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David Wilcox

City Hall is commissioning work to develop a London civil society strategy for #TheWayAhead. Spread the word.

6 min read

The Greater London Authority is commissioning £15,000 of consultancy to help staff develop support for civil society on the lines proposed in The Way Ahead report:

The request for proposals was tweeted by London Funders - who are leading development of the The Way Ahead - the day after their major conference, so the TORs weren't, as far as I know, formally discussed on the day, which seems a pity.

The Terms of reference for the scoping of a Civil Society Strategy for London are on the official web site, in summary, but I haven't seen coverage elsewhere. Submissions have to be in by July 12.

This is important work and more people deserve to know about it ... whether to pitch or comment on the approach. So please retweet. (And apologies to GLA if TORs has been widely circulated ... I just could find anything on Google).

Here's the document linked in the tweet, and here are the key elements.

The GLA wants to develop a strategy for London’s civil society, working with civil society partners to develop this, and, indicating our response to the recommendations contained in The Way Ahead report.

This report has been a landmark proposal from London’s civil society. We now need a more detailed analysis of some of the options within this and support to help us set out what we will do to support London’s civil society. We expect this support to include some work with internal GLA teams and some external stakeholder engagement to test our thinking as it develops.

A proposed vision and a structure

  • An overarching vision of the role the GLA has to play in the infrastructure of civil society in London, both as convenor and active participant
  • A proposal on the most appropriate structure(s) and methods to convene civil society leaders and groups to tackle the big issues facing London (e.g. via a ‘Mayor’s Challenge’ model), cutting across geographic/sectoral boundaries

Building on the recommendations made in the Way Ahead on;

  • Working with London Councils/Local Authorities and others to develop commissioning frameworks and promote and reward good practice which allows access to contract opportunities for civil society organisations.
  • Supporting and promoting innovation and models of best practice for civil society organisations, and for civil society ‘infrastructure’ and creating networks to enable knowledge sharing and best practice to emerge
  • Setting out the way in which the GLA can work with cross sector partners to gather data on the sector and share it in the most effective way possible, including mapping of the sector

Development of voice and regional support;

  • An exploration of the mechanisms that can be used to ensure that London grassroots organisations can have a say and be involved in policy production and having their voices heard
  • Working with partners to refine recommendations about the way that cross borough and local activity can be supported by sub-regional or regional bodies

There's more helpful detail in an appendix. Overall, it is a challenging brief which would be difficult to tackle unless you have been closely involved in The Way Ahead.

I'm glad that GLA are now engaging with civil society issues, and guess there may be some internal reasons for it taking so long to do so. However, I fear that this work may fall into the same trap as The Way Ahead - failing to match community rhetoric with an appropiate process.

The strongest recommendation in The Way Ahead is for Pragmatic Co-production

Co-production is where Londoners work with those in power, and each other, in a way in which all voices are heard equally in developing a shared understanding of need and in crafting solutions to make London a better place.


The Review Team contends that pragmatic co-production should cover a continuum of activity that includes:

  • communities identifying for themselves, with support if needed, what their needs are
  • funders, the public sector and civil society’s understanding of need being based on what communities identify for themselves
  • communities being enabled to change their own lives for the better
  • communities shaping solutions and responses to opportunities
  • communities shaping services delivered by others, whether these be public sector or civil society services
  • communities advocating and campaigning on their own behalf, with support if needed

The biggest criticism of The Way Ahead process has been that while the report emphasises a bottom-up approach, the process has been top-down. This has led community-based networks to organise their own event to develop Our Way Ahead on July 12, and activist Richard Lee to comment:

When we look at The Way Ahead Change documents, and the proposals for the hub, do they actually also include these community voices, these activists, those doing things voluntarily, those who are part of small community groups? They don't, and I’m not alone in thinking this.

There are other people in the room today who equally feel we cannot give consent to these documents as they stand.

The GLA TORs do contain quite a lot about engaging with community interests, and mention a range of methods. However, as someone who has done a fair bit of community engagement work, and become rather disillusioned with traditional consultancy approaches, I know that there is a big difference between what agencies and consultants consider effective engagement and what works on the street.

If the GLA and London Funders really want to build a strategy and structure to support civil society they should follow the recommendations of their report and co-produce it with Londoners, community groups and organisations.

Together with others who will contribute on July 12, I have plenty of ideas about how this might be done - in association with GLA staff, and consultants dealing with the complex issues of commissioning, for example. But we can't, within a couple of weeks, put together a team to deal with such a challenging undertaking, and I'm not sure I would want to try.

The TOR brief is comprehensive. Unfortunately is also excluding. More follows tomorrow on how to address that.