Who we are, and about the development of The Way Ahead
The Way Ahead is a joint initiative which proposes a system that puts London’s communities at the heart of the way we all work. It is based on a report published in April 2016 which endorses a systems-change approach to ensure that London’s civil society can continue to meet and support the changing needs of Londoners in these times of rapid change. The Way Ahead’s recommendations were driven by stakeholders from across London’s civil society – including frontline charities, local infrastructure organisations, equalities groups, independent funders, and local and regional government – alongside representative umbrella bodies.
The Way Ahead report was funded by the City Bridge Trust, London’s largest independent funder. City Bridge Trust wanted to understand how civil society in the capital can best be supported in order to optimise its positive impact on Londoners. A core steering group comprised of Greater London Volunteering, London Funders and the London Voluntary Service Council shaped its final recommendations, alongside a wider reference group which provided real-time feedback.
Prior to the publication of The Way Ahead report, widespread consultation with the sector took place to hear voices from the spectrum of London’s civil society. Aside from the steering group and reference groups contributing their expertise and experience, the report’s emerging findings were based on an extensive literature review. This review spanned more than 80 reports and open data sources identifying best practice regionally, nationally and internationally. Notwithstanding, ten focus groups were held with frontline civil society organisations, local and specialist civil society support organisations and London borough grants officers to get to the heart of what London’s civil society needs.
Since April 2016 a Systems Change Group has been tasked to facilitate change and scrutinise developments which have arisen from the recommendations of the report. It does this by stimulating take up of the initial recommendations, tracking and sharing progress and responding to opportunities, challenges and changes in the environment as transition to the new system unfolds.
The Systems Change Group brings together stakeholders from a wide-range of organisations to take forward the implementation the Way Ahead’s recommendations, as well as to communicate to their wider networks. Membership of this group is fluid and will continue to change over time to ensure that it is representative of London’s civil society, and that the key organisations that need to deliver change are part of wider decision making.
We started this journey with three beliefs: first, that a vibrant civil society is a key part of the London ‘system’ and helps Londoners to prosper; second, that in order to achieve a strong and vibrant civil society, civil society needs access to appropriate business, technical and enterprise support, as well as a ‘voice’ within the ongoing debate about London, its governance and the issues it faces; and third that the significant loss of funding for civil society support is a challenge we must address together as well as an opportunity to review how that support is provided.
The development of The Way Ahead was triggered by the rapidly and dramatically changing world in which civil society operates. Continued reductions in public funding, the pace of change, the growing and changing needs of the people it serves have all placed considerable strain on civil society. The challenges this poses are brought into sharp focus in London because of the unequal and diverse nature of the city.
Although times are undeniably difficult, with change also comes opportunity. We know that social action by volunteers and the wider voluntary and community sector makes a life changing difference to Londoners, with an estimated 120,000 civil society organisations and over 3 million volunteers already active in the capital. London also has a Deputy Mayor with an explicit brief on social integration and community engagement, the prospect of further devolution to and within the region, and an appetite to be the foremost global city for philanthropy. To date, we have not had the cross sector strategy and structures we need to join up these amazing resources and opportunities.
We all need to act in a different way - together
The Way Ahead seeks to shape a system that works collaboratively and brings in ‘unusual suspects’ into decision-making. We believe that a more joined-up approach across statutory, voluntary and the private sector is needed, and that there is a better way to listen and harness community voice in London. To ensure that civil society not only survive but thrives, we need to reimagine the ways in which we work together. This cannot be a replacement for funding cuts, but it can be a constructive guide-map for civil society.
Ultimately The Way Ahead proposes a system that puts London’s communities at the heart of the way we all work. From co-producing an understanding of need and how to tackle it within communities, to better sharing of intelligence and data, through to making sure that civil society voices are heard in decision-making at a strategic level – there are recommendations for all sectors of London’s civil society. These include for local, specialist and regional support providers, for the GLA, for funders, for business, the local public sector and London Councils – for it is only by drawing on the knowledge and resources of all that we can truly harness the potential of London’s communities.
Tangible recommendations from the report include: local government developing consistent commissioning processes, a London Hub being established to champion local and regional infrastructure and specialist support continuing to shine a light on emerging needs of communities. Two years on, thoughts have turned into decisions and actions…
…Change is coming
Stakeholders from all sectors are working together to make The Way Ahead’s vision a reality. From a new London Hub to a dedicated Cornerstone Fund, to new strategy at the GLA and a commitment to gathering and sharing data across London, to a greater openness to co-producing with communities, the system is starting to change. The multi-stakeholder Systems Change Group has been responsible for delivering the Way Ahead Change Plan, and #OurWayAhead is mobilising grass roots organisations to develop networks a take action together.
The new Systems Change Group (which met in December 2017) includes members from the ten identified ‘stakeholder groups’ and will meet quarterly over the next two years to oversee the implementation of the Change Plan, ensuring progress is made on all fronts. In addition, a new set of Task and Finish Groups have been established which will report to the group. These will include an Equalities Review Group which advises on how to improve the equalities impact of the Way Ahead; the Cornerstone Fund Reference Group; the London Hub Advisory Group which will operate for 6 months until the Hub is established; and a Co-production Network which will be led by frontline organisations but will require cross sector membership to drive it forward.
City Bridge Trust has committed £1.5m per year for two years to the Cornerstone Fund which will ensure that London’s Civil Society infrastructure will continue to support frontline groups and communities. This will launch in April 2018. City Bridge Trust, London Funders and the new London Hub have developed a draft outcomes framework for the fund. This fund builds on research from Rocket Science which mapped infrastructure funding trends. We are looking for other funders to contribute, collaborate or align with the Cornerstone Fund, alongside enabling the Cornerstone to identify the gaps and prioritise what it will fund.
The London Hub results from the closure of LVSC and the change of charitable objects for GLV, now agreed by the Charity Commission, and to be put to members for approval in early February. Following on from that meeting, a new Board will be elected and recruitment will begin for the permanent team. The Hub Advisory Group has agreed three main activities: sharing data, supporting networks, enabling voice and influence. This means capacity building/quality will not be a delivery focus of the Hub – it will signpost to resources and support, and draw on the expertise of other regional and local organisations.
The GLA has appointed a new community engagement team which includes a data post who will lead on data from, for and of interest to civil society. This post will also link to the review of the London Data Store to include more intelligence about Londoners generated by civil society organisations, and more data on civil society itself. We hope that this will also launch in April. The new community engagement team is represented on the Systems Change Group and a number of the working groups. The team are reviewing their draft Civil Society Strategy following consultation (including comprehensive feedback from London Funders and the London Hub) although it is not clear yet when this will be published.
London Councils have invested both resource and member time in their ‘Leadership in the Third Sector’ project, which will finish in March 2018. Following on from a mapping exercise of what support London Boroughs currently commission, they are now identifying examples of good practice at a local level and exploring the development of ‘principles for commissioning support’ which we hope Boroughs will choose to adopt.