Closed Collective Model – Week Two: Moving Forward

Our second meeting started on a grey day following a busy weekend. The check-in question for the day was ‘If your feelings controlled the weather, what would the weather be like right now?’

We heard that people felt like slow-moving clouds, creeping through the day, or like a busy sky that doesn’t know if it’s going to be rainy or sunny. As mentioned last week, check-ins are a great tool to let a facilitator (and other people in the group) get a sense of how the group is feeling so they know what they might need to do to keep the discussion going.

We started by going through the notes from last week, with the group agreeing on the terms of reference as outlined there before discussing what they wanted to do with the questions – one person remarked that they hadn’t realised they had asked so many questions the week before, itself an insight into how important it is to start exploring them!

The group identified that the questions overlapped quite a bit and that many of them could be explored simultaneously – what they said seemed to emerge from the many questions was a clear vision:

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Blue skies ahead?

We want to know what is happening in Barking & Dagenham and what impact it is having

Sarah from Future M.O.L.D.S Communities put forward a suggestion of how the questions might be condensed and clarified:

  1. How do we understand each other’s work?
  2. How do we make young people central to our work?
  3. How do we engage different young people?
  4. What is the impact of our work and how do we measure it?
 

These were accepted by the group so the discussion turned to how we might begin to explore them.

Exploring the questions

Q1 - How do we understand each other's work?

The first suggestions that came up was to test out site visits between the groups, especially since that was now a possibility. In order for groups & organisations working in the borough to learn about each other, it has to go beyond Zoom calls.

The group agreed to organise themselves around this, by sending each other dates they were available for visits – ideally within the next two weeks if possible.

The purpose of these visits is to understand the activities being offered and develop a deeper understanding of how other organisations work

Through this, it is hoped that a clearer picture of how organisations can support young people will develop, as they build relationships which could be used to create new opportunities – an example from within the group was Triangoals wanting support to run dance classes and having a young person from BDYD run sessions.

Challenges

One organisation in the collective, TalkSpace Counselling, wouldn’t be able to do site visits due to the private nature of their work with young people. Christina offered to prepare some sort of presentation or resource in lieu of being able to do that, which the group felt was a reasonable compromise. 

The group wants these site visits to not be some adults turning up with clipboard, but a person-centred look at the work. In this way, they can learn more about each other from seeing the work taking place, and maybe learn new ways of working by observing. Whoever is observed also has the chance to benefit from ‘critical friends’ who can offer input where needed. Where these site visits aren’t able to be reciprocated, there should be other ways to feed into each other’s work.

Georgina from BDYD suggested that this learning could start to be compiled into some sort of toolkit for the sector – not a directory of services, which can quickly become outdated, but a living resource which organisations, parents and (most importantly) young people can access to understand what is on offer to them. 

This would be a crowd-sourced knowledge bank, outlining the challenges young people face in Barking & Dagenham, the ways they can navigate them, and who can support them. It might also serve as a way to improve relationships between the education and youth sector as members of the group had had very different experiences trying to connect with schools.

The question of ownership and responsibility then came up – whatever piece of work comes out of this project, who is responsible for it? What will we need to put in place to ensure it is sustainable and can be taken forward by the people who worked on it?

Q2 - How do we make young people central to the work?

When the group had talked about site visits, they also talked about whether young people should be part of this and, more generally, how do we involve them in this work – how do we benefit from their insight into power sharing? How might we be able to give them responsibility and create the conditions for them to take responsibility? Osvaldo from APSC gave the example of a project he ran where young people put on a show and were given all the tasks that they might have expected an adult to do for them, like writing the script. The young people that group members are working with are already having young people lead on things and noted the challenge of getting them to realise the importance of what they are doing – if you ask a teenager to lead a warm-up, they can do it and enjoy it but do they know that they are being a role model in that moment? Do they have space to process what this means for them?

There was a recognition that not all organisations that work with young people can, know how to, or want to share power with young people. This idea was then linked to the ‘knowledge bank’, which could show organisations how they can involve young people in a meaningful way and start to provide a way of appraising and identifying the skills the young person develops. The more examples there are of this in the borough, the harder it becomes for an organisation to opt-out of sharing power with young people and we might then see important shifts to the way things are done, not just in this sector but anywhere those young people go.

Takeaway ideas

We started to hear ideas for how the money might be spent. Like the questions last week, it’s useful to bring lots of ideas out which can then be looked over and dissected. It may be that some of these are developed further or they’re used as a stepping stone to a different idea:

  • A living knowledge bank for the sector. This might be a website or an app.
  • Some way of recognising youth talent in the sector. This might be something like a community award scheme or certification programme.
  • Creating a young person’s think tank which would be able to support and supplement the sector.
  • Research and data-gathering on work that is already being done that the sector can then draw upon.

As you may notice, most of those options require specialist skills, skills which aren’t currently in the group. The only way to deliver on these ideas then is to either pay for training or pay for someone who already has the skills you need.

This led to something important coming up in the discussion – what is it appropriate to spend money on? That is, when is it okay to spend a decent amount of money on something because doing it cheaply or by yourself will not help you reach your preferred outcome?

Based on the discussion around this, I’ve drawn out some thoughts on the issue to the right and I’m interested to see where this particular thread takes us.

Time is money

As a funder, we see a lot of applications and speak with a lot of other funders and there is a common pattern of small organisations greatly undervaluing their work. Sometimes this is because they are a new organisation and are still figuring out how much things cost but often it's because the organisation has been knocked back by funders for asking.

What this means is that small organisations are often forced to do everything themselves because outsourcing is seen as 'wasteful'. But how much time is wasted because small organisations have to learn how to build websites, edit images and videos.

This is not the same as saying that how money is spent is unimportant, or that we shouldn't expect people to develop new skills. However, overanalysing how money is spent and not being aware of how much time things take is how funders maintain a system where small organisations  never get the opportunity to grow.

Part of what we are exploring with this pilot is what is able to happen if organisations don't have to worry about whether a funder approves of spending.

Next time

Towards the end of the meeting, I told the group that we had had some interest from another organisation who might want to add funding to the project, however the way I presented it “didn’t sit right” with the group. As this organisation was much bigger and would be using this as part of a bigger project they were doing, the group wanted to know how exactly it would benefit them and how did they know that they wouldn’t see their work co-opted.

The group said that they see pattern in the borough of work being done in a non-transparent manner, where large-scale projects are heavily reliant on smaller organisations but only bring them into the discussions once many of the details have been settled. They linked it to discussions that had taken place at BD_Collective’s event the Thursday before, there people had talked about the need to reverse the pyramid of power in the borough, which sees smaller organisations put to the back of the queue.

The discussion that followed was that BD Giving wasn’t in a position to agree anything before speaking to the group, which raised a question for us as a funder: What do we need to do so that smaller organisations are able to fully participate in discussions that impact them?

It might seem like a lot of questions have come up, and that is true, but what has also emerged is the idea that we need to welcome and acknowledge these questions even if we are not able to answer them right now because we might build a relationship with someone who can.

Agenda for next meeting

  • Check-in
  • Return to last week’s discussion about how we begin exploring the questions.
  • Dates for next meeting
  • AOB
  • Check-out