Highlights, ambitions and questions that came out of Renaisi’s first in-person, place-based systems change community meeting.

Community of practice in person meeting. Lots of people seated looking towards the front of the room where Renaisi's staff are standing in front of a TV screen.

On the 26th April 2023 Renaisi hosted the first in-person, full-day Community of Practice gathering. Many of those attending said it gave them an excuse to leave the office for the day, which we were glad to provide!

We talked about the current practice and future of placed-based systems work, offered a sneak preview of Renaisi’s collaborative systems change enquiry, explored the purpose of our Community of Practice, and what drives people in this work.

Highlights of the community’s ambitions for place-based work included a desire to change the way funding for place-based systemic change is delivered and to build a narrative that feels relevant and owned by those involved.

Changing the way funding for place-based systemic change is delivered

Community members hope to see a shift towards funders being led by how the community driving the work understands their place. In particular when defining geographic boundaries for place-based funding rather than just using local authority and ward boundaries.

To do this, funders would need to understand the time it takes to develop the trusting relationships needed for place-based systems change. Then adjust their expectations and requirements for delivery, so that practitioners have the capacity to do it properly.

Relevance and ownership of the narrative

Systemic thinking, and the language we use to talk about it must centre lived experience and the real, ongoing issues that people are facing. Otherwise long-term systems change can lose sight of the realities people experience and replicate power imbalances. We can’t tell people to “sit tight while we change the system”.

Many frontline staff are not given the time and mental space to feed back around the systemic barriers and issues they encounter in their day to day, which means the organisational narrative can become disconnected from experience on the ground.

Burning questions

We then had an OpenSpace discussion around questions suggested by the group, which were:

  • How do you build lasting power-sharing partnerships in a place?
  • How do you exit a place if you’ve established yourself as a powerful actor (through money, programming work, networks etc.)?
  • How do you engage your funders in real conversations about what this work takes?
  • How do you know if a place-based systems change approach is starting to enable change in the short term to learn about what is effective?
  • How do you scale and/or replicate a place-based model beyond that place?

Power dynamics between funders and practitioners

One specific issue that we kept circling back to was power dynamics between funders and practitioners, so we’re dedicating the next gathering to that topic.

Questions included:

  • How can we get to a place where the time it takes to build trust in a place is accounted for in grants? This kind of work can’t happen right away.
  • How can I do this work well, take risks, build trust etc. when I fear my funding being taken away if I don’t hit my targets?
  • Who actually has power? Funders aren’t the whole system. We often talk about people who resist change as though they’re not us or point to people more powerful than us – but we all make up the system, we all have agency and responsibility to change.
  • But / and we also need to think about who is invested in maintaining the system as it is, including funders.
  • Sometimes you need to ask yourself (even if you are funded to do it), are we the best people to do be doing this work?

We are really energised by all of these questions and will explore them with you in more depth at the next Community of Practice gathering.

When: 5 July 2023 from 12:30-2pm
Where: Online
Theme: Funder-practitioner power dynamics – how can we talk about it, what needs to change and how do we do it?

Kezia Jackson-Harman