Did you see the PACT coming out of the Civil Society Futures inquiry and wonder “what can I do now?” Have you carried on with your old ways of working, unsure what you can really do?
This is normal. Large scale change can seem overwhelming for all of us. It’s always tempting to do things the ways we always have. Fear not: we have lots of ideas that can help you and your group or organisation get started.
Of course, what you do will be very different depending on who you are and what you’re involved in. But here are some suggestions for things you could do, or ask your organisation to do, to begin making the kinds of changes that will shift power and connect us better to each other and the people and communities we are here to serve.
You don’t need to do all 92! But hopefully a few of them will be useful – find what works for you.
- 4 things to read share with others
- 3 big principles to take into everything you do
- 28 ways to get to know your power – and work out how to shift it
- 18 ways to start revolutionising how you’re accountable
- 15 ways to connect more deeply with the people and communities you serve
- 14 ideas for how to build more trust
- 5 other ways to start talking & doing more about race equality
- 5 overall things you can do
4 things to read & share with others
- Why not start by exploring our list of trends shaping the future? Maybe get your colleagues to read it too and host a discussion about them. What else you might add? How is your organisation or group is responding to them?
- Hear what younger people have to say. We’ve spoke to loads, and you can watch some of them here. If you think anything they say is relevant to your group, then why not share this with your colleagues and chat with them about what it means for you?
- How are other people reacting? Read responses from civil society leaders and see what strikes a chord.
- Get inspired by stories and examples of what groups across the country and the world are doing. If any of them resonate with you, why not share them with colleagues and talk about what you think you or your group could learn.
3 big principles to take into everything you do
- Get out of your comfort zone: hold your meetings in places you normally avoid, give space to your critics, sometimes surround yourself with people who don’t share your point of view.
- Notice when you or your organisation is taking or avoiding risks. Ask the question: what would we do in that situation if we were ten times braver? Keep experimenting.
- Stay the course – with care and kindness. Look after yourself and others as you try to change – change doesn’t come easy, it takes time, don’t beat yourself up. Support others.
“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” (Bill Gates)
28 ways to get to know your power – and work out how to shift it
Across England, we found a deep sense of powerlessness. Many people feel that too often civil society organisations hoard power for themselves, rather than sharing it with those they are supposed to represent. We need to address this sense of alienation – and that means sharing the power we have. So what could you do?
- Recognise your own power. Start by asking yourself: when do you feel powerful? When do you feel powerless? How do you behave in those situations? How might others see you? Make a list and start to share it – even if it’s just with one or two people you trust to begin with.
- Bring attention to power dynamics in groups and situations you work with by openly discussing and exploring them, for example in meetings you’re part of. Notice who speaks and who doesn’t, and whose points are heard and whose aren’t. Any reflections?
- Support others to build power and become leaders. If you speak a lot in meetings, step back, provide space, opportunities and support. Gently ask people what you could do to support them.
- Consider which views – and whose – are seen as ‘serious’ and ‘credible’ in your group, and whether you could do more to make sure views that are marginalised get a fair hearing.
- Read the New Economic Organising Network’s Introductory guide to Power & Privilege, which makes it easier to discuss and resolve underlying tensions in groups in a campaigning context. If you find it useful, get other people in your group or organisation to read it.
- Read Social Power – How civil society can play Big and truly create change by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, which will help you think about how you can deliver big scale change. If you find it useful, get other people in your group or organisation to read it.
- Ask yourself: when was the last time I stuck up for someone with less power than me in my group?
- Read and reflect on But Wait, I’m Woke: the trials of the white male manager by Guppi Bola. What does it bring up for you?
- Want to do something in person? Attend Losing Control – a movement for people who want to let go of power to unleash social change (the Social Change Agency and Practical Governance)
- So much is happening digitally now. Get clued up with People Power and Technology: the 2018 digital understanding by doteveryone.
