Summarising what we’ve heard

Lankelly Chase and Blagrave have now published 10 blogs on power, voice and listening to explore how power is held in the social sector; particularly by funders; whose voices get heard in decision making and who goes unheard; and what we collectively can do about it. Among many other points, authors have suggested that funders particularly should:

  • Focus on the ways in which they listen, at least as much as how they speak – and how they reach out to people they wouldn’t usually hear from
  • Learn how to listen from other sectors, including business
  • Challenge the ‘muddle-headed assumption’ that risks underpinning co-production practice that ‘including’ someone in something will undo the reality of inequality and lack of political power
  • Accept that expertise often lies not with within social sector organisations and their donors, but within communities themselves
  • Use funding to start redistributing power between groups, at least as much as trying to ‘diversify’ spaces where power is traditionally held – core or unrestricted funding being a key mechanism for doing so
  • Allow organisations to be honest about the hurdles they face, and focus on removing those hurdles rather than advising organisations how to overcome them (or how to be resilient)
  • Be open about the vulnerability and subjectivity involved in funding decisions. Incentivise collaboration, not competition across the sector and use convening power to improve the system
  • Review all areas of influence (investments, independent voice, ability to convene and influence), not just grant making, for how they can be leveraged to achieve mission and vision.

Writers have challenged ideas and practices that might be well-intended and have merit, but can also lead to complacency and avoiding scrutinising the root causes of power imbalance. Concepts like co-production, outreach and diversity are presented as examples of this. If the pieces have resonated, and touched a few nerves then it speaks to the strength of feeling about funders’ role in the sector and the value of surfacing issues relating to power. Since we started releasing these pieces, NPC have published a comprehensive exploration of similar themes here, and we want to ensure that any further work builds on what we’ve heard and adds momentum. One of the most widely shared and commented-upon blog was written anonymously. This has us wondering how we can open up spaces to speak truths that might feel obvious, but go unspoken (and therefore un-acted upon), often through fear of losing status or funding. We and others want to keep an open and honest conversation going: exposing and breaking down the ‘fronts we all put up to conceal vulnerabilities’, as one tweet read. At Lankelly and Blagrave we are reflecting on where we take this work next, and welcome thoughts – so get in touch, and watch this space.

7th August 2019