In light of our recent residential event, the Promoting Change Network, Sam Thomas who works for one of our partner organisations – Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) – has written his reflections on how it went:
One of the big challenges for voluntary organisations – particularly small ones working locally – is how to form effective links with others who are doing similar work. The LankellyChase Foundation, which currently supports the MEAM coalition’s policy programme, has for several years helped its grantees to connect with each other through the Promoting Change Network.
Twice a year, they organise a residential meeting for all the projects that they fund, and the people who they work with. Last week, I attended the latest and largest of these meetings on behalf of MEAM. It brought together around 150 people who are delivering, using and commissioning services across the country that address severe and multiple disadvantage.
It was an ambitious event, not least in setting out to establish ‘equality of exchange’ between people with different types of experience – practitioners, public servants and people with lived experience of multiple needs. This is a real challenge as people often value professional over personal experience, or are quick to make assumptions about the motivations and values of people from different sectors, but the event tackled all this head-on.
By the end of the two days, I found myself in a discussion that included commissioners, current and former users of services and voluntary sector practitioners. We were discussing ways in which people in local government could learn from and with the people who deliver and use the services they commission. We still each brought our own perspectives, but the barriers had come down a little.
There were some areas of real consensus: for example, commissioners benefit from dialogue with those who are delivering and using services; and both parties felt they would benefit from reflecting more closely on how they can work together. However, the challenge that remained was how these idea could be put into practice. As we listened to the ideas other groups had developed, some people raised questions about funding as the next step – hardly surprising at an event convened by a grant-making foundation. But in our group, we struggled more with some equally important questions: where would these new approaches work best? Who would need to be involved? Is somebody already trying to do this and if so, should we contribute to and/or learn from their work, rather than starting from scratch?
The challenge for an initiative like the Promoting Change Network is to ensure that the rich ideas generated by bringing together many organisations, people and perspectives can survive their journey back into the real, messy world that we have to live and work in – and fit with the unpredictable way that change actually happens in communities and institutions.
We look forward to helping some of the ideas that came out of last week’s event develop, and doing all we can to support the network as it grows.
Written by Sam Thomas, who leads Voices from the Frontline, a project to bring the voices of people with multiple needs and those who support them to the heart of the policy debate.