A 2020 Vision of Civil Society

A 2020 Vision of Civil Society

To coincide with London Funders’ publication of our Review of Reviews, Rocket Science’s London Director, John Griffiths, reflects on what Brexit really means for UK civil society and some implications for its funders . . .

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

These words of the metaphysical poet and one-time Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, John Donne, have never had more portent as we prepare to leave the European Union. What on the morning of 24th June 2016 might have seemed a knee-jerk act of political protest, has exposed deep-seated socio-economic divisions throughout the land, as well as between the capital city and the rest of the country. Recent analyses of the implications for the UK of the Brexit vote show that this is not a time for London’s “splendid isolation.”

The UK’s decision to leave the EU proved to be the cue for a lengthy bout of self-analysis and enquiry. The last two years have seen an outpouring of reports looking at different aspects of the condition and future of Britain. They explore the changes required to our democracy, education and economy in order to confront the biggest challenges facing the country today of which inequality, the focus of a new 5-year inquiry by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, is consistently identified as the greatest.

What is absent from these assessments is any significant contradiction to the narrative of an irrevocably shrunken state unable to cope with rising demographic pressures and social demand. The contract which underpinned the welfare state for over 70 years – ie that in exchange for taxation and personal responsibility government will provide for its citizens “from cradle to grave” – appears broken. In their search for an alternative system, the reviews do share a certain optimism that a far more inclusive civil society, one no longer synonymous with a “third sector” but also embracing business, is key to our achieving a new form of lasting social settlement.   

Another recurring theme of these analyses is the growing significance of place as the focus for policy making and social innovation in communities. Following more than two decades of devolution and localism, the government’s Civil Society Strategy (2018) gives substance to the belief that “people best placed to drive forward local and sustainable economies are those who live, work and do business in them.”

This is a policy trend which is likely to strengthen following our eventual exit from the EU, once government defines its idea of “double devolution” and certain powers and funds are repatriated. Several high-profile foundations, as well as the tellingly re-named National Lottery Community Fund, are already taking a more place-based approach to their funding in order to stimulate social action, coordinate investment and unlock local assets. They seem to be tapping into the  popular urge to re-establish feelings of community in an increasingly atomised society, one in which people look to place as a way of reaffirming their identity and a sense of belonging.

Understanding the current zeitgeist, of which the process of Brexit is more a symptom than a cause, offers some pointers to funders’ future priorities. In what is an increasingly fractured country, there are two fissures which stand out.  

 

One is the growth in both income and wealth inequality between the richest and the poorest in our society, indicators which are particularly pronounced within London. The other is the increasing divide between capital and country.

Debates about the future sustainability and fairness of London have tended to focus on the striking narrative of “a tale of two cities.” This can hide the degree to which there is also a widening schism between London and the rest of the country. Analysis of the geographical differences in the result of the 2016 EU referendum, for example, has identified the mounting resentment about the capital’s preferential policy treatment, the disproportionate levels of public spending and its growing levels of individual and corporate wealth. Differences in personal wealth, and hence individuals’ life chances, between the capital and the rest of the UK are the biggest of any country in Europe.  As the Social Mobility Commission has pointed out, children going to school in Westminster and receiving free school meals are five times more likely to go to university and then on to good jobs in London, than children elsewhere in the country.

In the so-called “post-truth era,” a time of increasingly shrill political discourse and “fake news,” local and regional funder forums – neutral space where funders share ideas and forge collaborations, supported by increasingly available data on sources of place-based giving – are increasingly essential. Funder collaborations are an opportunity to project the more inclusive image of a modern civil society.  The reviews’ largely optimistic outlook, that civil society has a vital role to play in finding solutions to the challenges ahead, does not gloss over the more hard-hitting assertion that “civil society will not be able to do this without changing itself.” This is meant to be a joint, inclusive effort; civil society’s creativity and synergy come from the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors working together with a shared interest in a common purpose and common wealth.  However, when it is convenient to do so, it is all too easy to revert to traditional thinking, equating the term “civil society” with the “third sector,” a discreet area outside the state and the commercial market, which can reinforce a sense of competition, difference and otherness. 

An important corollary of forums like London Funders’ providing a safe space for collaboration, is that their members appreciate the opportunity and value of being challenged. These reviews’ widening of the parameters of a modern civil society, to include business when it acts for a social purpose, means that a forum’s membership needs to reflect the cross-sectoral nature, the range of place-based and community interests, and the sheer diversity of civil society.

