Is influencing policy change a core part of your work? Should it be?

It could have been risky, gathering about 40 our partners – many of them small, local charities working directly with young people – to discuss policy and social change, and our and their roles in pursuing this.

Much of our current context makes thinking about this feel ridiculous: years of austerity hitting youth services and small charities hard; so those charities struggling to meet the needs of young people coming through their doors let alone to engage in ‘policy influencing’; with many issues that affect transition to adulthood lacking a coherent government policy strategy or promising routes to influence; and not least, as was announced in the middle of the day, yet another ministerial and government changeover heading our way. Even in my privileged role thinking about and funding policy work at Blagrave it’s easy to feel hopeless – there’s so much to tackle, and so few footholds for doing so in a meaningful way.

The case for civil society organisations making influencing a core part of their work is clearly made by Julia Unwin towards the end of this podcast: civil society organisations hold huge amounts of rich information about the reality of communities’ experience, they have an obligation to put this in the public domain and government should value their role in doing so. We wanted to create space for partners to reflect on these ideas and their own work, as well as learn how we can best support them through our policy and influencing work and funding at Blagrave.

We were joined by some brilliant speakers, many of them current partners: from policy influencers at Youth Employment UK, the Youth Futures Foundation and the British Youth Council, to young people leading change through their own initiatives at My Life My Say, Unloc and Nothing Without Young People, and regional partners such as No Limits and Enthum House balancing delivery with exploring their own wider influencing roles.

Once discussion got underway, it was striking how much local and national influencing our partners are already doing. Whether challenging and shaping local commissioning, sharing best practice across the schools or other institutions they work in, providing training, feeding back on local implementation of policies, or in some cases advising on national policy development, many of the charities we’re working alongside are already reaching well beyond much of the project funding they receive to shape the system that impacts upon their work and the lives of the young people they support. Maybe there’s a simple change supportive funders could make: recognising that this kind of work is already core to what charities do – and funding it.

Reflecting after the event, many were struck by the optimistic energy in the room: surprising, given the context, and enough to make us question how open and honest people are able to be at gatherings like this. But the messages that came through repeatedly acknowledged the ‘moment in time’ we currently face – and the opportunity – or responsibility – we have to respond to the energy to change things that is emerging particularly from groups of young people themselves.

A highlight of the day was Larissa’s  response to a challenge from the crowd: I’m surrounded by [other young] people who believe things can be better, and are fighting for that – I have to believe them, and I have to fight alongside them’. This case for optimism, as well as for broadening how we think about policy and broader change, was well captured on Twitter this week by journalist Jack Shenkar 

All this left us at least a little clearer on where we take our own policy work next. Learn about, align and build upon the systemic influencing our partners are doing locally. Collate and act up information they provide us with about how they’re experiencing issues and how this is changing. Continue to find, and in some cases fund, policy work that addresses those issues. And perhaps most importantly, work alongside groups of young people to identify and lead the change that they want to see in their own communities and beyond: on which, more soon.

11th November 2019