Being part of the agenda setting process is exciting. With the foundations of engagement, mapping and learning in place, there is an eagerness – even urgency – to agree a vision for change and shared goals. If you have been supporting the change process, you will likely be part of the agenda setting process. Being one voice of many reflects a significant shift from a traditional strategic philanthropy approach, where grantmaking organizations execute their individual theories of change1. It is very important that you are ready and prepared for this. You must balance the varied assets you bring with your own agenda and recognize the inherent power differential. 2
The types of things you can fund, enable and participate in are:
- Agreeing on agenda for where achievable efforts can start and/or existing ones can be strengthened;
- Implementing plans that identify and grow pockets of change and that demonstrate progress tied to key strategic concerns expressed by the community;
- Growing over time the strength, number and scope of pockets of change—leave room for innovation and trial and error;
- Spending time and resources developing a cadre of trusted, credible leaders and organisations at all levels of the community that can lead change. Run with those who are ready to go;
- Forging informal networks where leaders and others ready to lead community engagement and action can innovate, learn and collaborate together;
- Investing in organizations that bring people and groups together across dividing lines to reduce fragmentation and work in siloes;
- Supporting communications efforts that tell genuine stories of change and support an emerging, can-do narrative and its possibilities for the whole community— avoid over-selling success stories; 3
- Funding the measurement, learning and evaluation work that will enable progress;
- Publicly authorise and advocate for the agenda;
- Seeking to engage other philanthropists in implementing the agenda.
With your support, the following progress is possible
- Small number of initial pockets of change are taking root. These grow in strength, number and scope over time;
- Small cadre of trusted leaders and groups moving with a growing sense of common purpose. The number and visibility grow over time;
- New networks of leaders and groups sharing insights, collaborating and supporting one another;
- Over time some pockets of change connect and work in greater alignment and/or join together;
- Individual stories of success grow into emergent can-do narrative which competes with the old ingrained narrative;
- Leaders and groups spearheading change attract more funding and partners as their visibility, reputation and track record grow;
- Community actions are aligned with community aspirations/concerns;
- More relevant outcome measurements emerge 4
The key insight here is to co-create and be adaptable. Seize opportunities as they emerge, without being overly prescriptive. When engaging in systems change, you need to be mindful of the power dynamics that come along with your role. It isn’t appropriate for a funder to dictate the agenda of an entire initiative. Engagement in a systems change effort may require you to adapt your own goals or approaches based on the priorities identified by the group.
If you’ve been part of the agenda setting process, there may be an implicit assumption from community members and partners that you will remain a supporter into the future phases. You will need to start thinking about your ongoing role.
If your organisation decides to continue or join at this phase of the work, you will need to spend some time internally thinking about what is required to support systems change work over the long-term. There are some useful tools to assist you with this.
- Framing: Systems change and philanthropy
- Framing: Solving the worlds biggest problems: better philanthropy through systems change
- Framing: The role of philanthropy is systems change
- From a mindset perspective, we recommend you use the Funder Relationships Mirror on page 30 of Funding community-led place-based practice
- Taking risks and achieving greater impact: A view from global foundations