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Our Response to the Government’s Civil Society Engagement Exercise

Faiza Khan MBE – Director, Policy and Communications

Over the last few weeks it’s been heartening to hear so many people talking about the value and importance of civil society and its potential to achieve social change. The Government’s engagement exercise to inform the development of a Civil Society Strategy has been wide ranging, as it should be when considering issues that touch us all.

Questions such as; how to define civil society? What is needed for people to play an active role? What should the funding and financing environment look like? How can place-based approaches shift outcomes for communities? And what capacity does youth social action yield for young people to lead change? These have all been important topics of conversation for the many organisations and individuals considering their responses.

Of the 550 live grants we currently have in place, we see a good cross section of practice. These range from large, established organisations to smaller organisations of less than five people to individuals – all working to improve outcomes for others.

We define civil society as organisations, groups and individuals that work to improve outcomes for others on a not-for-profit basis and in our response we chose not to support the suggestion to include private entities that operate on a for profit basis in the interpretation of what we mean by Civil Society. The organisations and individuals that we fund, like many working in civil society make important contributions to the economy and society. They are often at the forefront of cultural and social innovation, shaping and delivering services to the public. Many provide a valuable campaigning role, build social capital and leverage resources to tackle disadvantage and enhance social justice.

They are in places and spaces that others can’t reach. We fund those who are steeped in communities, experiencing the issues they seek to change. We know that this puts them in the best possible place to spot emerging trends and find solutions. By trusting them to achieve change we empower the relationships and networks they possess, seeing these as assets that can help to develop new practice and contribute to social impact. We understand that these assets do not come for free and in our response we have encouraged the Government to think about a financing model that values these assets and puts in place the measures that are needed to facilitate financial and organisational resilience. Our response points to the important principles of full cost recovery, flexible and long-term funding, core funding, review of commissioning practice and the need to acknowledge that understanding and trialling new investment models takes time and resource and that these models may not always be appropriate.

The structure of the engagement exercise makes it difficult to publish our response in full, as we sought to answer the sections put forward for views by Government. However, there are some core themes to our response which surface as key areas for development for the forthcoming strategy. Together they form the basis for a positive and constructive Civil Society Strategy. We believe that Government should:

  • Invest in and empower voice – to achieve ongoing meaningful partnerships with those working with and for civil society as well as service users
  • Create the right environment for action – addressing systemic and financial structures that present barriers to action for organisations and individuals
  • Value evaluation – recognising the importance of learning and demonstrating impact to the sector’s long-term future and ability to maintain trust
  • Speak the right language – adopting the right language and approach to back civil society in the best possible way
  • Network support – bringing organisations together and investing in networks and new technologies across civil society to enable connections to take place and coordinate best practice development.

We look forward to seeing the forthcoming strategy and the opportunities it may contain for a stronger relationship between Government and Civil Society. We also hope that everyone who has participated in the engagement exercise will share their views with Civil Society Futures which continues to provide a space for everyone to have their say on how civil society can flourish in a fast changing world.

If you would like to talk further about our response to the engagement exercise please get in touch with us at communications@phf.org.uk.

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