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Power sharing as a funder - how can we do better?

Author: Joanna Wootten, Grants Manager

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Trust for London has recruited eight Disability rights experts by experience to a panel to help make key decisions on how our new Disability Justice Fund will be spent. Joanna Wootten sets out why this was so important, how we went about it and some of the lessons learned.

After launching the Disability Justice Fund this summer, we heaved a big sigh of relief. But really the work was just beginning. We knew that for the fund to be a success, the ongoing involvement of Disabled people was critical to make sure that the best possible funding decisions were made.

Alongside money, funders also have power and resources.  Many are increasingly exploring ways of sharing this power with the different communities they seek to fund. This is why we started the process of recruiting formally for an independent advisory panel that would work with us from 2022-2026 . The panel members will be at the heart of decision making, including shortlisting and making recommendations on which organisations should be funded, subject to approval by our Trustees.

It was important that we found the right people. We didn’t think it was right to ask Deaf and Disabled activists we already knew, even though they had done a fantastic job in helping us develop the principles of the Disability Justice Fund.  Although it would be easier, and quicker – it would be us determining who should be on the panel rather than members of the community we were seeking to fund.

We are delighted to say that we have now recruited a brilliant DJF advisory panel, and we are very lucky that we will now have the benefit of their professional expertise and lived experience as Disabled activists. If you would like to know who the eight panel members are, you can find their details here.

Disability activists walking up a tree-lined road at the Hardest Hit March.

Rather than deciding who should be on the panel ourselves, we trusted that leaders in the Disability sector with expertise and lived experience would know best the skills and experiences we needed on the panel. We opted for a recruitment process that had been successfully used in the migration sector by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, in which people with expertise alongside lived experience are asked to nominate others to a role. Nominators were not allowed to nominate themselves.

We wrote a brief describing the mix of skills and experience we wanted the diverse panel to have. Two of our partners – Tracey Lazard from Inclusion London and James Lee from the City Bridge Trust – then nominated two people each to become members of the panel. They also nominated two more nominators – Tracey nominated Michelle Daley, CEO of Allfie to nominate two people to join the panel and James nominated Kamran Mallick, CEO of Disability Rights UK. Michelle and Kamran then nominated two people each to join the panel, giving us our final eight panel members.

By using this recruitment strategy, we had less control over who was appointed to the panel than in a conventional recruitment process. This fit well with our, and the sector’s, desire to shift power in grant making. On top of this, the use of nominations meant that people didn’t waste time on unsuccessful applications.

Consider your budget. Like Paul Hamlyn Foundation, we budgeted a fee for the nominator’s time, as well as reimbursing the panel members for their time once appointed.

We are always striving for improvements, and our learning from this recruitment panel process, as well as our ongoing relationship with the panel will be compared to our Strengthening Voices, Realising Rights Programme. We know that we won’t always get it right as we try to build more inclusive and participatory processes, but we will keep learning.

It took longer than hoped to recruit panel members – so if you are looking at a similar approach, allow plenty of time! We would also recommend that you recruit a panel before developing the philosophy and guidelines of a new fund or project.

Because of the delay, we now need to review our timelines. Our original timetable was too ambitious. We have also taken on board the feedback from the first meeting of the advisory panel that it is important that they have time to get up to speed with the details of the fund so that they can make the best possible decisions, as well as learning how to work together effectively (plus, if you recruit a great panel, it’s always tricky finding dates that everyone can meet!). We will be emailing all applicants to let them know what’s happening, and plan to update our website with the revised timetable when it is agreed.

But we are delighted how successful it has been having people with lived experience at the centre of the recruitment process. We have now got a brilliant panel with a great diversity of lived and learned experience.

This puts us in an excellent place to ensure that the Disability Justice Fund achieves its aim –in enabling Deaf and Disabled people’s organisations to contribute towards a strong, vibrant, diverse and sustainable social justice movement for Disabled Londoners.

November 2022