DFI Strategic Plan 2011-2016 Context and Development Report
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Written by Stephen Rourke
3.1.1 Disability Policy
Note: Draft “DFI Strategic Plan follows page 20
STRATEGIC PRIORITIES FOR DFI IN THE PERIOD FROM 2011 TO 2016
- To influence the development, implementation and monitoring of policies affecting people with disabilities
- To improve the effectiveness and sustainability of DFI member organisations.
- To strengthen the voice, impact and relevance of the disability movement in Ireland.
- To enhance the organisational effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability of DFI
Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI) is the national support organisation and advocate for voluntary disability organisations in Ireland who provide services to people with disabilities and disabling conditions.
DFI works to ensure that Irish society is fully inclusive of people with disabilities and disabling conditions so that they can exercise fully their civil, social and human rights. In pursuit of this vision:
- DFI acts as an advocate for the voluntary disability sector
- Supports organisations to further enable people with disabilities.
There are 127 organisations within membership or as associates of DFI. DFI also works with a growing number of organisations and groups that have a significant disability interest, mainly from the statutory and voluntary sectors.
DFI is at an important stage in its development. The new Strategic Plan (from 2011 onwards) will need to reflect the main priorities, concerns and needs of DFI member organisations within the context of the vision, mission and objectives of DFI. At the same time as preparations are made for the new Strategic Plan, it is also evident that the voluntary disability sector in Ireland is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of cut-backs in public expenditure, more onerous corporate governance responsibilities and requirements, greater analysis of the value for money being provided by organisations within the voluntary disability sector, increasing levels of demand for services, and growing expectations from people with disabilities for independence and choice.
The Board and the management team within DFI are anxious to ensure that the 2011 – 2016 Strategic Plan is based on a solid and robust analysis of future needs and requirements within the voluntary disability sector in Ireland. It is a time of unprecedented change in demographics (with an ageing population leading to a corresponding increase in the number of people with disabilities); changes in the funds / resources available to voluntary disability organisations; changes in the way in which services are provided to people with disabilities (with a move towards disabled people purchasing their own services within certain allocations of money). These are all far-reaching changes which will have significant impacts for DFI member organisations.
In order to accurately capture the scope and the nature of the future challenges and opportunities within the voluntary disability sector, the Board and management team within DFI felt that it was important to consult very widely in relation to the analysis and the insights which would underpin and inform the 2011 – 2016 Strategic Plan. Therefore, the consultation process extended beyond DFI structures (i.e. Board, National Council), DFI member organisations and DFI staff. The process also included other umbrella and networking organisations within the disability sector, key individuals and organisations within the community and voluntary sector, senior civil servants and politicians.
In total, over 110 people participated in the various consultation activities which took place in the second half of 2010 in relation to the production of the 2011 – 2016 Strategic Plan for DFI. Some of these people attended meetings, some completed questionnaires, some were involved at a number of different stages in the process. It is considered that the various planning activities have resulted in a rich analysis which provide a good foundation for the production of the 2011 – 2016 Strategic Plan.
There is a high level of satisfaction and positivity about the work and activities of DFI. Virtually all of the completed questionnaire and the feedback received from interviewees made reference to the relevance and quality of the work carried out by DFI. Member organisations referred on a regular basis to ways in which DFI staff have contributed to the development of their organisation and to the important role which DFI continues to play in pushing for the full implementation of the NDS (a role which nearly all representatives of member organisations would find difficult to undertake themselves on account of the need to manage and to develop their own organisations).
‘I observe DFI to be more professional, more targeted, more focused. The staff complement has been increased. DFI has built up its internal organisational structure and is now recognised as a main player at the national level.’
Comment of member organisation.
It is also clear that DFI is held in high esteem by senior civil servants, by politicians, by other umbrella disability organisations and by leading figures within the community and voluntary sector. In the course of consultation interviews there is a general sense that DFI is professional in its work, that there is a strong evidence base to its policy and research work, that it represents the interests of its members very well. DFI is respected within the political class in Ireland, within the community and voluntary sector and within processes such as Social Partnership and monitoring the implementation of the NDS.
