7.1 This chapter draws together the conclusions under each of the four main aims, as well as in relation to the definition and measurement of outcomes. A final, overall conclusion, completes the report.
Impacts of Autism Network Scotland
7.2 ANS has achieved a range of positive impacts since its inception in relation to: networking and sharing good practice; provision of information and resources; raising awareness; collaborative working; and (local authority) strategy development. There is clear evidence that the work of ANS is highly valued by professionals, especially those working in local authorities and the NHS.
7.3 As far as the impact in relation to 'promoting wider engagement of people with autism and their families in ANS work and in the decision-making process' is concerned, the picture is mixed. Whilst there is evidence of effort and some success in relation to the wider engagement agenda, there is also an over-reliance on a few key individuals. Moreover, there is a lack of monitoring information in relation to the numbers of people with autism and their carers who have been involved. However, this is in the context of a highly challenging agenda; the 'work in progress' should be commended.
7.4 The impacts for people with autism and their families and carers are mostly achieved through indirect means. The scale of any direct impacts is unclear given the lack of specific monitoring information.
Governance and financial arrangements
7.5 The arrangements for the financial management of the grant to the University of Strathclyde to run the network are well organised and satisfactory. Each time a grant award is made, a costing is done to ensure that the amount in the award letter matches the amount being spent through the grant. The budgeting and payment system is available in 'live time' to senior ANS staff, so that ongoing day-to-day monitoring of grant expenditure, including virement between budget subheads can be achieved. No problems with this arrangement were identified.
7.6 A range of progress reports in different formats (9 in total) have been submitted during the period since ANS was established in 2012. Two formal monitoring meetings between senior ANS staff and the Scottish Government have taken place during that period. (There are no minutes available from either of these meetings.) Thus, there has been limited opportunity for discussion of potential strategic developments in relation to ANS (e.g. the development of external funding possibilities such as that offered by Celtic FC Foundation, or the potential for the network to develop its research profile). This is a deficit in relation to the governance of the network.
Strengths and weaknesses of the model
7.7 The main strengths of the current model for Autism Network Scotland which were identified are i) the (Scotland-wide) overview of autism practice and strategy development and ii) the independence of ANS.
7.8 The Scotland-wide overview was highly valued, and was seen to be a unique feature of the current model. The network was credited with providing a bridge between the national and the local landscape, and with joining up the many and varied activities across Scotland. The benefits for professionals, at whom the activities of the network are most obviously directed, were clearly apparent.
7.9 The independence of the network was also very important to stakeholders, especially those from the public sector, who emphasised the particular benefits of the network not having a commercial role in service provision; however there were also concerns expressed about possible compromise to the network's independence either because of a new role in service delivery (specifically in relation to Celtic FC Foundation) or because of its role as the 'voice' of the Scottish Government in relation to the strategy.
7.10 The main weaknesses of the current model which were identified are i) the lack of clarity about the remit of ANS and its relationship to the Scottish Strategy for Autism, the Governance Group and the Scottish Government and ii) the insufficient delineation of leadership roles.
7.11 These weaknesses have led to negative stakeholder perceptions about the governance of the network.
7.12 Other aspects of the model, in particular i) its hosting arrangements, and ii) its focus on professionals and autism practice are seen as both a strength and a weakness.
Future development of a network or other mechanism to support strategy delivery
7.13 Achievement of the strategic outcomes identified by the Scottish Government will require a network - or some other organisation - which can provide an overview across Scotland in relation to: effective networking and the sharing of good practice; the provision of high quality information and resources; and awareness raising activities (both within services but also more generally within the general public).
7.14 There is no unique set of organisational and governance arrangements for delivering these functions; a network based largely on the current model is one possible approach, but other approaches (for example the model used within learning disabilities, or that used within the co-production context) are also possible. [19,20]
7.15 Whichever model is pursued, there is a requirement for clarity of the remit, and clarity of the relationship to both the Scottish Strategy for Autism and to the Scottish Government. This clarification would require the specification of key performance indicators which could be used to monitor and measure progress. There is also a requirement for a clear governance structure. This would include a regular forum where strategic issues and developments could be discussed, and a clear delineation of leadership roles. Given the importance stakeholders placed on the quality of independence, an articulation of how independence could be achieved would need to be carefully considered and clarified by Scottish Government.
Definition and measurement of outcomes
7.16 The development of a clear understanding of the inputs, activities, outputs and (short, medium and long term) outcomes of ANS (or any other national autism network / organisation) is required.
7.17 The ANS website, and the membership model which underpins it, require further development to ensure that comprehensive information and resources are available in a user-friendly and accessible format to as wide a constituency of users as possible.
7.18 ANS has achieved a range of positive impacts to date, based on a wide range of activities including networking and sharing good practice, providing information and resources, and raising awareness. The achievement of the strategic outcomes identified by the Scottish Government requires these activities to continue. There is no unique set of organisational and governance arrangements for delivering these functions. However, whichever model is pursued, there is a requirement for clarity of the remit and a clear governance structure as well as transparent performance outcome measures.
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