research Impact Awards
- Launch of the LARIA Charter for full members
- Launch of the new LARIA website
- Merging with the British Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (BURISA)
- Number of free local networking events
- Responding to government consultations on behalf of local researchers including on the future of the Census
- Successful LARIA Annual National and Scottish Conferences now accredited by the Market Research Society (MRS) as part of their Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programme
- Supported publications from the Alliance for Useful Evidence, Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Local Government Association (LGA)
However successful LARIA may be at present there is substantial room for improvement. There are a number of key issues that it needs to address as a matter of some urgency if it is to survive in the current difficult economic and political climate. Public services are having to adapt to many major changes in service delivery. LARIA also needs to continually adapt in order to be seen as an influential organisation that can promote robust local research that will support effective evidence based decision-making in public services.
One of the first key considerations that LARIA has to address is its current business model, which although seemingly stable is no longer sustainable in the current economic climate and has limited scope for growth. LARIA has two main sources of revenue: membership and events. With regards to both of these the income generated has been significantly reducing over the last few years as members have to prove the value for money provided. LARIA has survived as it has cut back costs and started to develop a clearer offer for members. The LARIA Council has been instrumental in maintaining LARIA’s position. However, LARIA needs to carefully consider its current position as well as identifying what appropriate action needs to be taken to address this situation if the organisation is to survive in the longer term.
We think that LARIA can only achieve our aims and objectives through partnership. LARIA is largely a voluntary organisation with no permanent office or officers. We rely on the time and goodwill of members. We are not looking to establish a large central LARIA bureaucracy or office. We want to focus on the outcomes we can contribute towards. At present we successfully commission out our administrative and event management work and see huge potential in rolling out this kind of activity to other areas.
The purpose of the prospectus is to set out what we have achieved to date and how we can build on this for the future. To achieve our goals we are looking to provide more opportunities for our members to get involved in our activities and to encourage financial support from partner organisations to help fund specific activities we have identified.
For our partner organisations we can offer our experience (we have been in existence for 40 years), our reach (we can access the skills, knowledge and experience of a broad range of people and organisations) and our network (we are at the centre of a ‘network of networks’). We can apply our experience, reach and networking abilities in particular in driving forward leadership in local areas and places. By supporting our members we will be encouraging evidence-based decision making more generally across the public sector. At present we think we have identified clear workstreams for the equivalent of one person working full-time on our new activities. This would be on top of the existing voluntary work of our members and could not be funded directly by LARIA as it only achieves a small surplus each year. We would welcome creative discussions around how these activities could be resourced either with partners supporting individual tasks or a broader package. The ideas we want to implement and are looking for financial support to deliver are set out in detail within this prospectus and include:
- The establishment of a LARIA Partnership Group to help challenge the organisation to meet the needs of the broader sector
- Development of a clearer CPD programme
- Mapping out the local area research networks and providing members with the tools to do the same locally
- Creating an online marketplace that would help members join up commissioning on projects of shared interest
- Development of clearer guidance for members through a relaunched LARIA News
- Ensuring LARIA is seen as a central voice on four or five specialist areas
If we do nothing at all we are only prolonging the inevitable as we can only “tread water” for so long. There are a number of examples of member led organisations who have found themselves facing similar issues to LARIA and sadly many of these have had to cease their activities. Doing nothing is not really an option!
This prospectus sets out ideas for a sustainable future for LARIA. It sets out the activities that LARIA can undertake and a clearer member offer. It is a prospectus as it also establishes options for growth – investment from LARIA or external sponsors and partners that will lead to tangible outcomes for our members.
LARIA Council, November 2014