‘I have high regard for DFI. It is a very professional organisation. It is constructive and it presents robust, well-argued and evidence based cases.’
Comment of interviewee.
DFI has struck the right balance between the main focuses of its work (i.e. supporting member organisations; influencing policy; building a national platform). There is a sense that DFI has carried out useful and important work in relation to all three of these strategic areas. There is also a view that DFI has struck a good balance between being a strong advocate for member organisations on the one hand and not unnecessarily alienating key Government Departments and statutory agencies on the other hand. DFI has been measured and pragmatic in its approach whilst at all times doing what it can to protect the interests of its members and to progress the full implementation of the NDS.
‘DFI has been sensible not to be manning the barricades and bringing people out on the streets and having a lash at every politician in sight. DFI has achieved more by not alienating the people whom they hope to influence and by building up positive and constructive relationships with key policy makers and decision makers.’
Comment of interviewee.
‘DFI is a good sounding board which represents the voluntary disability sector and it is good for Government to have a sounding board such as DFI’
Comment of interviewee.
There is also quite a strong view that DFI thinks carefully about the work areas in which it might become more involved and that it does not get involved in work which is already being carried out in a competent manner by other organisations. The fact that DFI do not try to duplicate what others are doing and that they try to complement the work of existing organisations is generally recognised and appreciated within the community and voluntary sector.
‘DFI does not do what others are doing in an efficient and professional way. It does not aim to do similar work to The Wheel or the Irish Charities Tax Reform Trust. DFI is not doing everything themselves. They are working through existing structures and existing organisations.’
Comment of interviewee
There have been noticeable and significant changes in the ways in which DFI supports its member organisations during the lifespan of the 2004 - 2010 Strategic Plan. Some questionnaires referenced the introduction of new organisational development and organisational planning tools (such as the Service Suite, PQASSO, Healthcheck) whilst other questionnaires referenced the quality and the clarity of the information which DFI provides and makes available to its member organisations. Many questionnaires also alluded to the quality of contact with DFI staff and to the support and expertise provided by DFI’s support officers.
‘I have received support with annual plans, strategic plan, HR issues, Board relationship issues, personal support in understanding the HSE and its policy framework and its new developments. I have also had an organisational healthcheck and am about to start on PQASSO. My chairperson has completed “Chairpersons as effective leaders” and my next chairperson is about to undertake training on chairing meetings. My Garda vetting procedures were organised by DFI and have worked well. The DFI support officer takes calls about a wide range of issues and is always able to show me the wider context, the big picture and this helps me make sense of the issues that I encounter here in a small organisation.’
Comment of member organisation.
A key challenge for DFI is to remain relevant to the needs and circumstances of DFI member organisations. DFI has played an important role in supporting member organisations and the feedback from consultations would suggest that the costs involved in being a member of DFI (e.g. membership fee, participation in surveys and research, attendance at meetings) are far outweighed by the benefits which accrue to member organisations. There is also a sense, however, that the more significant benefits accrue to small-to-medium sized organisations which would not have their own specialist workers/departments dealing with issues such as policy development, research, lobbying, human resources, information technology and fundraising.
A key role of DFI relates to influencing the policies of relevant organisations and agencies at the national level (e.g. Government Departments, statutory agencies) and at the local level (e.g. local authorities, County Development Boards, Area Partnership Companies). This role is particularly important since it serves to represent the collective views of DFI member organisations who, by themselves, often do not have the resources to engage in significant lobbying and advocacy work. DFI has played a particularly important role in representing the interests of the broad voluntary disability sector and that this is a representative role which is not currently being undertaken by other umbrella organisations. 
‘I support DFI in its work within the Social Partnership framework and I believe they are needed to keep hammering away at driving home the message that the NDS cannot be abandoned. The work that they undertake nationally will eventually filter down locally through circulars and policy changes. I support the DFI as the spokesperson as they seem to be consistently giving a voice to disabled people themselves rather than the voice of the traditional charity based service providers.’