The risk is that narrow or unrepresentative membership creates an echo chamber, with insufficient capacity or courage to address fully the challenges set out, for example, by Julia Unwin’s Inquiry, which envisions civil society thriving only as result of our collective willingness to redefine difficult concepts of Power, Accountability, Connection and Trust. 

John Griffiths is a Director of Rocket Science UK Ltd and a Trustee of London Funders, a membership network for funders and investors in London’s civil society.

Strange Bedfellows? BIDs and Civil Society

Strange Bedfellows? BIDs and Civil Society

The recent second annual Summit of London’s Business Improvement Districts convened by London First and the GLA revealed that BIDs and Civil Society organisations are more likely bedfellows than you may think . . .

The government’s civil society strategy, published in August of last year, argues that there are five foundations necessary to build thriving communities – the social sector; the public sector; people; places and business. The changing expectation of the role of business in civil society is indicative of how boundaries between the private, public and voluntary sectors are becoming increasingly porous, and how many of today’s social challenges demand not just partnership working, but cross-sector solutions.  As their name implies, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) fuse two of the fundamental elements of civil society by engaging businesses in places.

The increasing significance of place as a focus of social programmes and economic policy provided the backdrop to the London BIDs’ summit held at City Hall last month.  One round table discussion on civil society and BIDs explored their potential:  

  • as agents of community development and social integration alongside their place-shaping roles;
  • as brokers of business engagement in their local community (by connecting with local voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises);
  • as sources of place-based investment (through grants, volunteering – including pro bono expertise – as well as support in kind);
  • as partners with other stakeholders in developing place-based programmes and local initiatives.

A recent report for the Greater London Authority, Harnessing the Capital’s Giving – what is the role of the Mayor and the GLA in enabling civic philanthropy? also highlights the importance of place as a focus for local giving (of money and time) and the role of business as partners in London’s civil society.  The report refers to the work of the sixty BIDs in the capital, several of which provide proxy Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) programmes for members to channel resources and employee-volunteering into their local area, as well as to the Place-based Giving models which are a growing feature of London boroughs’ civil society infrastructure, and which a number of BIDs are also now partnering.  

Harnessing the Capital’s Giving argues that the Mayor’s “good growth” agenda is likely to elicit more sustained investment and “social value” than occasional charitable contributions from businesses’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes.  The Mayor’s introduction of the Good Work Standard alongside his commitment to responsible procurement provides tools to back the kind of “purpose-led businesses” identified in the Civil Society Strategy.  “Inclusive growth” is also the overarching theme of the proposed London Industrial Strategy which aims to ensure “all of London’s places, people and communities can contribute to and benefit from the city’s growth.”

Do BIDs have a role in the changing infrastructure which supports London’s civil society?

  • Unsurprisingly, London’s BIDs have varied levels and types of interaction and involvement with civil society in their different localities; this tends to reflect the characteristics of each place, the different profile of the business community and level of resources available to each BID. Most recognise the role that BIDs have as partners in local civil society, and as conduits between businesses and the community;
  • In outer London BIDs, this tends to be more traditional volunteering – eg providing reading partners in schools; donating to foodbanks; employee team-days supporting the local community.
  • Some of the larger, inner London BIDs have developed potentially higher-impact initiatives, including 3 year-long partnering of businesses with local voluntary organisations (Bankside); tackling rough sleeping (Heart of London); creating an age-friendly business district (Angel) etc.
  • BIDs in many areas are “closer to the ground” than the local authority; as such they can be invaluable sources of data and intelligence. This enables them to raise awareness of local needs and signpost businesses which are interested in tackling community priorities e.g. SE1 BIDs working with Southwark and Lambeth collectively on local employment initiatives (recruitment; retention and “good work” practices) and the accessibility of affordable space for charitable organisations and community groups.
  • Ongoing devolution and localism (e.g. in the form of Neighbourhood Plans) and the “reinvention” of many high streets may see civil society issues rising further up BID agendas in future eg promoting meanwhile uses/pop ups and social enterprises; community representation on BID boards/ governance; re-imagining the town centre as a cultural/community nexus.

 Challenges to overcome if BIDs are to be reliable partners of a modern civil society

 Making the case – many businesses view the BID levy as part of their community investment/CSR, so asking for additional contributions to the local community needs to have a clear justification and purpose.

  • BIDs would welcome greater clarity on relevant (local) policy priorities along with frameworks and clear metrics to help define and measure community investment so that it is both more strategic, and garners as much impact as possible.
  • “Good growth” can sound a bit “motherhood and apple pie.” BIDs’ members need a clear sense of what this means at a local level; that the market/local economy works for the common good and not just exclusive sectional interests.
  • A corollary of further devolution and place-based responses to social needs could see more representation of businesses in local democratic structures, including area committees/ neighbourhood forums if not local authorities themselves.
  • The localisation of business rates potentially creates a conflict for local authorities in meeting the twin aims of maximising the tax take from local commerce, whilst also nurturing local civil society organisations.

