At our Future of Doing Good event held in Glasgow last month, we heard Sonia Sodha (the report’s author) challenge us – civic society – on three big themes:
- Are we doing enough to support local people and local communities to define and drive positive social change, for themselves?
- Are we too focused on delivering services in response to ‘need’ (and attracting the funding to deliver them) and not focused enough on challenging the causes of that inequality?
- How can we collaborate more effectively with communities and across third, private and public sectors to bring our total resources and skills to bear on ‘wicked’ social problems?
In the small table discussions that followed, a recurring theme was systems change – that if we wanted to improve persistently poor outcomes, we needed to refocus our work on building meaningful relationships with people and communities, and facilitating a real transfer of money and power.
While I heard little dissent from the idea that ‘Nothing about us, without us, is for us’ – we sometimes struggled to identify the nitty gritty about how we collectively change those systems – both big and small.
On the small system stuff, we heard a lot about finding ways to remove the unnecessary barriers people and communities face when they try and ‘do more for themselves’, as public policy exhorts them to do.
There was the story about the child who asks their play worker “Am I allowed?” when faced with climbing a tree in the local park. We heard the frustrations of a local management committee member of mature years, wondering if it wouldn’t be simpler to paint the hall themselves rather than undertake a competitive procurement (when they wanted to create a local job). And we listened as people traded stories of needing health and safety assessments and public liability insurance before hosting local gala days or community picnics.
People acknowledged there was a balance to be struck – but they were not convinced ‘community empowerment’ would happen without real shifts in culture, power and money. People needed to feel they had permission to just do stuff, and power to make a difference – and our jobs (as professionals, commissioners, funders and sector staff) were to clear the decks.
When colleagues and I from the Fund reflected about the ways the third and public sector are facilitating a shift in whose voices are central, though, we could also see real progress:
The care experienced young people at Who Cares? Scotland have been pressing their case at the highest levels that the care system and its myriad rules should not just prevent bad things, but should actively secure the good stuff – it must open doors to great opportunities, and open arms and hearts to the young people in our care.
Self-directed support and the personalisation agenda emerged from third sector social care organisations and the people they support – who championed their right to independence, to receive the support of their choosing and in the manner which they would find most helpful.
Here at the Fund, we are trying to do our part to ensure all the work our funding supports, is people-led. Nothing is as powerful as hearing the voices and lived experience of people directly – but we also value the role of all those organisations and communities working to ensure we can hear them.
There was a clear message that the Fund could do more to ensure we moved beyond a ‘talking shop’, and to that end we are holding a follow up event in Glasgow on 4th November on ‘Systems Change’.
This will explore specific actions we can take to make real progress on the ‘big’ systems stuff and how we engage particularly the public sector more widely, so, if you’d like to be involved, please contact me on Deborah.Hay@biglotteryfund.org.uk