Comment of member organisation
It is important to give greater consideration to policy developments taking place at the regional and local levels. Whilst it is still necessary to deal with the HSE and the relevant Government Departments at the national level (e.g. in relation to Sectoral Plans drawn up by Government Departments) it is also necessary to ensure that vital services for people with disabilities are being delivered at the local level (e.g. physical access, accessible transport, adaptation grants for houses). Hence the need for DFI to work at national level, at local level and at regional level.
DFI continues to play an important role in building a national platform within the voluntary disability sector and in developing strategic alliances and relationships within the broader community and voluntary sector in Ireland. DFI is generally perceived as a facilitative, supportive, non-threatening organisation. It is positive that DFI has increased its membership significantly during the course of the 2004 - 2010 Strategic Plan and that a number of interviewees said that DFI is increasingly being recognised as the representative voice of the voluntary disability sector in Ireland.
There is still a good deal more work to take place in relation to developing the concept and practice of a ‘national platform’ for voluntary disability organisations. On the basis of the consultations, it is clear that people are more uncertain and confused about this strategic area than they are about the strategic areas concerning ‘supporting member organisations’ and ‘influencing policy,’ it seems that ‘building a national platform’ is more nebulous and more difficult to explain and to define.
‘The voluntary sector is most fragmented and organisations such as DFI are critical in not only supporting smaller organisations on the most practical of levels but also facilitating the development of shared goals and ideas in the sector and subsequently representing these to Government.’
Comment of member organisation
3.1.1 Disability Policy
The National Disability Strategy (NDS) is the foremost policy document and policy framework which informs the work of DFI and other disability organisations within Ireland. The NDS sets out a vision in relation to the participation and integration of people with disabilities and it forms the basis and rationale for some significant pieces of legislation and for positive planning mechanisms to be established within the public sector.
To a large extent, the full implementation of the NDS is the cornerstone of DFI’s policy work. When it is fully implemented, the NDS will lead to substantial changes in the life opportunities and quality of life for people with disabilities.
It will lead to improvements in the ways in which services are provided to disabled people and it will promote greater integration and participation of people with disabilities into mainstream services. The NDS’s vision and goals for people with disabilities are set out in the Towards 2016 Social Partnership document. The vision is of “an Ireland where people with disabilities have, to the greatest extent possible, the opportunity to lead a full life with their families and as part of their community, free from discrimination.”
The goals are that:
- Every person with a disability would have access to an income which is sufficient to sustain an acceptable standard of living.
- Every person with a disability would, in conformity with their needs and abilities, have access to appropriate care, health, education, employment and training, and social services.
- Every person with a disability would have access to public spaces, buildings, transport, information, advocacy and other public services and appropriate housing.
- Every person with a disability would be supported to enable them, as far as possible, to lead full and independent lives, to participate in work and in society and to maximise their potential.
- Carers would be acknowledged and supported in their caring role.
Whilst a good start has been made in relation to the implementation of some aspects of the NDS, there is real concern that the process might now stall and perhaps regress on account of the perilous state of the public finances. In this context, it is most important to safeguard and consolidate what has been achieved so far and, where possible, to progress aspects of the NDS which remain to be implemented. A major policy priority will be to protect and defend the NDS and to ensure that all stakeholders (including Government) continue to work towards its full implementation.
The population of the Republic of Ireland will increase from 4,239,848 in 2006 to 4,922,000 in 2025 and 5,478,000 in 2050 (European Commission Green Paper on Population Change, 2005). It is also anticipated that the proportion of people aged 65 and over will increase from 11.0% in 2006 to 16.5% in 2025 and 26.2% in 2050. This compares to comparative figures for the European Union of 16.4% of the population aged 65 and over in 2006, 22.8% within this age category in 2025 and 29.9% in 2050.
Given the clear correlation between ageing and disability (i.e. higher percentages of older people are more likely to have disabilities and long-term illnesses) it is reasonable to assume that the increases in the number of older people in Ireland over the next 30 years will be mirrored by a comparable increase in the number of people with disabilities. This is going to place an enormous strain on mainstream health services (e.g. primary care and hospitals) and on the resources and services of voluntary disability organisations which are involved in conditions or disabilities which have a disproportionate impact on older people (e.g. Alzheimer’s, sight loss, deafness, arthritis, Parkinson’s Disease).