 Whether London’s BIDs interpret their place-shaping role to include investing in local civil society is rather a moot point.  Once the business community in an area votes to establish a BID, it is almost guaranteed to remain a permanent fixture; very few BIDs are disestablished or lose their electoral mandate.  BIDs are relatively “new kids on the municipal block,” and are growing rapidly in number; it remains largely up to community partners to make the case for harnessing their potential as enablers of local civil society.

John Griffiths is a Director of Rocket Science UK Ltd and the co-author of The Evolution of London’s BIDs (2016)

Ten years on from Invisible Islington…

Ten years on from Invisible Islington…

Ten years ago marked the publication of a ground-breaking piece of ethno-graphic research which continues to impact on our work and that of our many clients and partners today.  The Cripplegate Foundation commissioned Rocket Science to shine a light on the poverty in one seemingly affluent inner-London borough and to explore the factors that make it so entrenched – ill health, debt, isolation and lack of opportunity – and to re-think the actions needed to tackle it.  Our aim was to go beyond the headline statistics and allow local people to tell their stories about the impact of grinding poverty on their everyday lives.

The report Invisible Islington, which is still available on the Cripplegate Foundation website, is credited by its Director, Kristina Glenn, for transforming the way the Foundation works and establishing Islington Giving.  It changed Rocket Science too, positioning us as a reputable voice on the changing nature of London’s civil society.  Anyone reading the Rocket Science advent calendar, a record of our diverse range of consultative work, research publications and grants’ management from 2018, or who attended our pre-Christmas networking for clients (and former colleagues) from across London’s public, private, social sectors, will see how the company operates at the cross-sectoral interface which is helping redefine civil society and forge a new social settlement for the c21st.   

A spate of reviews looking at the future of civil society – not least the government’s Civil Society Strategy and the reports of the Julia Unwin Commission’s Civil Society Futures (plus our own work in different boroughs; on London’s giving; on the potential of civic philanthropy), all published in 2018, suggests that once the small matter of Brexit is decided, there is a wealth of ideas, opportunities and challenges to act upon. 

Ahead of convening its Big Network Day at City Hall next month, London Funders have commissioned us to undertake a “review of the reviews” – a combination of literature review and think piece. This is an opportunity to reflect on the big social challenges of today and how a modern civil society can create the kind of partnerships necessary to realise London’s full potential; creating the social value which stems from the kinds of civic agency, participatory democracy, cooperative practices and forms of self-determination showcased in Civil Society Futures is something which Rocket Science has been researching and enabling for well over a decade.

 

For more information, please contact [email protected]

 

From: Civil Society in England – Its current state and future opportunity

Harnessing the capital’s giving

Rocket Science’s review for the Greater London Authority argues that the Mayoral priority of enabling “good growth” provides a modern narrative for harnessing corporate philanthropy  

The GLA commissioned Rocket Science to undertake a review of civic philanthropy against a backdrop of extensive reflection about the future of civil society in the capital.[1]  At a time of political uncertainty around Brexit, the shrinking role of the state in people’s lives and increasingly complex social needs compounded by widening inequality of wealth, we detected high expectations of the Mayor of one of the richest cities in the world to take more of a lead.  The Review found less consensus around either the specific types of intervention or initiative the Mayor might take, or whether the concept of philanthropy, which is an anachronism to some, befits a modern and dynamic global city.

With the private sector increasingly seen as a key component of a civil society, the Review argues that the Mayor’s “Good Growth” agenda provides a modern narrative which will enable the GLA to elicit more sustained investment and “social value” than occasional contributions from businesses’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes. Reflecting the Mayoralty’s efforts to widen civic participation and community engagement, the Review shows how the GLA is already securing at least as much value from employers’ giving of time and expertise as money. However, it also found teams across the Authority working independently without clear strategic direction on how to engage corporate philanthropy, adopting largely opportunistic approaches to partner business.

