In this Note our Programmes Officer, Jack Webb, reflects on his experience stepping away from a project as it concludes, the importance of after-care, and being optimistic about the future of the project without our input.
Participatory Working Group - The Project
It’s coming to the close of our work with the Working Group, a project funded by the Lankelly Chase Foundation, set-up in late 2019 to convene grassroots and community organisations to share learning of their participatory work in Barking and Dagenham. The group’s makeup varies from a charity tackling domestic abuse to a publishing company, writing and selling children books. The history of the group has seen them manage a funding pot, design how much each organisation would be awarded and what that decision-making process would look like.
In the true nature of participatory work, we have stepped away from the process. BD Giving has stopped administering payments for participation, project managing and holding responsibility and accountability of the group. We now offer support and coach other members of the group who have stepped up and transitioned into more responsibility.
We have recognised that we are no longer needed – this is a momentous point and we are hugely proud of the group’s successes and how they have overcome challenges in regards to finances, grant allocation, learning and participatory work.
However, with us stepping away and the funding from Lankelly Chase Foundation coming to an end, the future of the group now looks very different with multiple avenues it could explore.
Shifting Power Dynamics
You’re probably wondering why I have decided to write this Note today.
Well, it’s coming at a significant time for us at BD Giving. The Working Group was once a big project for us with huge amounts of input and facilitation. But over time this has changed.
Operationally, the group is now completely participatory. Constituted members have decided who will take on what role and in what capacity. Payment for their time, and what that looks like, has been co-designed together, pulling on resources from others around them.
Participants will take it in turns to facilitate meetings. A role previously held by BD Giving, Lankelly Chase Foundation and other partners. Everyone will be paid the same amount. Members have also taken on other roles such as:
- Reflectors / Comms Lead and Learning Lead
- Bid Writer
- Mental Health and Welfare Champion
- Events Coordinator
I have now taken on the role of being ‘the antagonist’; a role which was encouraged by the other members. I challenge participants and hold them accountable. While it might seem as though I am playing devil’s advocate at times, it has been good to bring in alternative perspectives into the mix and disrupt thought patterns.
Everyone is playing their part and it’s truly amazing to see.
It’s not been easy. It’s been a journey of highs and lows. Recalling the Deep Democracy facilitation training we completed together (Read more here), it got me thinking about the sense of community we have created, the feeling of being connected and united in place – a sense of belonging.
They say all good things must come to an end.
Since I started at BD Giving, this is the first project I have seen come to an end. My recent project management training which was facilitated by ELBA and delivered by UBS highlighted the importance of project closure – a step which is often overlooked.
Stepping away from the Working Group has allowed me to translate the learning from that training into BD Giving’s work. Reflecting on what went well and what didn’t is vital for an organisation’s growth and also the quality of future programmes.
Some of the members are upset that the funding has come to an end as they have found the group indispensable for the growth of their organisations. Most have created lasting connections within their local neighbourhoods. For some, it’s been a lifeline. A sense of stability.
But What's Next?
By pooling together resources, skills and synergy to collaborate on a funding bid, their work may be able to continue. There has been some workshopping of ideas by the two bid writers of the group. But what they have to work out first is – what is the goal or objective of the group and how has that changed since its inception? If they receive funding, what financial vehicle would hold that money and what would that money be used for?
BD Giving will not be part of that work.
We know we must step back but how can we do it so it strikes the right balance. Empathy and sensitivity will be key while we finalise what our exit plan is and how we look to continue building on these relationships with the community groups. We are certain however that our participants will leave a lasting legacy for the charity and for Barking and Dagenham.
Using our Plan, Act, Observe, Evaluate template (from our L&P strategy), we can harness some of that learning and take it into our next programmatic work. As I dive into other projects, I will think about everything I have learnt with the Working Group – the bestowed wisdom I have from being a part of the process but more importantly from the powerful connections I have forged with some of the Barking and Dagenham community.
BD Giving Notes is a bi-monthly blog aimed at sharing some thoughts on running a social infrastructure charity.
Each post focuses on things we have learnt or done; what’s gone well and what didn’t.