It is important that more analysis and research is carried out around the issue of ‘ageing and disability’ and that policy makers are clearly aware of the disability and healthcare consequences of an ageing population. For example, there is a need to balance the reality of an ageing population with the fact that people are generally living healthier lives and are receiving better healthcare and treatment (on account of improvements in medical science) than in previous generations. There is a clear need to focus more attention on disabilities and conditions which tend to be most prevalent in older people, e.g. older people have the highest levels of sensory impairment of any demographic group.
People consulted during the strategic planning process referred to the need for a significant re-configuration or re-alignment of structures and relationships within the voluntary disability sector. The need for a re-configuration within the voluntary disability sector is partly based on a realisation that State funding for the work of the sector may diminish over the next number of years at a time when needs are likely to grow (an account of demographic, ageing factors). Re-configuration is not a euphemism for mergers, acquisitions and take-overs. Whilst some collaboration work might end up with organisations merging with each other, other collaboration work might involve the provision of shared services and shared facilities or a large/lead organisation taking on responsibility for payroll and human resources issues on behalf of a number of smaller disability organisations
There is no real sense that any particular organisation(s) are playing a very pro-active role in helping to re-shape or re-define the voluntary disability sector or indeed the broader community and voluntary sector in Ireland. This might be borne out of a belief that it is not the responsibility of the sector to re-define itself and that words like re-configuration are only shorthand for rationalisation, mergers and loss of State income. However, this view is contested by others who believe that the voluntary disability sector does need a shake-up, that there is duplication and that it is important for the sector itself to re-define and re-invent itself (with support from organisations like DFI) rather than having radical change imposed from outside (e.g. from funders such as the HSE).
‘It would be better if the voluntary disability sector took the necessary corrective action before it is forced to take corrective action on account of decisions made by funders.’
Comment of interviewee.
It is clear that the overall funding and sustainability of the voluntary disability sector is going to be a major issue and concern for a large number of organisations over the next few years. A survey of DFI member organisations in July 2009 reported that 77% had been affected or significantly affected by the economic turndown and 75% had witnessed decreases in their funding. At the same time, 75% of organisations reported that the demands for their services had increased.
It is likely that this type of pattern of decreased funding and increasing demand for services will continue for much of the lifespan of DFI’s Strategic Plan (i.e. from 2011 to 2016). The decreased funding will happen within the €15 billion savings in public expenditure which needs to take place between 2011 and 2014 whilst the increased demand will result from the contraction of State services, the additional demands which will be placed on voluntary disability organisations and demographic pressures. There is a clear need to develop financial models which are viable, sustainable and which represent value for money.
The development of new financial models will need to take into account the scale and scope of organisations within the voluntary disability sector. The new emerging financial models also need to take cognisance of the fact that in addition to reduced State money there will also be less money available from private/business sources and from philanthropic sources. There might be the need to factor in the greater use of volunteers/interns, the sharing of services and overheads with other organisations and small monthly contributions by committed givers into the business plans being put together by disability organisations.
There is a clear need for organisations to develop survival strategies and perhaps growth strategies for the next 5 – 10 year period. Some organisations will require assistance and guidance as they try to work through their future development options. Organisations need to be made aware of the options which exist at a time of declining income and perhaps ncreasing demands on services. DFI has an important role to play in providing support and guidance to member organisations in relation to their strategic development.
Comments from Discussion Paper produced by DFI Board
There is a need to produce more factual, analytical and evidence-based information about the value of the voluntary disability sector. The lack of concrete information and data about the voluntary disability sector exposes it to charges of duplication and wastefulness. The only real way of refuting these charges is to produce evidence which demonstrates that there is little duplication and that the voluntary disability sector does represent good value for money.
Comments from Discussion Paper produced by DFI Board
People consulted during the strategic planning process felt that the tripartite focus of DFI (i.e. supporting member organisations; influencing policy; building a national platform) is appropriate and provides a real and meaningful response to the needs and priorities of the voluntary disability sector in Ireland. There is a clear onus on DFI to maintain its relevance and to continue to carry out the type of work considered to be most important and most vital within the voluntary disability sector.
