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Understanding and communicating social action's community benefit


​In June 2019 the Centre facilitated our first two ‘LabStorms’ as part of the #iwill Fund Learning Hub. In this blog, we reflect on what we learnt from facilitating a discussion that explored the role that funders make in creating or supporting the structures needed to make social action a habit for life, for all young people.

As you might have seen from this blog, we recently facilitated two LabStorms as part of the #iwill Fund Learning Hub. LabStorms are collaborative problem-solving sessions designed to help generate and explore actionable responses to challenges organisations identify and with which they are wrestling. LabStorms are an approach developed by Feedback Labs, a US based consortium focused on the best ways of using feedback to make programmes and institutions responsive to the needs of their constituents. In this blog, we reflect on what we learnt from facilitating a discussion that explored the challenges of understanding and communicating social action’s community benefit.
LabStorms help to foster collaboration by developing a sense of shared challenges and identifying potential common solutions from across a session’s participants. The discussion at this LabStorm was led by Bridget McGing, Deputy Director at Pears Foundation. Pears Foundation is an independent family foundation and a supporter and core funder of the #iwill campaign, as well as a Match Funder within the #iwill Fund. The challenges, and opportunities, of understanding and communicating social action’s community benefit have been pertinent to Pears’ work for several years: the debate is also critical to the #iwill Fund community because of youth social action’s “double-benefit”.
The idea of community benefit is central to social action but despite forming one-half of the “double-benefit” concept, community benefit has received relatively little attention in the design and evaluation of youth social action activities.
Dartington Service Design Lab has recently written a paper that explores the issue in depth, reviewing frameworks that have been developed to help conceptualise the different types of benefit that can emerge from youth social action activities. The paper also concluded that the evidence base for the community benefit of youth social action is underdeveloped relative to other potential benefits.
While the LabStorm was independent from Dartington’s report, three themes emerged that add to its findings.
Firstly, there’s a need to find the right balance between focusing exclusively on young people and paying increasing attention to community benefit. While greater engagement with community members where social action is taking place is essential, empowering young people (as a core aspect of social action programmes) means a continued focused on amplifying young people’s voices too.
Secondly, the LabStorm participants felt that if funders value community benefit, they need to show it in their communications. This could lead to a range of possible secondary effects. For example, by emphasising their interest in community impact, funder communications may resonate with organisations that are not (or are comparatively less) youth-focussed, which could help to grow the youth social action community further.
Finally, it was noted that just because funders start to proactively communicate that they value community benefit, it is important that this doesn’t lead to increased demands about measurement being placed upon delivery organisations. As noted above, the evidence base for community benefit is limited and consequently a greater focus on community benefit needs to be balanced with a low-stakes accountability approach that emphasises learning and improvement over proof.
As understanding community impact is still a relatively new area of practice for many delivery organisations, simply bringing community benefit into the conversation could be a productive place for funders to start. One option could be to follow the Impact Management Project’s approach to gathering stakeholder feedback, by asking grantees to identify the intended or unintended outcomes experienced by communities, and whether these experiences were positive or negative.
We greatly enjoyed facilitating the first set of #iwill Fund Learning Hub LabStorms and are looking forward to the second set that will take place later in the year. You can read about the other LabStorm we hosted, which focused on developing habits, here.
LabStorms take place under Chatham House rules, the write-ups of the sessions cannot be attributed to any one person or organisation, nor should they be seen as representative of an ‘average’ or consensus view in the room. Instead, they should be understood as providing kernels of insight and reflection that exist within the #iwill Match Funder community.
A report that includes more details about the LabStorm process, a more extensive write-up of the discussions held, and ideas of actions for funders, can be found here.