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23 November 2013 Sharing Group minutes

Sharing Group minutes – 23 November 2013
Royal Festival Hall
2.30 – 5.00
Present: Linnea, Isis, Rupesh, Cecilia, Tony, Ian J, Sophie
Ian H and Patrick tried to join via Skype but connection was not good but they did share some thoughts:

Thoughts from Patrick: Mentoring of applicants is important, particularly offering support to failed applicants. We should be wary of regionalisation, it can be dispiriting if some regions don’t take off. Other groups have failed attempting to do this. At some point can we look at (learning?) exchanges between groups, like the European Exchange programme?

Thoughts from Ian H: Can we build something into the application assessment process that allows us to connect groups that are working on the same issue? We need to facilitate more communication between members beyond just the application assessment process, to build community.

Jo wasn’t able to join the meeting but also shared some thoughts beforehand:

Thoughts from Jo: Some groups would actually benefit more from coordination and collaboration than funding which Edge could facilitate. But how to do so? There are also other opportunities that applicants could benefit from but they may or may not be aware of these opportunities. So how to capture the wealth of knowledge that is in our membership?

Our funding priorities/ criteria

Within every movement there are groups with different approaches and positions, even though they are trying to ultimately achieve the same thing. Edge could end up supporting groups with conflicting views. There may also be opportunities to encourage groups to collaborate. Should we develop our own position on different issues? There is a danger of us becoming very partisan and agenda setting if we were to write our own positions. It’s not up to us, as a funder, to determine the agenda. We should be supporting groups to do their work, they figure out what needs to be done. We shouldn’t take sides. We should be cautious about favouring one form of creating change over another, instead just help groups to grow and develop.

Some members may prefer to have much clearer assessment criteria on applications. Should we have more objective selection criteria? Edge selection process is built on the ‘wisdom of crowds’. It’s part of what makes us unique. Setting more criteria could result in agenda setting. Focusing on effectiveness and efficiency could lead us to being reductionist, replaying capitalist values.

Lots of good groups have lost their funding, can we support these groups as well as those who have never been funded? If you’ve received funding in the past, it’s likely you’re quite mainstream (or you wouldn’t have received it), so still have more options than others.

We’re getting a lot of applications. Still getting mainstream/ typical voluntary sector groups applying. We should be looking for edgier groups. Which applications put us on edge a bit? Are a little bit frightening? Danger of only funding white left groups if we use particular language. Radical to one group, is different to what is radical to another. How can we define ‘radical’ in a way that is meaningful to different communities? Does it lie in challenging power, rather than working with?

We have to prioritise who we support as we have limited funds. We should focus on challenging the system, for example, challenging cuts to disability benefits, not working alongside DWP.

Can we ask groups to identify whether they are a systemic change group or a community facing injustice?

  • Systemic change
  • Emerging communities
  • Creating impact/ change

What do these things mean?

Encouraging collaboration

It seems a good idea to bring groups together with a common interest but we also have a role to connect groups across issues. Edge should offer the opportunity for groups to come together. We like the diversity of applications. There’s a lot of potential for groups to learn from each other across issues.

We need an extra step in the application process that allows us to go back to applicants and link them up. Role of the Advisory Group needs to be developed. They should look at potential conflicts in applicant groups, potential for collaboration, potential for offering to organise issue-specific conference (which can then be proposed to membership).

Groups may resent us for suggesting they conflict with another or are duplicating the work of another group and should therefore collaborate. This is typical behaviour of other funders. So what is our role here? Applicants should be happy to answer questions about whether it might be possible to work with another group. It’s about how it’s phrased.

Should we be proactive in supporting specific movements that we see particularly need help? For example, immigration groups. Could we put on a conference for them? We could ask if this is useful, but we should not be prescriptive.

Just Food are a good example of creating space for groups to come together. They organise meetings around a theme. Allow groups to come together and work out their own agenda. Just Food just facilitate it and explicitly don’t have their own agenda.

