by | Mar 4, 2020

You already have this: unlocking confidence in an emerging social influencing team

Barnwood Trust is a Gloucestershire-based organisation championing disabled people and people with mental health challenges. They commissioned SMK to help develop their influencing programme.

An initial workshop with the senior management team (SMT) allowed us to listen to Barnwood Trust’s influencing journey so far.  Social influencing was agreed as the best way achieve large-scale impact, and we also clarified the Trust’s approach. We then developed a five-day training programme, which was rolled out to staff across Barnwood’s communications, campaigns and research teams.

This blog highlights what SMK and Barnwood Trust did, and importantly, what we learnt.

The timing was right for Barnwood

SMK and Barnwood Trust first took a hard look at the big picture – how the worsening impact of austerity has made day-to-day life even harder for disabled people and people with mental health challenges in Gloucestershire.  A staff member summarised the solution as ‘we want a better world, social justice…and to treat people fairly according to their needs’.

Barnwood Trust is already engaged in social influencing as part of its mission but, excitingly, it thinks this is the right moment to develop a new and distinct public voice. To win hearts over minds.

Staff didn’t initially see themselves as change-makers

We found that Barnwood staff , despite being researchers, digital experts and event organisers, didn’t tend to view themselves as creating social change. A lack of collective confidence was apparent. Yet they included a parent who launched an urgent campaign to secure life-saving treatment for her infant son and a young disabled woman who personally campaigned for changes in her own work and housing circumstances. Enough said.

We later agreed that change-makers come in many different guises

Later in the programme, staff namechecked a broad range of change-makers who inspire them. They include the Hong Kong protestors, for demonstrating bravery in pursuit of a more open society, and UK Paralympian wheelchair athlete Mel Nicholls, who one person said championed the ‘power of the possible’. In the Social Power report, SMK says more about this and identifies the 12 Habits of Effective Change-Makers.

Inspiration was provided through real-life experience

Connection and collaboration are key to SMK’s training approach. Each training session included an external speaker, including City of Sanctuary, Friends of the Earth, Scope and Grapevine Ltd. One participant said the speakers ‘brought things to life’ through their practical hints and tips, varying from a looser approach to branding, to lowering the bar to campaign entry, to new ways to spark community action.

Building a toolkit of practical approaches

SMK uses a toolkit of practical tools and approaches in its training to filter out workable ideas. A Barnwood staff member described the toolkit as helping complete their planning jigsaw, saying, ‘we have been supported to explore some challenging materials and to get to grips with a range of invaluable tools to help our thinking and planning’. Core to SMK’s approach is the innovative Social Change Grid, a tool that allows people to map and harness different types of change-making activity.

Encouraging everyday activism builds a whole-team approach

At the end of the course, participants reflected to the importance of working across the organisation to build an influencing approach. One said the process has been ‘genuinely transformative for us as a team’. Another acknowledged, ‘we had the skills and passion and knowledge all along – we just needed the tools to help us focus and plan’.

Barnwood Trust recognises it is now on its own organisational change-making journey.  Radical listening and an instinctive grasp of the bigger picture are already in its DNA. SMK left the team talking about how they could make the organisation more ‘deliberately catalytic’.

We’re all excited to see what comes next.

Kathleen Christie is an independent consultant and SMK senior associate @kathchristie3

Jess Waterman is Head of Communications, Campaigns & Events at the Barnwood Trust @jesswman @BarnwoodTrust

Image caption: International Day of People with Disabilities celebrations at Barnwood Trust, December 2019





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