35 years of… influencing policy and practice

To mark our 35th anniversary, Director of Policy, Communications and Research, Duncan Shrubsole looks at our evolving role in amplifying the voices and concerns of our charity partners and seeking to influence policy, practice and power.

Duncan Shrubsole

Regular readers will know the Foundation is turning 35. They will also know our focus is supporting small and local charities, embedded in communities, helping people overcome complex social issues. The day-to day-realities of those charities and those they serve can feel a million miles away from the corridors of power in Whitehall and Westminster - or even Cardiff Bay or their local town hall. But that’s precisely why we believe passionately at Lloyds Bank Foundation that we have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that their voices are indeed raised and heard, that the concerns they have are acted on, and indeed that the solutions they provide are heeded. This is fundamental to us today but we have been on a journey ourselves to get here.

As the Foundation entered the noughties we began to think about how we can capture and share the insight we get from the many charities we fund and so we experimented with having a researcher. We also began to structure some of our funding around specific themes. This was not only to fund great charities and projects, but to build up a body of knowledge and expertise in those areas to seek to influence wider policy and practice. We did this particularly in Criminal Justice focused on developing and demonstrating ways of supporting those in the system. In 2019 alone we gave £2.65m in funding for criminal justice national programmes. This included new responses to young people and testing liaison and diversion approaches for those with mental health issues. Another thematic programme supported the development of approaches around financial inclusion and older people.

Good as those programmes were the Foundation mainly left it to those we funded to share the insights they gleaned with policymakers. We began to consider what more we could and should do ourselves to gather evidence from those we fund individually and across the cohort, so as to share that to influence policy and practice. So in our 2014 – 2018 strategy, ‘Breaking Disadvantage, Bettering Lives’, we set a new and specific objective to seek to influence national policy and practice to increase the impact that we, and those we fund, can have from the money we invest.

Our starting point has always been what charities tell us matters to them and is bothering them and then gathering together evidence. So we changed the monitoring reports they send us to encourage them to reflect on the wider environment they are operating in and we regularly review and analyse these to look for trends. We have undertaken in-house, and commissioned others to deliver, a range of research and we often bring charities together to share their experience - whether in focus groups, learning events or together with MPs in the Houses of Parliament.

To determine our focus and priorities we look at all of that analysis and then at the policy windows and opportunities to determine where we might be able to have traction. We also look at where we can add value to the work of the charities we partner with directly and others to seek to influence change in policy and practice.

And in terms of how we seek to influence we use a wide range of tools. This includes enabling people and charities to have their own voice, sometimes bringing people into the room who otherwise would not be heard. Other times it’s using our own voice as a Foundation to speak directly to MPs, Ministers and civil servants and to submit evidence to government consultations and Select Committee Inquiries. At times a simple grant is key – such as investing in policy capacity for Rape Crisis, Clinks, or the Small Charities Coalition. Other times we have co-developed and invested in a new strategic initiative, such as supporting the development and spreading of the Homeshare model or helping improve support for people facing a financial crisis. Sometimes we have funded Women’s Aid to help co-ordinate policy positions across the sector. We funded Latin American Women’s Rights Service to run a Campaign to ensure that the vital perspective of migrant women is heard and understood. But we have also submitted our own evidence to the Government and I spoke in person to the Joint Parliamentary Committee scrutinising the Bill.

So what have we achieved? It’s important to be clear that funders should always be modest and realistic and recognise that whilst we contribute to policy change, we can’t directly attribute a change in policy and practice to our efforts.

On small charities, through research we have tracked the concerns around commissioning and contracting, highlighted the impact of cuts to local authorities but perhaps most importantly demonstrated their value. We have joined with a range of infrastructure charities to argue for better commissioning, to influence government strategies and reviews and to positively improve the approach to social value.

On domestic abuse, we brought together the leading and often competing domestic abuse charities to develop new guidance on how local authorities could commission them better, guidance which was adopted officially by the Home Office and the Welsh Government. We have invested in projects shaping and improving responses to domestic abuse for those with learning disabilities and to improve how public agencies come together to tackle domestic abuse and historic sexual abuse. Perhaps most significantly we have helped develop a landmark new way of reducing domestic abuse at source by better tackling those who perpetrate it through investing in the development, piloting and evaluation of the Drive project. But we did not just award a grant to Drive and then sit back and wait for a report detailing its results at the end of the grant. We wanted to help shape its success so I have been a member of the core Project Board, meeting monthly for over 4 years, helping it establish, prove its worth, evaluate and communicate its impact and shaping wider policy, practice and systems.   

Sometimes influencing can and should be about generating noise and interest through campaigning, press coverage, and seeking attention.  At other times it is much quieter, but that can be just as effective. So we have brought charities that we fund around domestic abuse together with colleagues from our funder Lloyds Banking Group, helping them in turn develop new understanding and ways of supporting employees and customers affected by domestic abuse. And we brought charities and their frontline insights into the challenges with Universal Credit together with Bright Blue, a think tank we had funded to look at the issue to inform and ground their report. More significantly when the report was launched and was being discussed we ensured it was not just the larger charities with big policy teams in the room, but that some of our grantees were there to speak direct and hear direct from the then Secretary of State for DWP.

Sometimes people say funders should just stick to funding. But we believe passionately that if grantees are sharing with us the same challenges day after day, we would not just be remiss but failing if we did not do something with that knowledge and those concerns. And we make better frontline grants because we are better informed on the wider context they are operating in. Don’t just take our word for it - grantees and sector partners tell us they value that we speak up, that we engage with policy makers, and that we invest in strategic projects and partnerships. For us, this was so important that when we wrote our 2018 strategy, influencing was no-longer an add-on but became one of the three central pillars of our strategy and approach. These are to fund charities, to help them develop, and to influence policy and practice on the issues effecting them and the root causes and consequences of disadvantage.

And in this turbulent year we have been busier than ever, capturing and sharing with Government and MPs the evidence of how charities have responded to COVID-19, actively supporting through resources and our own capacity the #NeverMoreNeeded coalition. Across the voluntary sector they are calling for government support, and launching new funding programmes looking at infrastructure and welfare, shared insights direct with Government and supported the collaboration of infrastructure bodies with money and directly.

Every Foundation has to find their own way but all have knowledge and insights and some “power” they have access to and could influence and speak truth to. With society, charities, and communities under ever greater pressure, we would encourage all funders to do what they can to not just fund well but to seek to influence and shape the world around them. There is a lot that needs influencing, time to get busy!

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