Chamber of Commerce have a great model. There are some things we can learn from the right-wing! The different organisations within it all get behind each other. Could we all commit to getting behind one community for 6 months? Then choose another one.

Encouraging learning

We can all learn about change by learning about other approaches. Can we ask groups to pair up and learn from each other through some form of exchange? Write a short paper on what they learned? Groups will have different views on working with other groups. For example, an all-Afrikan group, with shared culture and struggle, are not likely to want to work with non-Afrikan groups.  We should be aware of our expectations of grantees. It’s not true empowerment if we deciding what happens and compelling people to do it. Edge should create spaces for learning but it’s not about us setting the agenda or pushing people into things.

What if the start of the process is being part of the Edge community? Engage in the learning process, then develop an application form? Should you have to be a member first, before being able to apply? Should membership requirements include having to engage in the learning process? Funding must be accessible – requiring applicants to be members first, or requiring grantees to engage in learning projects would present barriers to some groups.

Optional Open Space events for learning would be good. Could involve members, grantees, failed applicants, people interested in applying? Also, can we ask groups to write a short paper, or video, about their work and what they’ve learned? This could be part of the annual review process. Need to send a reminder to members about sharing info on Facebook groups and edgeinfo list. Should be an ongoing process.

Can we offer our skills to groups, as an addition to funding? We could organise meetings where we guarantee members with specific skills to share will be present. Like Fundraising Camp – based on Open Space/ Unconference format where attendees set agenda and then learn from each other.

Advisory Group has important role in educating members about issues. Their comments are useful, but the actual number scores not so much. We should pass on comments but not the scores (but scores still count towards the short-listing).

Supporting applicants

Can we announce funding round and then two weeks later have a funding surgery where potential applicants can meet with Edge members? The deadline would be a month after the surgeries. Surgeries could be in London but also elsewhere, Manchester? Should also be in other places. This would give us the opportunity to meet groups before they apply, get a better feel for who they are. But we should be cautious not to be blinded by articulate/ charismatic representatives as sometimes that’s not an accurate reflection of the work.

We need to get members to encourage groups to apply that they feel deserve funding and support them to do so if needed (or at least enable another member to help them).

Skills and resources database/ noticeboard

Could we have a database where people manage their profiles, share interests and skills? We could then more easily identify who’s available to do what. Skills noticeboard. Edge community skills and requirements. We can come up with headings for skills, e.g. facilitation, training, administration. Could we have a Wanted Board where members could post up the resources they need? This kind of thing doesn’t always work well as it requires people to check the website frequently. Is this too much for us? There are local skills databases already.

Sophie currently having a conversation outside Edge membership about researching main needs of grassroots groups and then working with larger NGOs to provide these resources, such as meeting spaces, printing. Send survey to our 800+ applicants so far, ask them main needs.

Communication/ participation within Edge

Is Skype a suitable way of involving people who can’t be at meeting themselves? Should we just alternate between London and Manchester and put on a bus for people to go from London to Manchester?

Main points/ things to do

  1. We feel we are in a great position to create opportunities for learning and collaboration, including Open Space events and online sharing – but that this should not involve imposing conditions on applying or agenda setting. Funding should always be accessible and we should always be led by the groups, not directing ourselves.
  2. Advisory Group role needs to be developed to facilitate collaboration between applicants.
  3. Linnea will work on the idea of a ‘Chamber of Progress’, modelled on Chamber of Commerce and involving members getting behind each others causes, Open Space events etc. Isis also to feed into this before being shared with Sharing Group.
  4. We should continue to let members collectively determine who gets funding, not have rigid assessment criteria. Again, there is a danger of agenda setting otherwise.
  5. We do need to tighten up criteria to ensure only ‘radical’ groups apply. We need to work on defining what ‘radical’ is, in a way that does not exclude anyone.
  6. We would like to hold meetings during the application period for prospective applicants (including failed applicants) to come along and meet members and get support in applying if needed and we should have a longer time period between announcing funding and the deadline.

Aim to have plan to present to membership in January/ February as part of annual review.

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