From vision to action: GMSC's journey with Participatory Grant Making

PGM group photo

In early 2023, organisations that had previously been funded by Lankelly Chase in Greater Manchester were invited to participate in designing and deciding how a £400K fund would be spent. Here we share what unfolded and what we learned through this process now that it is finished.

For this GM Systems Changers PGM (Participatory Grant Making) process, an initial group of 22 participants from different grassroots organisations in Greater Manchester alongside representatives from the two funding organisations (Lankelly Chase and GMCA) and facilitators met together over 9 months to decide what and who this fund would be for. 

Our reflection and learning gathered from participants can be found here.

Fund design process

We started by designing our alliance – discussing how we wanted to work together and how we would make decisions. We explored what might get in the way of making decisions for the collective, including the fact that many of us are also responsible for supporting communities through our organisations and need to secure funding to keep those going. We agreed strategies for noticing and naming dynamics in the group, and how we would respond to conflicts between us.

Timeline for PGM

This led into discussions about what the fund might be used for, and especially around balancing the current needs of organisations to continue so they can support their communities, alongside the need to collaborate and grow stronger links between us. The group agreed together to create two funds…

  • The Liberation Fund – to support activity that creates connections between groups – collaboration and spaces that cross organisation silos. 
  • The Solidarity Fund – for direct work within specific organisations, to continue to provide much needed support to marginalised communities. 

After an initial 3 months, we made a whole group decision to split into smaller groups to work out the details of each fund, including the process we wanted to use. Not everyone felt able to commit more time to this work together, and it felt slow and sometimes confusing to try to make micro decisions about process as such a big group. 

You can read Angela’s reflection on the process at this point on Northern Heart and Soul’s website.

Those who wanted to, joined one of the two working groups, with a few others meeting to think about the overall process. We agreed a timeframe of 2 months to design the funds, get and integrate feedback from the wider pgm group, and communicate out about the funds to the GM Systems Changers network. There would then be 1 month remaining to make final decisions on allocations. The groups decided they wanted to keep to this timeframe knowing that frontline groups needed the funding as soon as possible to enable them to keep going and support their communities.

The liberation fund group wanted to encourage collaboration and creativity, so they decided to invite people with ideas to send an initial expression of interest, and then to come along to a discussion with the group, either in person or on zoom.

As the solidarity fund was likely to have a large number of applicants, the group designed a more traditional ‘application form’ but as accessible as possible, with a minimum number of questions and option to apply by video.

Both groups offered opportunities to discuss the ideas and ask questions.

For more details on the two funds see the invitation to apply here.

Allocations and administering the fund

What we learned from this part of the process is the amount of time and energy needed to process all the applications that come in, to agree on who to fund and how much as a big group, and to then follow the necessary due diligence and financial administration processes. The group considered extending the timescales further to allow more time for the process, but did not want to delay getting money out to communities. 

 PGM: Creating Spaces

In the end, the final decisions were made as follows…

  • Liberation fund – whole group consensus on which projects to fund.
  • Solidarity fund – small group suggestions on which projects to fund.
  • Overall budget – lots of emails, zoom meetings, calls, suggestions, votes and amendments until we got to something that we could all agree on and that fit the total budget!

There was then a long process of understanding and administering the paperwork to fit the due diligence process of the funders. But we got there. By the end of 2023, the funds were allocated.

Reflections and learning

We learned so much from this process and are still in the process of reflecting and seeing how we might make participatory decisions around funding in the future.

Many of those involved came to value the space for the sense of solidarity, connectedness, support and collective wisdom. It was the first time that many of us had been on ‘the other side’ of grant making and now understand more what happens behind the scenes. 

What's next for our PGM

In the final reflection session, there was a collective sense that we are much better prepared to collaborate and make shared decisions including around money than we were this time last year!

For a full report of this process and reflections from participants, see the report here.