- Who are “experts”? Ask yourself what kinds of experience do you default to as expertise. Do you listen to those with lived experience of the problems you seek to address, as much as those with academic qualifications?
- Look at pay structures. Which roles are rewarded most and why? Which skills are treated as valuable and which are devalued? Is that right or could you do it differently?
- Read and apply Power: A practical guide for facilitating social change, by the Carnegie Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
- Read and be inspired by what’s happening in the US: try Power Moves – ignite the power of your philanthropy for equity and justice.
- Support other civil society groups who are smaller than you or perhaps have less power. For example: do something to help create connections between groups like organising a regular meet-up, or how about only buying services from within civil society – from meeting spaces to catering to IT support to design to research to grounds maintenance.
- Ask yourself and your colleagues: when was the last time your group stood up to funders or the government on behalf of the people you’re meant to serve (or wanted to do but didn’t)? What would it take for you to do this? Under what circumstances might you do it?
- Shift power by deciding things differently. Try Loomio – a tool for collaborative decision making.
- If you have funding to distribute, consider allowing the people it is meant to benefit to decide how it should be spent.
- Get more people power over the purse strings. Test out the CoBudget tool for collaborative budgeting.
- Discuss with your colleagues and those you serve whether it’s time to embrace radical visionary change. If you think it is, then talk about what that would mean in practice in your organisation: what would your own manifesto look like? How would you see it through?
- Build, grow and take part in platforms for people to share their stories and build collective power.
- If you’re looking for media coverage, think about whether there are civil society media organisations you could give your story to first, like the Bristol Cable.
- Actively convene a meeting with other people in your corner of civil society to discuss structural power dynamics, such as race, class and gender. Try to create a space where people can talk openly about the problems they have faced and discuss how to work together to tackle them.
- Talk with colleagues about whether there’s more you could do to defend rights and call out injustice. Civil society is political and we need to challenge those in power even if they fund us.
- If you work locally, support communities to own and control assets – such as land and housing and permanently endowed local funds.
- Campaign to end to the Lobbying Act because we must be free to speak out on political issues. Refuse to let it stand in your way in the meantime.
- Work to help make funding available for the disobedient who challenge systems. Trust and reward them to do more.
- Sign up to the Time to change pledge – an employer pledge to demonstrate a commitment to change how we think and act about mental health in the workplace.
18 ways to start revolutionising how you’re accountable
Ultimately, we’re all more likely to get better at what we do when we’re accountable to the right people. Here are some ways to shift who you’re accountable to and how.
- Ask for and act on feedback on something you’ve recently completed recently. What worked well – what could have been done differently in the future?
- Now do 36. again, but this time ask some people you never normally would – who would have a very different perspective? who might challenge you?
- Identify who you are accountable to today – are you most accountable to the people/communities you’re here to serve, or do you invest more in being accountable to donors or government? Look at what it would take to change this.
- Admit and share your mistakes and failures and talk about how that informs your actions.
- How is your organisation governed? If you have a board of trustees, are most of them from from the demographic your organisation exists to support?
- Be inspired by the Enspiral handbook – a handbook of alternative agreements and practical guidance. It’s a go to place for ideas about working and organising differently – from people who are experimenting with new ways of working.
- Learn about Future of Community Enterprise – a vision for a future accountability with community enterprises by Power to Change.
- If you have staff, review your feedback and appraisal mechanisms. Who gets to feed in to reviews? What are people given praise and criticism for?
- Similarly, and whether or not you have staff, think about what your feedback mechanisms are. Who do you hear from about your work? Who do you really listen to? How often can people from outside feed in?
- Develop an approach to conflict resolution, thinking about power, accountability, connection and trust. Think about how hard it can be for those with less power to raise issues that concern them.
- Be willing to be held to account as an organisation. Develop new and more challenging ways of being accountable. Invite different people onto your board or advisory committee.
- Are you a charity? Take a look at the Charity Governance Code – does it give you ideas about how you could improve your overall governance?
