October 15, 2015

Engaging with National Policy Makers: How to make it work


A practical perspective by Celia Tennant of Inspiring Scotland.


When Inspiring Scotland was launched in 08/09 it was arguably the only venture philanthropy organisation to have built a partnership with Government, into its model (in our case the Scottish Government). We believe in order to really tackle social issues in a lasting sustainable way, strategically engaging with Government is key.

Since then, there has been a marked increase, both from fellow venture philanthropy organisations and social organisations in their efforts to collaborate with Government.  It has been the topic of a number of EVPA discussions over the past few years which we have contributed to along with others.

In 2013, a Gates Scholar at the University of Cambridge selected Inspiring Scotland to be the topic of what became the largest piece of research into a venture philanthropy fund, because of the unique Government supported aspect to our work.

To provide an example, within our first and longest running fund, the 14:19 Fund,  the Scottish Government was a strategic partner and founding investor, alongside private individuals, trusts and foundations and corporates.  We established this fund, which looks to support disadvantaged young people, by working closely with Scottish Government to ensure it aligned with national policy while still filling a gap.  We feedback on impact and learning directly to policy teams, we understand their direction, aims and aspirations and bring hard evidence to them which has the potential to really impact upon future policy.

The research found our approach ‘builds and supports denser networks’  ‘accelerates the creation and dissemination of useful thinking and collaboration’ and provides Government with ‘access to new human, financial and relational resources in the service for public good’.

There is much to share with fellow EVPA members about our experiences over the past six years and we always welcome opportunities to do so.  In this blog I focus on some of the practical aspects which help to make our partnership with Government work

It’s time intensive

When thinking about what I could share, the phrase, ‘be careful what you wish for’ sprang to mind.  Not because we have any doubts on the involvement of national Government to our work in delivering real change to the lives of those most vulnerable and facing greatest disadvantage. But because it does require the investment of significant time and effort.

Alignment to your themes

We have very clear themes of work which align against clear policy areas and drivers.  At the outset of any work we do, we align ourselves to this policy area and more importantly to the people in these areas.  We build a relationship.  A relationship that we nurture over time so it becomes deep and strong; supportive and testing all at the same time.

Of course, at the same time you need to be thinking about the future and putting the work in to align yourself to what could be future areas of work

You need to build layers

Engaging with Government is far more than having meetings with Ministers.

Government can be a large complex beast to learn to navigate.  We’ve benefited from some seconded members of staff, and this has greatly helped us understand the way Government works, and the tiers to navigate.

We’ve established strong relationships with policy colleagues who we liaise with regularly. Through this we can really add value, an example is being able to offer up an easily accessible voice of the sector.  We don’t stop here, we continue to seek to build a working relationship with those more senior Civil Servants as well.

We seek to be a strategic partner as well as one who can deliver on the ground. This is where we believe there is most to gain for both parties and as the report highlights this is where sharing of resource, expertise, and experience can help deliver greater public good.

As with any organisation, people move around job roles – this adds another layer of people to maintain communication with.  They are important as they can act as ambassadors to your work in their new area.

Heath warning: All of this takes some choreography, and means multiple staff are involved. You need to be aware of the conversations other colleagues are also having.  As mentioned Government is a large complex organisation which can receive some criticism for operating in silos.  We can be seen to be a helpful way of joining conversations up and creating potential for collaboration.

Not just in Scotland, but globally there is an urgency to look at better ways of addressing our social issues.  We are concerned with finding innovative ways of using resources better and creating genuine cross sector collaboration. We believe our model of venture philanthropy in Scotland, which builds mutually beneficial partnerships, achieves this and delivers greater change for good.

Kindly supported by

European Commission

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