BD Giving Notes – #2

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Bit of a different flavour for this one, partly because I’m currently on annual leave in Italy. So I have dug out some thoughts that I previously wrote in response to why we do what we do, which I think also ties up nicely with our new Learning & Participation strategy.

When people ask me about BD Giving, the straightforward answer is to say that we are a local grant maker, that we distribute funding to individuals and groups in Barking and Dagenham. But, sooner or later, I always drop the ‘p’ word. Being a 
participatory grant maker (PGM), means that we are more focused on why and how these grants are distributed, the process by which the money passes from one hand to another, than what they actually fund, or how much is distributed. This approach is rooted in a simple belief: that the people affected by decisions should be the ones making those decisions in the first place.
This shift of focus towards the purpose and process of grant making has several implications. For one, participatory processes tend to involve more people than traditional ones, they can be logistically challenging to deliver and as a result are often (a bit) more expensive and time-consuming. Secondly, the funding outcomes, by which I mean the projects and people that end up benefitting from these processes, are by nature unpredictable, as the charity’s staff and trustees relinquish their decision-making power to participants. As a consequence, and this is crucial, their evaluation requires a different set of measures than a quantitative, ‘money in money out’ approach.
Fortunately, we are not the only ones to think about this. A growing PGM Community of Practice, provides a wealth of amazing examples and case studies of similar radical work happening around the world. One of them, by Palestine-based grant maker RAWA has been an inspiration early in our PGM journey, and continues to strike a chord today. Speaking about the meaning of success, they describe it as ‘providing space for experiences to become meaningful to those who stopped dreaming, to community activists who practice genuine dialogue and us who unconsciously become the ‘guards’ of the gate for the prison of financial aid”.

This more holistic approach is something that we have built at the heart of our new Learning & Participation Strategy, looking at how our work impacts across different scales, from individual participants, to our organisation and trustees, to the wider ecosystem. This shifts the focus away from the ‘intervention’ itself, i.e. what is done with the grant, and looks at the broader connections and relationships that emerge from the process and how these can be nurtured and sustained over time.
PGM work can be complicated to explain without falling into lengthy explanations and it is sometimes tempting to revert to the simple narrative of ‘we have distributed X amount last year’, I mean we do it too! But ultimately, I believe that doing so is a disservice to the radical work that PGM delivers and, frankly, pits us unfairly against traditional grant making approaches. A more robust evaluation framework is needed. For us, this means combining quantitative data with storytelling techniques to build on the instrumental benefits of our interventions and better understand impacts on behaviour, values, and networks.

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