- Co-design your accountability systems and practices with the very people you want to be accountable to – ask them how they would like things to work.
- Recognise your responsibility to future generations. Take a look into the future and discuss with your colleagues what you are doing about it.
- Be part of Civicus’s Resilient Roots Accountability Initiative.
- Think of three demographics or groups that your organisation doesn’t normally listen to, but which are impacted by your work. Discuss how you can go to where they are and hear what they have to say.
- Create your own Safer Space policy to create a respectful, understanding and kind space where people feel able to express themselves and ask questions without fear of reprisal or humiliation.
- Develop an environment policy. Discuss hard questions such as internal flights as well as recycling.
15 ways to connect more deeply with the people and communities you serve
One stark finding of our research across the country is that communities feel detached – from each other, and from many of our civil society institutions and organisations. Here are some ways you can rebuild connection.
- If you’re white, heterosexual, male, cis, middle or upper class, not disabled, not a migrant or not from a marginalised religious group… then listen to people of colour, LGBTQI+ people, women, working class people, disabled people, migrants, people from Traveller communities, and minority religious communities, listen to what they tell you that you could be doing differently, and do your best to do it.
- Read The State of Collaboration – how ready are you to collaborate with others?
- Mull over Four essential ingredients of collaboration – are there any you could learn from?
- Work more with communities… and try Getting Started – a guide for communities on doing research.
- Can we measure how connected we are? Try creating explicit measures of connection for your group or organisation. Sometimes you can’t measure everything, but where you can, then do, and assess how well you’re doing and what might need to change.
- Take active steps to ensure those in leadership positions at your organisation are representative of our diverse society and have the right skills, experience and values.
- Make building relationships a priority for your organisation, putting in the time and effort to seek feedback, genuinely listen and change. Consider how much relationship building is rewarded and recognised as important within your organisation.
- Talk with colleagues about how your group could bridge divides whether across race, gender, generations, social class or any other division in your community. Learn from the past and experiment with new approaches.
- Talk to your colleagues about how you can create and invest in better ways to connect and collaborate that are fit for the 21st century, combining welcoming and energising physical spaces with online forums.
- Discuss with colleagues a way to establish who isn’t engaging with your work and try to find out why.
- Make time and create spaces within your group – whether in your regular meetings or separate ones – to discuss some of the challenging issues that prevent people from connecting with and supporting each other in your group.
- Put time aside with colleagues to brainstorm which other groups are working in your area and whether there are any of them that you don’t work with as much as you should. Approach them openly to talk about collaboration and mutual support. Think specifically about groups which do similar work, but with people from different backgrounds to those you work with.
- Find ways to help get funds for groups who work across different communities/identities, and learn more about intersectionality.
- Discuss with your colleagues: when was the last time your group or organisation did something purely out of solidarity with another group or organisation? When did you took a risk in order to actively speak up for someone else?
- If you work for a national organisation, consider whether you have a genuine and deeply rooted presence at local level. If you don’t, invest in developing this, or work closely with and listen to those who do.
14 ideas for how to build more trust
Trust is our ultimate currency. It matters to civil society groups more, perhaps, than anything else. Yet the best evidence shows that people trust each other less and less. And so we need to invest in rebuilding trust. Here are some ways…
- Read Empowered Communities: The Future for Communities – it’s got some great perspectives on power and trust.
- Be inspired by Detectorism Insights #1: stories, provocations and cultural portraits from an experiment by CoLab Dudley.
- Want to put yourself in the shoes of someone else? Read Community Leadership: tales from the front line of community based organisations.
- Create explicit measures of trust (and mistrust) in your group or organisation. Sometimes you can’t measure everything, but do it where you can, see how well you’re doing and what learnings it throws up.
- If you produce an annual report, include honest reflections on your practice, learning, failures and questions you’re working with. Civil society organisations will all do better if we’re more honest with each other about how we’re working to change and where we’re finding it hard.
