August 6, 2010

Beginning with the End in Mind for Grassroots Grantmaking

With this post, I'm borrowing from a neighbor - a neighboring discipline, that is. Martin Carcasson's excellent paper, Beginning with the End in Mind; A Call for Goal-Driven Deliberative Practice, addresses a familiar challenge:
How can practitioners involved with the deliberative democracy movement increase the tangible impact their events have on the communities in which they work?
Read this sentence again but this time substitute "grassroots grantmaking" for "deliberative democracy movement" and "grantmaking" for "events". This is the challenge that drives much of the peer to peer inquiry and learning in the big thinking on small grants world.

What I love about Martin's paper is the conceptual framework he offers to help practitioners think about the short-term and longer-term strategies associated with their work. I can imagine that in the deliberative practice community, as in the grassroots grantmaking community, it is easy to get snagged by the short-term and set the longer-term aside. Host a quality forum or get through a grant cycle and award the grants - both short-term work that is good by itself but only powerful when it is part of a longer-term strategy.

I recommend the Martin's paper for some insightful reading. What I want to lift up here, however, is the framework that Martin presents work - essentially how the six goals for deliberative practice that he lists fit together - with some thoughts about how we might tailor this framework for funders who work from a "we begin with residents" perspective in the interest of strengthening active citizenship at the block level in communities.

Martin divides six specific goals into three categories:

First order goals:
  • Issue learning
  • Improved democratic attitudes
  • Improved democratic skills
Second order goals:
  • Individual/community action
  • Improved institutional decision-making
Third order goal:
  • Improved community problem solving
Martin identifies the last goal - improved community problem solving - as the ultimate or long-term goal of deliberative practice, noting that an overarching focus on improved community problem solving not only helps position individual projects as a means to an end, but also helps deliberative practitioners define their identity - nonpartisan concerning issues and process, but biased in favor of participatory democracy. Martin stresses that even though improved community problem solving should be considered the ultimate goal, individual projects should also focus on the appropriate lower-order goals in order to maximize impact.

I'm wondering about the implications of this framework for grassroots grantmaking. When we talk about patient money and a funder's long-term commitment to grassroots grantmaking, we're making assumptions about how individual grants, projects, conversations, trainings, convenings, and celebrations "add up". We also know that each one of those grants and projects by itself is important. But can we as clearly identify the ultimate goal? Do we, as grassroots grantmakers, have a strong shared identity?

The layering strategy of grassroots grantmaking - sometimes called "the layer cake" - serves as our version of the lower order goals (increasing active citizenship, strengthening resident-led organizations, connecting residents to policy). But we're not as clear about succinctly saying, in a way that is inspiring and uniting, about how it all rolls up. We have avoided the "what for" question our of respect for one of the main strengths of grassroots grantmaking - its flexibility. But I'm sure that we can, like Martin is doing for our deliberative dialogue "neighbors", clearly identify our ultimate objective without limiting how we employ grassroots grantmaking as a strategy.

So now is when I turn to you. If you are a funder, work with a funder, or are have received grants from a funder....if you think big about small grants and believe in working from a "we begin with residents" perspective, how would YOU end this sentence?
When we work from a "we begin with residents" perspective, we're nonpartisan about the specific projects and activities that resident-led groups take on with the grants that we provide, but we're absolutely biased in favor of ________________?
Share you answer by posting a comment. Let's plant this flag in the ground.

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