Participation for effective economic advancement programming

Building participation in processes and tools used to facilitate economic advancement

Equality, Paul Simpson. Flickr, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
Edited by Alan Stanley
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In this guide we explore evidence of strategies and entry points that funders, grantees and investees may use to build participatory processes, practices and tools for economic advancement programming. 

The starting point for building participation within programming, is that success is more likely if the people programmes hope to reach are involved directly in developing and implementing them – this is known as the effectiveness imperative for participation. A long history of attempts to build participation in to development programing have shown that efforts to involve target audiences can enable their knowledge and experience to inform program design, implementation and evaluation, leading to greater impact.

Including target audiences in program design and implementation can empower them to share learning and become involved in joint decision making, and enable more adaptive and creative programming. Perhaps the most important outcome of participation in programming is the trust that can be built between funders, implementers and their target audience, which improves credibility and engagement throughout interventions.

We know as well that effective programming requires that participation be meaningful and empowering. Focusing, therefore, on the quality of participation should be a central feature of strategies for building effective programming. As discussed in the What is Participation? overview guide, this requires engaging with the spectrum of participation and understanding power dynamics.

Next, we examine opportunities for participation in grantmaking, and then, the new and exciting field of building participation in impact investment.

Continue reading: Participatory grantmaking

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Marina Apgar, Grace Lyn Higdon and Peter O’Flynn 

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Participatory grantmaking

Participatory grantmaking aims to bring decisions about philanthropic resource allocation closer to those who stand to benefit - grantees (civil society organisations) and their beneficiaries. It can potentially foster a convergence of bottom-up approaches that share decision-making power about financial resources with strategic decision making about long-term funding practices.

An example of participatory grantmaking that illustrates commitment to inclusion across all levels of decision making within a foundation is the approach taken by Disability Rights Fund, which grants exclusively to organizations led by persons with disabilities. Inclusive decision making is operationalized through incorporating people with disabilities and deep knowledge of issues faced by people with disabilities at all levels of decision-making. At the strategic level, the Board of Directors are experts in disability rights, global civil society, philanthropy and non-profit governance. A Global Advisory Panel comes from all over the world and reflects a broad cross-section of the disability and broader human rights community and is tasked with recommending grantmaking strategy and participating in monitoring and evaluation.

Funders may take on a facilitation role by working with grantees and their target audiences to include them in how they design, implement and learn from their programming. Participation of grantees and target audiences can happen throughout the grantmaking cycle or at specific moments.

Phases of the grantmaking cycle (Author's own illustration)

There are more and more examples if funders now engaging grantees and end users in the grant application process as well as the grant review process.

The Edge Fund, for example, uses a uses a cooperative structure with donors and grantees as members. Members of the fund work with grant applicants to collectively decide funding allocation through consensus or majority vote during a two-month proposal review process. For more information:

Another example of participation in the grant review process is a peer review process used by The Other Fund, which aims to advance human rights of LGBTI people in Southern Africa. A group of peer reviewers from six southern African countries were nominated through an open call to work with the Fund’s board. The selected reviewers were widely respected LGBTI activists, leaders, and scholars in the region. The participatory grant review process took place over two days during which board members joined teams of peer-reviewers to review applications and award grants. For more information

Bringing participation in to investment processes and structures is a new and exciting agenda. 


Participation in impact investing

Impact investing is a movement for a more socially responsible approach to investing. Since the 1990s it has grown out of the blended value approach which is supporting foundations’ endowments to be invested in alignment with the mission of the foundation instead of only through a restricted view of maximizing financial return. This is a useful strating point for exploring how investments can support participation of the economically disenfranchised as part of their journey to economic advancement.

As we seek to engage with what participation may mean within this form of investing, and how programs may set up and manage investments in participatory ways we note that there is limited evidence of good practice. While many impact investors may report that they ‘engage with communities’, they do not outline the mechanisms of engagement, nor how communities are involved in any form of decision making process.

There is now a growing movement by a small number of actors to push further and improve community engagement, accountability and empowerment in impact investing. At an operational level for investors, there are two important entry points for participation within the investment process itself:

During the due diligence stage, while the investor is working to understand the potential investee, and their strengths and weaknesses there is opportunity for including investees and their target populations (workers, customers or supporting communities) in to the assessment process.  Participation may become one of the areas for the due diligence process to look in to – both to use a participatory process during due diligence and to inquire into participatory capacity and intent of the investee as part of the mission defined impact.

Once an investment is made, it then enters an asset management phase, including reporting to the investor and contributing to portfolio updates and assessment of compliance with the mission defined impact and risk. Participatory processes through including investees and target populations an investment is intended to support, can help with retaining focus, gathering feedback, and sharing decisions throughout the asset management phase, thus avoiding mission drift when the the mission is centered around a target population’s priorities. This can improve impact measurement.


Building the capacity of grantees and investees

An important role for funders of economic advancement programs is to build an enabling environment for their grantees and investees to use participatory tools for including target audiences in programming.

One strategy that practice evidence suggests works, is to use teams of mentor-mediators who are deployed to different grantee (and potentially investee) settings and sites to facilitate organisational strategy and guide participatory practice. Mentors can also be more deeply embedded depending on needs of grantees/investees.

An example of this model in practice is the Developing Evaluation and Communication Capacity (DECI-2) team of mentors and facilitators that provide capacity development for adaptive management, research communication, and systems-based, participatory evaluations funded by Canada’s International Development Research Center (IDRC) Networked Economies Program. In this model, mentors are deployed and provide in-person support over the duration of an IDRC grant. Mentoring is targeted and scheduled to match each grantee’s needs and work plans. Activities include: facilitating inception events which conduct participatory activities for agenda setting, expanding voices of stakeholders, or intervening mid-project to renovate theories of change.

You can download a write up of DECI-2 case studies here

Next steps

There is more experience with building participation in to grantmaking than investments, yet evidence of how to do so effectively is a nascent field. This guide will be updated regularly as we build evidence from practice within the EAP programme.

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