The GLA’s eliciting social value from companies, is symptomatic of a growing trend particularly among some of the larger businesses we consulted of “moving beyond CSR” and the increasingly discredited notion of a tacit social contract in which businesses give something back to society in return for a “licence to operate.”  We detected signs of a different model of doing good in London’s private sector, one where businesses create social value by investing in the same activities required to generate profit – procurement; recruitment and reward; skills; research, development and social innovation – often by entering long-term partnerships with charities and civil society organisations.[2]

The GLA’s tapping into this whole-company approach is one corollary of the Mayor’s “Good Growth” agenda and is being underpinned by the introduction of new instruments like the Good Work Standard, as well as the Social Value Act.  Recognising the potential of business is also a recurring theme of the government’s new Civil Society Strategy which seeks to back “purpose-led” businesses committed to social or environmental objectives alongside making profit.

Such prominence given to business in debates about the future of civil society would not have been entertained even just a few years ago.  Changed perceptions of the role and potential of the private sector – from both inside and outside companies – is indicative of how boundaries between the private, pubic and voluntary sectors have become increasingly porous, and how so many of today’s social needs and challenges demand not just partnership working, but cross-sector solutions.[3] The Review identified scope for the GLA significantly to amplify this message, in effect re-purposing corporate giving for the 21st century and doing more to harness the social value generated by London’s businesses.[4]  Currently, however, connections and synergies between different programmes and projects funded by the GLA are being missed.  Partly this is a consequence of a new administration taking time to develop its strategic priorities, articulating its vision for civil society in the capital and refocusing inherited programmes, like Team London, on the themes of social integration, community engagement and social mobility.

Businesses consulted for the Review spoke of their frustration in having multiple contact points with the GLA and its lacking a coordinated, joined-up approach on corporate engagement.  As the definition of a modern civil society shifts and broadens to include business, the distinction between the GLA’s commercial partnerships (for which there is a dedicated team within the GLA) and business offers of a philanthropic nature will only become further blurred. One of the Review’s overarching recommendations is to establish a single point of contact at City Hall to bring far greater visibility and coordination to the Authority’s engagement with all sources of civic philanthropy, particularly those aligned with Mayoral priorities.

The recommendation that City Hall establishes a single point of contact for engagement with civic philanthropists is one of a series of actions and recommendations. 

Harnessing the Capital’s Giving – what is the role of the Mayor and Greater London Authority in enabling civic philanthropy with all our recommendations can be downloaded here – Rocket Science – GLA Philanthropy Review.

For further information on the Review’s findings, please contact [email protected]


[1] For the most recent contribution to this public debate see the Cabinet Office’s Civil Society Strategy, Building a Future that Works for Everyone, August 2018; Also Civil Society Futures is an ongoing national conversation about how English civil society can flourish in a fast changing world. Through a wide range of different media, Civil Society Futures has engaged those involved in all forms of civic action, including business.

[2] The future of doing good in the UK, Sonia Sodah for the Big Lottery Fund, 2017; See also chapter 4 of the Cabinet Office’s Civil Society Strategy, Building a Future that Works for Everyone, August 2018 “; Rocket Science Focus Group with large businesses, 30th April 2018.

[3] Cabinet Office’s Civil Society Strategy, Building a Future that Works for Everyone, August 2018; https://civilsocietyfutures.org/playback-business-perspective-civil-society/;.

[4] A recent study for the City of London Corporation helpfully traces the evolution and increasing partnership approach to corporate philanthropy, though admits that relatively few companies have yet progressed from “being good to great” – Corporate Community Investment – Four Routes to Impact, City of London Corporation and Corporate Citizenship, 2018.

Rocket Science publishes review of philanthropy for the Greater London Authority

Earlier this year Rocket Science were commissioned by the Greater London Authority to produce a Review of Philanthropy in London.

As you may know, last week Centre for London published More, Better, Together: A Strategic Review of Giving in London; this follows earlier calls for action, from the London Fairness Commission (2016) and Charities Aid Foundation (2017), for the Mayor to use his office to harness civic philanthropy and similar private initiative for public good.

Rocket Science’s Review of the Greater London Authority’s role in supporting philanthropy is intended to help shape and inform the Mayor and the GLA’s response to these calls. You can download a copy of the Review, Harnessing the capital’s giving: What is the role of the Mayor and Greater London Authority in enabling civic philanthropy?

I hope the proposals we have suggested in the Review will help improve the effectiveness of private, particularly business giving in working alongside statutory and charitable resources to tackle London’s rising social needs.   A GLA response to the research is expected in October 2018.

As always, we would be very pleased to hear any feedback on the Review, and ideas or offers of help to implement these recommendations.

The GLA commissioned Rocket Science to undertake independent research into the role the Mayor and GLA could play in enabling philanthropy in London. We welcome Rocket Science’s findings and recommendations and along with the Centre for London’s recent ‘More, better, together’ philanthropy report. The GLA is considering its role and will respond to both reviews in October.