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Participatory Grantmaking: fostering equity, inclusion and community resilience

With applications for Bristol Local Food Fund’s second round of grants closed and a whopping £110,000 to be distributed, it’s a good moment to explain how all of this money will be distributed to communities.

About BLFF, PGM and our Citizens Panel

Bristol Local Food Fund (BLFF) aims to tackle food insecurity and help make Bristol a city of food justice, where everyone can access nutritious, affordable and culturally appropriate food.

To make sure our grants support food justice, we use a process called “participatory grantmaking” to distribute our funds, which means that decisions about where the funds are allocated are made by people with lived experience of food insecurity. We call this group our Citizens Panel.

The Citizens’ Panel assess all the applications, discuss each of them, score them and make the decisions on which projects receive the funding. The aim is to spread the funding throughout the city across a range of priority areas, in this round the grants are expected to range from £5,000 to £10,000.

This article will explain more about the specifics of participatory grantmaking (PGM) and why we prefer it to traditional grantmaking processes.

What is Participatory Grantmaking?

PGM hands over the decision making process to people with lived experience of the issues that the funding aims to support. Within the decision making process for BLFF, the Citizens’ Panel scores and allocates funding once the application window closes. This model emphasises the concept of ‘nothing about us without us’, which is a mantra of the disability rights movement to call for policy-makers and those with power to include the voices and views of the very disabled people they were seeking to help. It’s about the importance of self-determination for all people, particularly those who experience one or more forms of discrimination. PGM therefore puts communities at the centre of grantmaking processes, and thereby improves the intended outcomes of the grants as the focus and intent of the funds are shaped by the intended beneficiaries. 

PGM differs massively from traditional grantmaking, which works with a much more top down model. Typically grantmakers who are often removed from day-to-day challenges, set the criteria, the application and decision-making process and make all the decisions about which applications are successful. These decisions are often based on preconceived, sometimes anecdotal ideas of funding needs, or based on research into where they think the funding could be most effective. This places a lot of power in the hands of grantmaking organisations, and often in the hands of a wealthy and philanthropic class of people.

What’s all the fuss about?

So, why do we think PGM is so important, and why have we implemented it in our grant-giving process?

Because most grant-giving bodies are entirely private organisations, there is no specific data on their diversity and representation, but the anecdotal evidence is compelling - grant-givers are in general highly unrepresentative of the communities that they seek to support. This lack of diversity, representation and inclusion usually means that people making funding decisions are unaware of the limits of the knowledge of the issues they are aiming to fund. This can often lead to funding being misdirected and not reaching the communities and projects that really need it.

The eligibility criteria and application processes within traditional grant making processes are often bureaucratic and restrictive, which limits access to more marginalised or less-well resources project and organisations. A powerful example of this inaccessibility was highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic by the Ubele Initiative, when they reported that “9 out of 10 BAME micro and small organisations is set to close if the crisis continues beyond 3 months following the lockdown”.

Grant-givers may make efforts to targeted marginalised groups and communities but with a cumbersome process, or an uninclusive and uninformed reputation, they end up narrowing their funding focus and push groups to restrict what they apply for, or not apply at all! 

We see that individuals with lived experience of issues — in this case food insecurity — are best placed to decide what the community needs and are therefore better equipped to make decisions about where and how funding is allocated. Furthermore, by giving power back to communities, PGM grant givers support deepening of legitimacy and trust-based philanthropy by building a sense of community ownership over decisions. This is key to community food resilience and food justice, as supporting communities to empower themselves and cultivate positive change will build and sustain a social justice movement in the longer term.

With Bristol Local Food Fund, working with our partners Quartet Community Foundation, the application process is deliberately made as simple as possible, with much shorter and simpler application forms, and the option to submit an application by video if needed. BLFF also has a flexible policy on it’s funding, meaning that a grant can fund any cost related to the activity,  project or service. This has helped to reduce the restrictions on how the funding can be spent, although we know there is much work to do! 

Like PGM? Support Food Justice? Become a Bristol Local Food Fund supporter!

Hopefully this blog has been a useful insight into the PGM process and why we think it is the best way to distribute money to community projects. If you want to support community food projects and empowering local people to make fundings decisions, please become a supporter of Bristol Local Food Fund. Every donation helps to build food justice in our city, supporting local community resilience. Become a supporter here:

Find out more about Participatory Grantmaking and get involved with the global community here:

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