Making a good place: How to invest in social infrastructure
Barking and Dagenham has been featured in a Community Links publication making the case for investment in social infrastructure.
The publication was designed for anyone who wants to take action to improve the places we live in, whether they be national or local politicians, public bodies or anchor institutions, voluntary sector umbrella bodies or community-based charities, charitable foundations or think tanks.
The main focus of the publication is on drawing out lesson on how to take local action to make a good place and includes a case study about Barking and Dagenham’s participatory grant-making, as well as references to the Borough Manifesto and the new Community Endowment Fund.
The ingredients of success
At a roundtable on 17 March 2021, the Early Action Task Force brought representatives from four areas that they described as “breaking new ground”. BD Giving’s CEO Geraud de Ville de Goyet attended a roundtable with other place-based changemakers from Bristol, Exeter and Feltham in London.
The resulting publication describes the five key elements for success in making a good place:
A collective and long-term vision, created with and regularly reviewed by local people to ensure local needs are met.
Shared leadership bringing together cross-sectoral resources in the areas, with investment in a ‘super-connecting’ function to help make this happen.
Community participation in decision-making ensures that investment genuinely serves those it aims to help.
Local government is an important player, but anchor institutions can play a pivotal leadership role.
The important role of charitable foundations and trusts.
Participatory grant making in Barking and Dagenham
by Geraud de Ville de Goyet
We believe that the people affected by funding decisions should be the ones making those decisions. That’s why we practise participatory grant-making, as part of a wider commitment in Barking and Dagenham to participation and engagement. What we’ve discovered is that it delivers not just better decisions but that the process itself creates significant benefits for those who take part.
The process of co-design with the community for a particular grant extends from designing the application process itself to evaluating the outcomes, and we’ve found that this is very important. For instance, application processes can put off many potential applicants, and it’s important to make them simpler and more relevant.
Our panel of local people also take all the decisions about who gets the grants. We train them and offer them payment for their input. We also have a mechanism for managing any conflicts of interest. We recruit people from the community by extending the invitation through all the community organisations and networks we know, and that does mean we reach out widely. We do have people on our panel with lived experience, but as our criteria for applications is often very wide we cannot guarantee that the decisions for a particular grant will be taken by people with direct experience of that particular issue. But in all cases we think that knowledge of our community leads to better decisions, and therefore to better outcomes.
One of the things we’ve learnt is that it is worth taking enough time to run the application process in order to get better decisions. We’ve also found that the value created by participatory grant-making is very important. It’s not just the value our panel adds to the quality of decisions, it’s also the skills and capacity that are generated by participation itself and the way in which the process creates community engagement. Some of these we cannot quantify, others we can. People feel more connected to their community, are invested in its outcomes or just become more aware of what is happening around them that they could get involved with.
Participatory grant-making adds to the cost, and typically funders tend to think of the application process as an overhead. However, as much as we are factoring support for people’s time, we are also encouraging other funders to recognise the value of this input and to give a higher proportion of the grant to it. For us participation is an end in itself and has its place alongside other outcomes.
We are now building on this experience to engage the community in designing and managing a new community endowment fund. This fund will create a perpetual, inclusive, and sustainable source of income for the local community through an innovative partnership with the council, which will see the local community take a lead in deciding how resources are invested, and how the income generated through these investments is spent.
The publication was launched at an event titled “A Step Change In Investment In Early Action Including Social Infrastructure”. Speakers included Lord John Bird, founder and editor-in-chief of The Big Issue, Lord Gus O’Donnell, former Cabinet Secretary and Chair of the Family Law Commission on Civil Society, Sophie Howe, the Commissioner for Future Generations in Wales and the author of the publication, Caroline Slocock.
Read the full publication here.