Our Governance Review – How We’re Holding Ourselves Accountable

The Social Change Nest turned three this year and we’ve grown up a lot in those few years (just take a look at our impact report), so we wanted to be responsible and do a check-in on ourselves. We wanted to make sure we’re practising what we preach.

In case you’ve managed to miss it – we talk a lot about how it’s important to be transparent and accountable to your communities. Seeing as we strive to support grassroots groups who share those same values, we wanted to make sure we’re walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

For context – we already know we listen to our community a lot – from our onboarding calls, to our 1-1 check ins, and all the ad-hoc interactions in between. After all, our services (fiscal hosting, grant management, grant distribution) are an outcome of how we’ve listened and responded to the needs of those on the frontlines of social change. But we wanted to do a more thorough audit of our governance – essentially make sure that the decisions taken for SCN continue to be reflective of our community’s needs.

So thanks to a grant from the Winston Churchill Community Trust, we commissioned a review of our governance structures. We hired a wonderful external consultant, Kate Swade, who shares her process and findings below. 

The Social Change Nest provides invaluable services to many social change groups and movements, in particular the fiscal hosting service in partnership with Open Collective, where groups can receive and manage their funds transparently and collaboratively.

Since it was set up in the pandemic, The Social Change Nest has developed in a relatively reactive way, responding both to needs of grassroots groups that the team could see, and to opportunities from funders to hold and distribute funds. The team now wants to be more proactive, both as The Social Change Nest becomes a relatively established service provider holding quite substantial sums of money for different groups, and in order to future proof itself as it seeks to grow even further. 

The team is really keen to be accountable to users, and asked me to explore what their options were for doing that.  I’m a governance geek so I leapt at the chance!

I started by reviewing documents and speaking to the team to get their sense of both what was needed and what was possible. I designed a small survey and reached out to a selection of different types of users to speak to them about what they wanted from their relationship with The Social Change Nest. We also held a couple of online workshops to talk about this, and the launch of the Discord platform for The Social Change Nest users to connect with each other.

Alongside this, I developed five potential models to illustrate the range of options – ranging from there being no change, through more structured informal engagement, a stewardship council, to formal roles for The Social Change Nest’s users as company members, and a fully bottom-up cooperative structure. I developed and iterated these with the team, and together we arrived at some criteria for success, that any option had to fulfil. Those criteria were that the successful model should:

  • Provide reciprocal value for users and The Social Change Nest

  • Be easy to engage with and not overly burdensome for either users or The Social Change Nest

  • Be proportionate to the decisions being made

  • Be transparent and clear

  • Be financially responsible and ensure that The Social Change Nest remains a safe place for groups’ money

  • Be agile and ensure that The Social Change Nest continues to be able to respond to the changing context

My first key finding is that only 11% of the groups in the Nest engaged in this process. This was interesting in itself, showing that there is no clamour from users for conversations about governance; no obvious pent up frustration at not being more involved.

Those who did engage had really insightful things to share. Massive thanks to all of you! Everyone I spoke to was grateful for The Social Change Nest’s existence and was clear that it had taken away some level of admin, or stress from them or their group. This in itself meant that almost everyone was reluctant to think about more formal engagement in the running of The Social Change Nest itself.

“One of the benefits of The Social Change Nest is having stuff that you don’t have to do – like managing a board –  so replacing that with board-like engagement defeats the point!”

There was a hunger from some people for more information about The Social Change Nest’s services, and/or the other groups that are part of the “nest”. In particular, groups who are part of the fiscal hosting service on Open Collective were keen to connect with other groups, and there was some excitement about the potential for the Discord platform to facilitate this.

My key recommendation was that The Social Change Nest should focus on continuing to provide a really excellent service to its groups: the services are really needed and valued, and by focusing on great service, The Social Change Nest is providing a key part of the infrastructure for social movements.  The demand for a well run, “movement generous” fiscal hosting service will probably not dissipate, and providing that service in an ethical and straightforward way should be The Social Change Nest’s priority regardless of how the governance side of things evolves. 

Alongside this, rather than requiring the formal involvement of users in the governance of The Social Change Nest, I recommended that the team take a more experimental approach. Starting with Discord, but also with emails and events, The Social Change Nest should seek to develop a number of conduits and channels for listening and understanding users over the next year. Its key aim should be to help the groups that it has “nested” see each other as peers, allies and potential supporters. The Nest should aim to experiment with providing different levels of scaffolding for groups and see what it can learn from various types of engagement. 

The key aim of all of this activity should be to “help the system see itself” – to support people to see that they are in a network (or a nest) with allies and comrades, to see where they have shared values and interests with other service users. If The Social Change Nest set up the scaffolding for this increased visibility, it will help to create the conditions for users to start organising and communicating organically. Once this is happening, it might be that people respond very differently to exercises like this one, but they need to see the opportunities and benefits of being part of the same system first.

Whatever the outcome, this is only the beginning of the work – and it will probably never be finished, as The Social Change Nest evolves and grows, and the groups it serves change, develop, fly the nest, or recreate themselves. 

November 6, 2023

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