Gloucestershire LINk’s Annual Report for 2010 – 11 was published on June 16th after being presented at the LINk’s Annual General Meeting. The report paints an interesting picture of the LINk’s work during the year, but in a way that suggests there has been some airbrushing — the details are a little fuzzy if you look too closely.
Overall, therefore, the report seems just a little too good to be true. It’s slightly reminiscent of a story of Lake Wobegone, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”
It’s nice to look at, though — colourful, with pictures, charts and tables. What’s more it very probably (although I haven’t checked) meets all the formal requirements for LINk annual reports in terms of the information given.
The report first appeared at the LINk’s AGM on June 16, where it was presented by Barbara Marshall, who chairs the LINk. Her presentation highlighted some details that are not immediately apparent in the document itself.
For example, she highlighted the need for the LINk to attract more members in the 16 to 24 age group. In the report, the proportion (2% of LINk members) appears in a chart on page 9, but the only other places that young people are mentioned present a glowing picture of involvement with youth.
The LINk would have to recruit around six times the number of young people to match the proportion in the population of Gloucestershire. That strategic goal of increasing the proportion of young members is missing from the report.
At the very end of the AGM, a member asked a question about this very thing — why is there no sense of strategic direction in the report? Unfortunately he did not get a very good answer.
It was also unfortunate that most members did not see the report until the evening of the AGM. We were not given the chance to read it, or to vote on its adoption.
The report ends with a Next Steps section describing what is in store between now and March 2012. It describes it as:
“the transition year when LINk evolves into Local HealthWatch”
Presumably, at the time that was written it was not known that HealthWatch will not come into being until October 2012. At the AGM it was announced that Gloucestershire LINk had applied to be a pathfinder, working towards partial transition to HealthWatch earlier, but the Next Steps section in the report does not seem to take account of that.
The delayed implementation of HealthWatch also calls into question the LINk’s decision to suspend election of its Stewardship Board, leaving the old Board in place. The implication is that next year’s election will be suspended too. The Annual report might have been an appropriate place to spell out why each member of the Board is individually so valuable as to put the stability of the organization at risk were they to be democratically replaced.
Questions and implications
The report is like this throughout, hinting at things that are not followed up, leaving loose ends on almost every page. Well, every page, actually, if you look hard enough.
The front cover has a quotation in large letters. Who or what is being quoted?
Page 2 thanks a Communications and Community Engagement Group, but names only some of them. Who are they and why do they deserve special thanks if the their achievements are not worth mentioning?
Page 3 quotes “a key partner”, and the anonymous image beside the quote implies a child is being quoted, but why the secrecy? Who is this key partner?
Page 4 contradicts the quotation on the front cover by omiting any mention of influence on the way services are planned.
(This is fun! I think I’ll go on…)
Page 5‘s overview of the population of Gloucestershire is subtly different from the overview the County Council published in February.
Page 6 claims that in nearly every other place in the country, the LINk is supported by more than one local host organization. Really?
Page 7 omits all those members of the public who are not LINk members but who nevertheless participate by sharing their views on health and social care. Are they not important?
Page 8 raises the question of who the LINk’s 62 member organizations and 7 interest groups are.
Page 9 makes the age structure and gender structure seem unrelated, when in reality they are linked. Because women generally live longer than men, and the LINk over-represents retired people, you would expect the LINk to contain more women. It’s impossible to tell from the charts in the report whether the LINk actually has an additional gender bias or not.
Page 10 raises the question of why the LINk over-represents people with disabilities, and whether that is right.
Page 11 mentions missing data in the LINk’s monitoring forms, but gives no clue as to how much data is missing and how that affects the reliability of the preceding figures.
Page 12 mentions the “BME community” without explanation. BME.com is a body modification group that shares information on tattoos, scars and piercings — could that be what it means?
Page 13 reveals no details of the numbers of comments received from members of the public in various places, how the training that members received has been used, or who talked to community groups and about what.
Page 14 is the page that mentions work with young people, making it bewildering that so few young people join.
Page 15 again emphasises that the LINk has no apparent influence on planning. The relationship is all in the other direction, with LINk members being briefed about planning decisions. Why was a whole page used to deliver this confirmation of the LINk’s ineffectiveness?
Page 16‘s diagram makes it seem that the LINk’s reports feed back to the people of Gloucestershire, influencing peoples views, as if the LINk is just a PR exercise.
Phew! I’ve reached the middle of the report, and this is labouring the point. The report is just full of loose ends.
No, I cannot resist just one more…
Page 17 describes in just two sentences the work of a group that was announced a full year ago in the 2009 – 10 Annual Report to look into self-harm and suicide prevention. One sentence says the group decided not to look at self-harm after all, and the other says that it worked closely with a department of the primary care trust on a strategy that the department was creating anyway. This was a group I tried to join, by the way, only to be told it was full.
The production of the report looks a little amateurish to my eye, despite being credited to not one but two consultancies. Too many cooks, perhaps. Too much funding, perhaps.
For example, while I completely understand the need to use the LINk’s navy on orange-yellow logo branding in every publication to create a sense of recognition and continuity, I think solid orange-yellow pages with navy text are going too far.
And while I appreciate that charts are a good way to make numerical data easy to understand, several of the charts in the report are the wrong kind of chart for the data. (Pie charts are more appropriate to show proportions.) Charts should lend clarity to a serious point that is made in the text, I think, and not just be charts for charts’ sake.
Little care seems to have been taken with the photographs. Huge photos that look like they are from commercial image libraries contrast uncomfortably with tiny ones from the LINk itself. The LINk’s own photos are not captioned or attributed, and they seem to appear at random instead of relating to the text.
Taken as a whole, the report does a good job in giving a positive impression of the LINk with just enough facts to make it appear reliable. In leaving unsaid what it leaves unsaid, however, it deprives the LINk of a clear direction for growth.
Volunteers like myself ask the question, “What can we do to help?” and this report gives no answer.