DFI should aim to identify where it can make its most useful and effective interventions. As the country goes through a period of unprecedented cutbacks in public expenditure, the landscape for this Strategic Plan (i.e. 2011 – 2016) will be completely different to the period of the 2004 – 2010 Strategic Plan. These changing and more challenging times need to be reflected in the strategic priorities of DFI. It may involve more testing relationships with member organisations (as DFI asks harder questions so as to enable organisations to survive into the future), it may involve a more pro-active leadership role around collaboration and the re-configuration of the voluntary disability sector.
‘DFI needs to show leadership around collaboration. DFI could become a safe space for people to have discussions and conversations about collaboration.’
Comment of member organisation.
DFI needs to ensure that it maintains good relationships and contacts with member organisations. One of the most important strengths of DFI is that it does have over 120 member organisations and this gives DFI enormous credibility when dealing with Government Departments, statutory agencies and social partners. DFI should aim to grow its membership and to nurture its relationships with member organisations. The nurturing of relationships is also likely to involve more pro-active work by DFI (e.g. setting up annual meetings with CEO’s / Directors and Boards of member organisations).
New mechanisms need to be put in place for DFI members to contribute their views, opinions and ideas to DFI. DFI members need to have a stronger sense that DFI is a collective of organisations and that it is the member organisations who own DFI (effectively they are the shareholders). It should be the member organisations who are directing and guiding the work of DFI, work which will largely be implemented by the staff employed by DFI. There is some concern that member organisations are not contributing enough to the ongoing development of DFI and that in order for DFI to become more relevant to the needs of member organisations, it requires more participation from these member organisations.
‘There is an enormous amount of expertise available within the DFI member organisations. A key issue for DFI is how to link into this expertise in order to inform and develop policy.’
Comment of member organisation.
Whilst communications with member organisations seem to be quite strong (members are satisfied with the quality and relevance of information provided by DFI) there are concerns about DFI’s profile within the media and, by extension, within the general public. There is a need for more people to be better informed about the work and achievements of DFI. At a time when organisations will be competing for limited funds, it is important that DFI assumes a higher public profile so that people recognise the value and the benefits of maintaining DFI as a key representative and support organisation within the voluntary disability sector.
DFI needs to do more work in communicating its work and its achievements to the voluntary disability sector and to the general public. Whilst the profile of DFI has improved over the last couple of years, there is still a lot of ignorance about what it does and about what it is supposed to do.
Comments from Discussion Paper produced by DFI Board.
It is clear that no sector in society and no organisation within the community and voluntary sector will be immune from the cutbacks in public expenditure that are going to take place for at least another four years. These organisations include DFI and DFI member organisations. As will be the situation with member organisations, DFI itself needs to determine how it is going to maintain and sustain its operations and activities over the next number of years.
DFI is highly dependent on annual financial support from the HSE. Without this financial support, DFI could not survive in its current shape (with a staff team of 24 people). If DFI wants to continue to be a key player (in supporting member organisations, in influencing policy, in building a disability movement) it has to hold on to its current resources and staff team. This can only happen if the HSE continues to provide similar funds to DFI as it has provided over the last number of years. DFI should be aiming to do things that are important to its member organisations and that are considered useful and important by the HSE (e.g. around re-configuration of voluntary disability sector, collaboration, development of shared services centres and facilities).
In considering the ongoing sustainability of DFI, there were references in the strategic planning process to the diversification of DFI’s funding base. In the current economic climate, there is little business sponsorship money or philanthropic money being made available to the community and voluntary sector and it is impossible to imagine a scenario when business/philanthropic money will replace the annual contributions made by the HSE to the ongoing work of DFI. Some interviewees also referred to the danger of investing too much time in fundraising and the detrimental effect which this might have on the core work of DFI.
In relation to the HSE, interviewees considered it important that, on account of funding considerations, DFI should not be seen as subservient to the HSE and / or working to a clear HSE agenda. It is important for DFI to achieve some clarity with the HSE around the complementary nature of the objectives of both organisations.
Other umbrella organisations tend to represent specific segments within the broader disability sector.