Growing Great Ideas: supporting transformational change
How do you invest in and support transformational change? The kind of change that matches the complexity and scale of the challenges we face? Our UK Portfolio is where the Fund can experiment with how to deliver in different ways and these are two of the questions we have been asking over the past year against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this blog John Knights and Andriana Ntziadima describe how we developed a new funding programme to support transformational and long-term change across the UK.
Over the last 16 months, our communities have faced unpreceded challenges that have shown how connected we are, but also the limits of many systems. There are a number of new policies and programmes created to support communities as we slowly come out of the pandemic, but there is also broad consensus the pandemic has shown just tinkering is unlikely to be sufficient to build back better. A deeper systemic transformation is required.
Starting in July 2020 we spent time talking to those working and funding in the field of transformational change in the UK (and beyond) to understand the challenges they face and how funders can better support this important work. We heard long term change takes time, often more than 10 years, it involves multiple people and organisations (an ecosystem) working at several different levels and constantly learning and adapting the approach. We were also told long term change is not often supported by funders, or at least not supported well.
From these conversations we created a new funding programme, Growing Great Ideas, which opened for proposals in January 2021. The theory of change for Growing Great Ideas is that in the light of the social and environmental challenges we are facing (many of which predate the pandemic), we need to invest long-term in the groups and networks who are trying to do things that go well beyond fixing or adapting the current systems.
How this is different
Growing Great Ideas is about more than simply redesigning services, or making them more user friendly, it is about investing in pioneers and new ways of doing things, which means that it may look and feel different to our other programmes. So, what's different?
Reimagining systems and Narratives:
We want to invest in the conditions that could lead to long term transformational change in our society. These conditions could be new philosophy, frame, logic or narrative or creating the infrastructure that enables transformational change to happen.
Focusing on transformational change:
To capture how transformational process happens, we have used and adapted Geels Socio-technical Transitions Theory, a multi-level framework depicted below.
- The soil represents the grassroots movements, the voices of our communities and the transformations that take place at community level
- The niche allows for spaces of exploration, imagination and innovation – this is where new concepts and ideas are born and nurtured.
- The regime refers to the policies, rules, norms and behaviours that shape our existing systems and infrastructure.
- The landscape refers to the deep narratives, cultural, environmental and societal principles and values that underpin and guide the behaviour of the systems.
The Landscape - large, economic, environmental, narrative and cultural influences on society.
The Regime - frameworks, rules and norms embedded in infrastructure, policies and institutions.
The Niche - local and smaller-scale initiatives, new practices, alternative lifestyles, collaborations and innovations.
The Soil, Roots + Compost - grassroots movements, personal and community transformation and healing, raising voices and holistic understanding of the intersectionality of issues.
Adaptation of: Geels, Frank & Schot, Johan. (2010). The Dynamics of Transitions: A Socio-Technical Perspective. This has been adapted for the purpose of the Fund.
Our intention for the Growing Great Ideas is to support initiatives that operate in at least 2 of the 4 levels.
Growing Great Ideas acknowledges the complexity that underpins our systems and recognises that long term transformational change cannot be achieved by a single group, organisation or project. Therefore, we want to invest in networks, ecologies, and coalitions (made up of people, communities and organisations) that are working towards a common purpose and new philosophy. These could be existing ones that want to extend and/or deepen their work, or new ones that have emerged during the current COVID-19 pandemic. We expect that these collaborations will not be fixed and that others will join (and potentially leave).
What we are learning
The programme is a new way of working for us and we want to learn with and from applicants and grant holders as we go. Throughout the development of the programme we explored questions around accountability, legitimacy and the appropriateness of our own systems and process to support and enable long term funding of this type. Some of the questions that we have had to answer are:
- How do we approach the design of a programme that is focused on building on the capability of whole ecosystems in the long term as opposed to specific shorter-term aims?
- How do we commit to long term funding based on a vision of change as opposed to specific outcomes?
- How do we work with our grant holders in an open, iterative and transparent way that allows them to work in and with uncertainty, creativity and possibility?
- How do we approach learning and understand impact in emergent environments?
We have received over 230 proposals to the programme since it opened and are already learning that:
- People are excited and energised by the opportunity to receive funding that explicitly focuses on long term change. As one of the people we spoke to in the design of the programme put it “I’m so energized by the potential of this, for these teams pushing for such ambitious change and for the understanding of how change happens that a programme like this will bring.”
- The ecosystem approach to working is not widespread across the UK. Whilst partnership working is second nature to many of the organisations that the Fund supports, it often involves a lead partner/s and hierarchy’s rather than equal relationships and what might be better described as a growing ecology.
- The opportunity to create a completely different vision in a particular area or location is exciting potential applicants, but there is a bit of disbelief that a funder is really willing to invest in and take a risk on work that could lead to fundamental change.
Many of the groups involved in working on long term change have varied decision making and governance structures that allow them to learn and adapt their approaches quickly. However, these structures do not always fit the more rigid criteria of funders, including ours.
Growing Great Ideas aims to offer long term, multi-year funding to initiatives we believe have the potential to achieve transformative and longer-term change. We have committed to supporting the initiatives for up to 10 years with regular discussions on progress and learning:
- Slow Ways
- Farming the Future
- Healing Justice London
- Down to Earth Project
- Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL)
- Civic Square
- Open Systems Lab
- Global Black Thrive
- Transition Network
The work that we have funded will allow us to explore and deepen our understanding of what it takes to resource and support entire ecosystems and bring about lasting transformational change. The common threads between these 9 approaches are:
- Each of the groups has a huge and infectious ambition in their work that imagines what is possible.
- They are learning by doing and showing what’s possible to others and are open to others joining their ecosystems.
- They each have small and flexible core teams, but their impact is large, creating waves both nationally and internationally.
- They are working with multiple levels of a system and are embracing the role of different partners.
- They are developing new forms of infrastructure that will have a wider impact and could be used for other purposes in the future.
We are co-designing our funding relationship with these organisations. It’s exciting work pushing the boundaries of how the Fund works. We will share more on how this develops and share insights in future blogs.
We are also looking at how we can build the capacity of groups that with right time and resources could go on to develop ideas that match the ambitions for the programme.
This programme is now closed to applications. We are taking this opportunity to review the Growing Great Ideas funding programme and the applications that we have received.