In December, our conversation with change-makers gave them a chance to reflect on the ups and downs of 2020. In this last of three blogs, we share the rest of what shook out of our chats about trends, tactics and challenges.
When Alice Fuller and Kathleen Christie started thinking out loud on Twitter about what 2020 had left us wanting to know more about, we realised it chimed with our own plans. We joined forces to create a space for change-makers to pause, reflect, and celebrate.
In our previous blogs, we looked at insights around protest, political influencing and a post-pandemic sector, as well as how we worked during 2020. This final set of reflections looks at insights that could change the culture of our sector as we move into 2021.
Open to all, room for all
Moving to virtual meetings and events opened up access to lots of people, who were no longer restricted by geography, time, disability, or caring responsibilities in quite the same way. But there’s always a flip side, and we know that people are also prevented from taking part digitally because of lack of internet access, equipment or know-how.
We also heard concerns about how organisations will attract and safeguard people who want to volunteer or come to events and who may have a particular vulnerability to Covid – a situation that could last for years.
One person observed that, now that it’s not all about face-to-face meetings, there’s more room for people with different learning and thinking styles to shine. You don’t need to be someone who is good at instant responses and confident in rooms full of people for your ideas to get a hearing.
Will you spend time in 2021 thinking about how accessibility and participation changed last year? And how will you respond to gradual easing of restrictions? If you don’t want to go back to business as usual, you need to start planning now.
Weaving stories into analysis
Working with people who have direct experience of an issue can be mutually transformative, but it can too easily descend into being exploitative. People often become activists at the point where they want to share their own experience, but many get ‘stuck’ there. They are ‘allowed’ to illustrate the problem, but rarely get to help build the solution. This can leave activists disillusioned and organisations struggling to build a coherent ‘authentic’ analysis out of multiple personal viewpoints.
Some organisations are leaning into this challenge. They are trying new ways to develop solutions in partnership with people affected, they are creating pathways that will help them to employ more of the people they exist to serve, and they are shifting their own expectations of what policy development or campaigning entails.
Can your organisation tell the difference between tokenistic, even exploitative, involvement and genuine partnership? Perhaps the first step is a conscious conversation about your power and how you use it? Our Power Sharing Project pinboard has a host of tools, guides and reading to get you thinking. Sign up to our Community of Practice to access forthcoming workshops that will explore these ideas.
Thinking about funding change
Funders who shifted their usual priorities and processes in response to the pandemic were applauded. A different approach is, indeed, possible. Some of the more innovative funders had already blazed a trail in recent years.
We wondered if more funders would now be open to projects that cannot offer predictable, measurable outputs and outcomes? And whether some would want to invest in understanding issues and challenges more deeply?
There is a tension between being required to plan far in advance and remaining agile enough for effective campaigning. It applies within organisations as much as within funding processes. Are you in a position to start a conversation, internally or with funders, about what a better approach might look like? Reading No Royal Road is a good way to get your brain going.
Anecdotally, we are hearing that more collaboration happened between organisations last year. What is crucial to small and community-based organisations can be difficult for bigger ‘brands’.
Our 2020 Campaigner Survey showed that 96% of campaigners would like more collaboration, but the things that got in the way were time, money and ‘culture clashes’ between organisations. This suggests that at least part of the answer lies in how collaboration is valued and resourced.
If there are organisations working in similar spaces to you, you could do worse than to simply sit down for a coffee with your opposite numbers. Deep collaboration might be a way off, but mutual understanding could be the start of something special.