Social investors still on the starting blocks in listening to communities

UK social investors are keen to listen to the experiences of the people they ultimately exist to serve. But new research, published today, highlights the many barriers that investors believe they face to achieve this.

Nothing about us without us: Lived experience insight & social investment, from The Young Foundation, highlights the importance of listening to end users, and argues it is “no longer a ‘nice to have’... It is not a question of whether we bring the voices, experiences and skills of users into social investment – but how we do it respectfully, well and to great effect.”

As Cliff Prior, CEO of one of the report’s funders, Big Society Capital, points out in the foreword: “Without knowing what people want, our efforts to achieve positive social impact may miss the mark or even harm.”

The term ‘lived experience’ is gaining currency, with a number of grantmakers and intermediaries, such as the National Lottery Community Fund and Catch 22, backing social sector leaders with direct exposure to the issue they’re looking to solve. The international development sector has also been pushing for end user engagement in design and delivery of programmes in recent years.

Social investors now seem keen to catch up: the European Venture Philanthropy Association published a charter in November 2019 that calls on signatories to “put the final beneficiaries at the centre of the solution”.

But social investors interviewed for the report published today raised a number of challenges – including costs, figuring out which user group to engage, fear of being tokenistic and a preference to listen instead to intermediary organisations. 

'Without knowing what people want, our efforts to achieve positive social impact may miss the mark or even harm'

The report also reveals that, apart from one exception, investors “did not engage with the idea” that insights from people with lived experience could shape the design of funds or of high-level funding strategies.

The research, which draws on evidence collected from more than 40 charities, social enterprises and investors, was backed by Big Society Capital and the Barrow Cadbury Trust and follows a workshop on the topic at last year’s Gathering event for social investors.

The report recommends creating a investors’ network to explore low-cost ways of integrating the views of those with lived experience, run pilots and share findings, and develop research and frameworks.

Helen Goulden, CEO of The Young Foundation, said the report was “the start of a learning journey both for us and, we hope, the rest of the sector. We want to work as a collective to learn, pilot and shift our collective practice to involve people more effectively, respectfully and well in our work.”

Prior said it marked “the start of a future which respects, involves and hears the voices of the people we are all working for, a future where social impact investing will be more impactful, with more integrity, and with stronger results.”

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