It’s a Whole New World?

By David Warner, Director of London Funders

Yesterday I attended a launch of a new report and left feeling excited and energised. These are not words that you normally associate with a report launch from a respected academic institution and a social consultancy!

A Whole New World: Funding and Commissioning in Complexity is an excellent piece of new research, funded by the Big Lottery Fund and undertaken by a team from Newcastle University & Collaborate, led by Annabel Knight & Toby Lowe. 

It's exciting because it is starting to scope out the framework of a "new paradigm" of how resources for doing good and affecting social change are allocated and managed. This involves enabling those working at the leading edge of this change to identify a new lens to look through and to shape a new language and narrative to articulate what this change means in practice.

Based on interviews and research involving independent foundations and public service commissioners, it will be of interest to anybody trying to understand the massive re-shaping of the funding ecology currently in-play. This movement in the funding ecology is happening in response to the even more fundamental shifts that are taking place in the relationship between the state, the citizen and the role of civil society.

Reflecting on the discussions and presentations at the launch, I was struck by how much of what was being said was achingly familiar to initiatives and collaborations that I was involved in over 20 years ago, when we were attempting to solve the (then) crisis of rough sleeping. 

Collaborations like the Rough Sleepers Initiative, the Homeless Mentally Ill Initiative, and Under One Roof, funded by the Kings Fund to co-locate & co-produce solutions to the needs of homeless people with multiple needs. It seemed to be obvious then, as it still does today, that collaboration, and co-production, plus the leaving of institutional (and personal) egos outside the room and focusing on the needs of homeless people, were all needed to affect change. Or as one contributor put it "followship is as important (if not more so) than leadership".

So why, 20 years on, does this feel so exciting?

Then it felt that these ideas were at the margins. That the problem of "those people" was so different and complex that they required a quirky, non-mainstream approach to service design and delivery. Now it feels like the rest of the mainstream is waking up to see that our systems, structures and resources need to be woven together differently. That rather than the problem being "those people" the truth is that wherever a person interacts with the system, the system is messy and complex. And that people's lives are equally messy and complex.

I know that the mainstream has not (yet) fully embraced this way of working; that institutions and people take time to change and adjust, but it does (just) feel like we are reaching a critical mass of like-minded people who finally - are starting to get it!

If that is the case, then it really is a paradigm shift!

David Warner