Our Experience of Participatory Grant Making in the COVID Recovery Fund

Jill Baker, Director of Development

We want to actively share power in our work and suddenly there we were turning up with money and the power that comes with making decisions about money. To avoid changing the nature of the relationships we built we turned to participatory grant making as a way to share the power and shift decisions to a wider group who understood their community.

Jill Baker, Director of Development

Our People and Communities Work

Much of our people and communities work is focussed on helping communities to find ways of making services more sustainable so that they are there for the long term, for the people who need them. You can read more about our approach in the six communities where we are working here.

 

Although we are a funder, for this work, we do not directly offer grants. We know how important grants are, but we also know that often, when the grant goes, the work goes. That’s why this work is about helping everyone in these six communities to take collective responsibility for what and how services are designed and delivered using their existing assets and resources. Our funding goes to support that process by recruiting someone locally to help us work towards this by convening, learning, and sharing what we learn. 

 

We know that money can lead to power and we need to ensure our work the power away from them to us. 

 

COVID Recovery Fund

When we launched our Recovery Grants programme we found ourselves conflicted. Did we actively ringfence some grants to the six communities we’re working in or did we not? We didn’t want to disadvantage the communities by not opening up funding to them if they wished to apply, but we didn’t want to change the relationships we had built up either. But then we thought ‘what would those communities say if they knew we had turned away an opportunity to receive some funding?’ and that felt like a no brainer, so we ring fenced 12 grants for the six communities.

 

But we want to actively share power in our work and suddenly here we were turning up with money and the power that comes with making decisions about money. To avoid changing the nature of the relationships we built we turned to participatory grant making as a way to share the power and shift decisions to a wider group who understood their community. We enlisted the help of Hannah Paterson at National Lottery Community Fund who recently completed a fellowship which saw her travel the globe to learn about this very thing. You can read more about Hannah’s work here.

 

Hannah first met with us as a team and shared her findings and stressed that we shouldn’t be ‘paralysed by perfection’. We felt empowered to try some stuff and not worry too much about getting it right first time around (although that would be a bonus!!) knowing that this was a journey. We then invited people from across the six communities to join us for a workshop to make decisions about the funding for their communities.

 

Participatory Grant Making

We worked in small groups to work out and answer some key questions, the first one being should we try this? And if people thought yes - how should we do it?  We thought about who should be involved and whether people would want to see full applications or a summary already screened by us. Did they want to make decisions just on their community or on all the communities? 

 

Through a day long workshop, we debated and discussed until we reached a decision on how we should do it that everyone could live with. We were clear from the outset that only our Trustees can decide who receives funding – through this process, we could only make recommendations to them (which is the same for all our grants).

 

We agreed that two people from each of the six communities would attend the workshop and review a summary assessment of each of the applications. We would compile the summary assessments based on information charities provided in their application and meetings we held with each of them to hear more about their work.

 

On the day, we went through each community in turn structuring the sessions as follows:

  • a brief overview of the assessment summary findings
  • our team shares what we’ve been seeing in our people and communities work
  • the two representatives from each of the six areas talked about their community, the people, the services, the strengths and the challenges they faced
  • all the community representatives share their thoughts on the applications
  • everyone in the workshop discussed the applications and asked questions to finally come to a collective decision

 

It worked fantastically well; people fully engaged and did not, contrary to some beliefs about this approach, argue for their ‘patch’. In fact, sometimes they were more challenging about applications from their community than others; in some instances, people brought their own lived experience to bear on the decision which was helpful. The day was energetic and showed how collective decision making can be done.

 

In the end, they recommended 11 out of the possible 12 grants be made to the Trustees and they approved all their recommendations.

 

We will definitely take this experience and use it to improve all our grant making but I end this with a few words from one of our Trustees ‘You've done a great job in enabling local intelligence and having voices heard.  I have found it inspirational’.

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