- Discuss with colleagues a way in which your group has failed another person or group. Find a way to talk about this failure with that person or group.
- Make it a priority to build trust with the people and communities you work with. Devote time and other resources to relationships, taking the time, commitment and care that’s really needed. Find ways to measure trust and reflect it in how we evaluate success both as an organisation and in the feedback mechanisms of individual members, staff or volunteers.
- Trust people, communities and other civil society groups to provide insights, make decisions and run things themselves. They often know best about what they need and what can be done.
- When you’re designing any new project, build in more time for dialogue and getting to know each other.
- Talk within your organisation about what you really understand trust to mean. Do you all have the same definition? What can you learn from each other?
- Seek or provide ‘year zero’ funding for projects, including significant time to build trust and relationships between people so that they can be involved in developing detailed plans.
- Trust people with funding even if they are not connected to an organisation.
- Try to develop an understand of how to gain trust and acceptance within different spaces and communities. If you’re struggling, notice who around you is good at this and talk to them.
- Admit what you don’t know and ask for support from those you’re working with.
5 other ways to start talking & doing more about race equality
Racism is still a deep wound running through English society. We will only heal it if we address it. Many of the proposals above are relevant to race, but here are some other specific things you may want to do to help you think about race and racism in your group – from the Let’s Talk About Race report.
- Relearn history. Read about uncomfortable topics of race inequality, colonialism and histories of racism and discrimination. See whether there are articles, essays or books about the history of race relations in your part of civil society, or your corner of the country. Remember that England is still darkened by the shadow of empire. Talk about how it affects your group.
- Reflect on Walking the talk on diversity – what is holding the charity sector back from putting words into action?
- Read Identity-based forms of organising in civil society: good or bad? Write a list of your own multiple identities. Reflect on how they shape your work in both positive and negative ways.
- Review and improve the ethnic diversity of your workforce – but don’t just stop there. Get into your discomfort zone.
- Gain feedback about your organisation from staff and people you work with – do people from ethnic minority backgrounds feel listened to, do they have power, do they feel they have the choice to act and progress in a way they value?
5 overall things you can do
If we’re going to begin to address many of the issues our research highlighted, we’re going to have to change our organisations. Here are some wider things you can do which incorporate all of the themes of PACT.
- Evaluations: Include PACT in whatever process you use for evaluating how well your projects have gone. Perhaps build in questions like “Did we really shift power?” “Were we accountable to the people we were trying to help?” “Did we build new connections?” “Do the people we were trying to help trust us more or less than they used to?” If possible, design evaluation processes which are led by the people you’re trying to help – put them at the centre.
- Strategic planning: If you’re involved in strategic decision making processes – whether for a large organisation, or a team within it, or for a small group – then talk with colleagues about what PACT means for designing your strategy. Who should you be involving in conversations and decisions about strategy? Can you start your strategic process by reflecting on the PACT?
- Walking the talk: Look at what you say about your organisation or group – whether that’s formal “mission, vision and values” or just how you would describe it to new potential members. Spot where there might be a gap between your aspirations and the reality. Think about how the stories you tell about your organisation contributes, or doesn’t, to long term shifts in power, accountability, connection and trust – whether in your community, globally, or anything in between.
- Staffing: If your group has staff, think about how they are recruited and how you might change your policies and practices based on the PACT framework. Also, it might be a good idea to think about retention through the PACT framework: who stays in jobs in your organisation? Who comes but leaves quickly? Ask people why that is. As part of this, apply Racial diversity in the charity sector – Leadership principles and practical recruitment advice (ACEVO and Institute for Fundraising).
- Get talking: And finally, if you just don’t know where to start… start with a conversation. Host a conversation about the future using Civil Society Futures Conversation Toolkit and see where it could lead…
These are just a few suggestions if you’re looking for ideas to help you get started. You know yourself and your group/organisation best, so find what works for you, and if it all feels overwhelming at least try one thing. Good luck on your journey.