20 October 2016

What is the future of ‘doing good’ in the UK?

The Big Lottery Fund is hosting events across the UK to stimulate discussion on its recent report The Future of 'Doing Good' in the UK.  

Jane Cullingworth, a What Works Scotland PhD student, reports back on the Big Lottery Fund's recent think piece and an event that brought people together to talk about the future of 'doing good'.

The Big  Lottery Fund (BLF) commissioned Sonia Sodha from The Observer newspaper to write a piece to encourage a radical rethink across civil society about how people and communities are supported to thrive.

The report was informed by interviews with stakeholders from across the social, public and private sectors, the 'social sector' being defined as organisations and associations that exist primarily to create social value.  The think piece contains different perspectives and solutions to society's key challenges, creating a starting point for conversation rather than a blueprint for action.

Society's challenges are broadly characterised as tackling inequality, creating resilient communities, and facilitating democratic engagement. Amongst the specific challenges identified are that:
  • needs are defined by funders and sector leaders rather than communities
  • interventions focus on individual need rather than systems change
  • collaboration amongst the social, public and private sectors is weak, and the lines between them blurred
  • the changing nature of the state creates challenges for the social sector, in particular contracting regimes, austerity, devolution and an increasing focus on prevention
  • systems of evaluation and accountability are weak
  • advances in technology have not been harnessed.
While the report's aim is not to offer solutions, it contains a clear message that collaboration amongst all three sectors is required, and in particular between the social and private sectors. 

The social sector's suspicion with the private sector's profit motive is acknowledged, however, the report questions whether this is justified as long as social value is created.

 The private sector's drive for profit is equated with the individual motivation of people working in the social sector, implying that there is little difference as we are all out for something. As someone who has worked in the social sector all my life, I found this characterisation problematic. An individual’s ambition is not the same as a company’s profit motive. The report's equation of ambition and profit runs the risk of obscuring the very real challenges for social-private sector partnerships in bridging the differences between the pursuit of a social mission and that of private profit. 

The event in Glasgow was one of many planned across the UK by BLF; it drew about 80 people, primarily from the social sector.  

Panel provocations were provided by:

Much of the time was spent in facilitated table discussions, reacting to some of the key questions raised by the report and identifying potential actions.  People were asked to complete an 'ask' and 'offer' card noting what actions they would be taking to both make positive change happen and continue the discussion.  

The conversation at my table revolved around what makes the social sector unique, with mission, governance and volunteers being offered up as key. Disturbingly, questions were raised about whether the social sector is really that different from the private sector with references made to organisations being run like companies. Perhaps this is the real challenge for the future of doing good in the UK - for social sector organisations to reconnect fundamentally with their philosophical missions and to identify and promote what makes them unique.  

While it is unclear how the discussions will shape the future of doing good, it is clear that the BLF’s future funding strategy will be informed by this work. Increasingly BLF is emphasising an approach that puts people in the lead – doing with rather than for. It will be interesting to watch how this evolves, and to see if this in turns influences the way social sector organisations engage in their communities.


This is the Big Lottery Fund's video overview

See The Future of Doing Good website for more information about how to get involved in the conversation.

And you can follow the Twitter hashtag #FutureGood.

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