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Measuring the impact of Participatory Grantmaking

By Natasha Friend 23 February 2024 6 minute read

In this blog, Natasha Friend, Director of Camden Giving, encourages funders to consider Participatory Grantmaking and highlights the challenges of measuring its impact. 

What’s Participatory Grantmaking? 

Participatory Grantmaking (PGM) is gaining traction in the UK.  It’s about the people who are experiencing inequality being the people who can, and should, find the solutions to the challenges facing their communities.  It’s shifting power to a variety of voices, because people who are experiencing inequality and injustice should be the ones we look to for solutions. PGM ensures diversity and inclusivity, appointing individuals from marginalised groups, including people from ethnic minority groups, people on low incomes, people with disabilities, and those with experience of the criminal justice system–typically people who are usually excluded from decision-making.  

However, if you work within a charity, there’s a strong possibility that you aren’t receiving any funding from a participatory grant maker. This has serious implications for the distribution of power in the grant-making sector, because it means that charities working with underrepresented groups are less likely to have representation on decision-making panels for funding applications. Stop and think about the impact that might be having on your work.  

PGM is rooted in justice for the communities that it serves. 

However, whilst PGM is talked about a lot, progress is limited due to the difficulty of measuring its benefits. And we need many more funders to consider this model of giving in order to increase their impact, and act in solidarity with the communities that they aim to serve. 

Measuring the impact of PGM 

At Camden Giving, we operate a community panel model, working with around 50 community members a year with first-hand experience of the issues we’re addressing. In order to raise money and learn from our work, we conduct surveys and remain in touch with community panellists for years after they’ve awarded grants with us to understand the journey they take after being panellists. In addition, we track anecdotal changes to the way that communities organise. For example, we recently saw a large number of young people within our network attend an event, uninvited; they arrived to have their voice heard without being asked to do so, that tells us they are grasping more power in their community. We believe that communities have the right to hold and control money that impacts them. Many communities in in the London Borough of Camden are historically and systemically disadvantaged, ensuring that they get to benefit from the wealth that is being created there isn’t a ‘nice to have’ it’s their right.  

For this to happenin Camden, and of course more widelywe need to take funders, supporters, and communities on the journey of building participation.  We also need to demonstrate impact, but it can never be at the expense of the core values of participatory grant-making. 

Step one should be to really understand why you are doing or funding participatory grant-making, that might be for some or all of the above reasons, but which is really the most important to you? 

Measuring a system, not measuring outcomes 

Our participatory grant makers are from communities that typically have low levels of perceived and actual power. For example, research shows that just 22% of London’s under-25s feel they can influence local decisions and they are also dramatically under-represented within local and national government.  At Camden Giving, around half our participatory grant makers are under 25, and through surveys we’re seeking to understand how grant making with us is increasing the amount of power that they feel they have. Crucially, what’s important is what they do once they’ve stopped grant making with us. One of our young grant makers is now running to become a local councillor, while another became instrumental in the free school meals campaign.  

We can only measure and understand the longer-term systemic change we’re creating because we invest in long-term relationships with our participatory grant makers through an active alumni programme. 

And we’re receiving anecdotal evidence that systems are changing in Camden; we recently invited 20 young people to a meeting and 60 turned up (we didn’t have enough pizza). When we ran the same meeting 5 years ago, less than 20 people attended. What we’ve learned from this is that young people are taking up space in decision-making rooms, that they now feel more confident to have their say.  

We’re also receiving a larger number of applications from projects run by under 25s, and we hope that over time we’ll see an increase in the number of campaigns, like the free school meals campaign, that are led by young people who feel a sense of possibility after grant making with us. 

Understanding how PGM changes our grant making 

Our aim is not to teach participatory grant makers to make the same decisions as our staff or trustees. At Camden Giving, there’s a lot of crossover between the staff team and the people who join our community panels, but staff are always philanthropy insiders. A key measure of success in a grant making process should be ending each decision round by asking the staff team ‘did these decisions vary from what we’d have funded, and do we now think our participatory grant makers made better decisions?’ 

We’re not doing this to judge or sense check any particular decision, but more to understand how effectively we’re bringing new information and thought into decisions. Community panels have rich knowledge on the reputation of organisations, on the ability to access services, and on how accessible a project will appear to the intended beneficiaries. 

We see about a 10% variance from the decisions we’d make, but crucially we nearly always agree with final decisions above the ones that staff would have made.  

Measurement Approaches 

We’ve also moved away from staff-led grants reporting and now coordinate site trips for our participatory grant makers so that they can visit their grantees to understand whether they feel the project has been a success. That information is then used to support the training of future panels. This has led to really useful insight. For example, our participatory grant makers raised concerns about the wellbeing of youth leaders in the borough, enabling us to respond by increasing the size of grants to youth projects by 10% in order to support them. 

Much of the beauty of PGM happens from a gut feeling, that it’s just better when communities work together to decide how resources are shared. We’ve started measuring for lots of reasons, but the most important one has been to be able to say with confidence to new community members that we know they’re the right people to be doing this because we’ve seen it work.  

Beyond this, those investing in PGM need to develop ways of understanding and sharing the impact of the process as well as the grant decisions, otherwise PGM runs the risk of being no more than a conversation. 

If you’d like to find out more about how to embed PGM, visit our website where you’ll find free resources we’ve created in partnership with London Funders.  Many people doing participatory work are motivated by a sense that it’s the right thing to do, but if it’s really going to stick, we need to develop shared ways of measuring the changes that participation brings about. If that sounds like something you’d like to be part of, then please get in touch. 


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