Celebrating experimenting and learning

Propel is a collaborative approach between funders and civil society to support long term, systemic change. This means tackling the root causes of issues facing our capital, not just dealing with their consequences. For funders, Propel means working together on new approaches to funding, looking together across issues, communities and geographies. For funded organisations, Propel means time to explore the issues that matter to your communities, to test different approaches to tackling inequalities, to listen to what is working and what new challenges are arising, and to adapt tactics as needed. For all of us, Propel means learning together about what we can do differently to secure long term change for London’s communities.    

At our first Learning Network Day in June, you told us that ‘systemic change’ is not a useful term, but that words you hope to see associated with Propel include: growth, development, movement, transformation, disruption, responsive, emergence, influence, change, connect, user-led, bottom-up approach, story-telling, leadership, humility, bold.   

You also told us that flexibility, patience and trust are necessary to work in this way, understanding that change is not linear. We all need to take the time to listen, get to know and understand each other and the complexities of the work. We also need to enable – or even encourage – experimentation, as it is often by trying and failing that we learn the most about the conditions we need for real change.  

So in the spirit of celebrating experimentation, failure and learning, here’s one from us in the Propel team.  

Having developed the Propel principles with funders and equity partners, we’ve attempted to live up to being bold, equitable, flexible, accountable etc. But in this first year, the experience of being funded by Propel can vary from funder to funder. Is it inevitable that this will happen? We’re asking funders to step outside of their own organisational cultures and to commit to doing things differently – and let’s be honest, some of the Propel funders are very large funders with very strong organisational cultures. The reality is that we’ve made some small steps towards long term ambitions. Whilst the steps are small, they are important (single application to multiple funders, developing a shared approach to reporting) and we can build on them over time.

And our learning?

  • Keep using the principles to stretch ourselves – we notice that it’s other partners now raising the principles to challenge each other.
  • Recognise that small steps contribute to your partnership’s capacity and energy to take the next step.
  • Remember that not everyone will come with you, and stay focused on the long term change that you’re trying to make.  

And here’s another: we learned from trying (and failing) always to book a bigger room than we think we’ll need for events that bring us all together!