Working better together in the Social Integration space: A recipe for change

Influencing decision-makers can be a real challenge. Below, one of our Citizenship and Integration Initiative secondees Bella Kosmala shares some lessons learnt from the initiative for civil society and grassroots organisations looking for ways to work more closely with local and regional decision-makers.

For civil society organisations working for structural change, finding ways to influence decision-makers can be difficult. These bodies can often appear impenetrable and opaque to those who wish to shape programme designs and advocacy priorities.

Regional government organisations such as the Greater London Authority (GLA) may not hold direct policy-making power in all areas of social integration (learn more at All of Us - Mayor of London's strategy on social integration), but can nevertheless be important voices for advocating for policy change. These advocacy asks are most powerful and relevant if shaped together with organisations and individuals who are experts in the field, both through lived and learned experience.

Our Citizenship and Integration Initiative

Over the last five years, a pooled fund called the Citizenship and Integration Initiative (CII) has seconded ten civil society experts into the GLA. The premise of the model is that working together achieves more than would have been possible by individual organisations outside of the partnership model. Secondees work has focused on issues such as democratic engagement and voter registration, young people with insecure immigration status, the hostile environment and migrants’ access to health care, and European Londoners.

The CII recently launched an impact report which maps out the key achievements over the Mayoral term 2016-2021. To mark the launch, we organised an online workshop for civil society organisations, decision-makers and funders to explore practical ways of working to influence change together.

We came up with five basic ingredients to create change:

1. Commitment

What is the best way to secure commitment? One way of doing this is by linking your cause or ask with issues that have Mayoral commitment. Look into what GLA strategies or priorities exist already, how are they worded and how your cause or ask could align or amplify shared goals. Often successful influencing happens by pushing both internally and externally at the same time. CII secondees have had lots of  scoping conversations with other teams within the GLA to gain traction, but they’ve also needed organisations to put pressure on externally - through London Assembly members, or by issues being raised in a GLA forum such as the Migrant and Refugee Advisory Panel.

2. Collaboration

Collaboration is key if we want to create change and this works best if all partners complement each other’s strengths. For example, if you are an organisation interested in policy change, the GLA can play an important role by producing evidence-based reports as it’s often seen as a ‘trusted’ source. This can help to reduce the arguments around civil society organisations having ‘an agenda’  behind their findings and recommendations. Spending a bit of time identifying the strengths of each partner can really help with achieving your shared goal. It is however important to understand the limitations of each partner and what is within the power of everyone involved, including the GLA. As a civil society organisation, you are probably used to reacting quickly and getting immediate results. If you want to work with a large institution like the GLA, you need to have faith in the long-term vision and appreciate even the small shifts. Sometimes they can set off a chain reaction that can be more impactful than you realise.

3. Connection

To ensure work is rooted in authenticity and lived experience, it’s important to make sure the right people are represented and part of the conversation. CII secondees prioritised wide engagement right from the start and drew on their existing networks of civil society organisations and user-led grassroots groups to find them. To help amplify the voices of the community champions and next generation leaders, identify the mechanisms for engagement and ask yourself whose voices are missing and what you can do to support them to engage.

4. Courage

The CII model pilots a new way of doing things - it brings civil society expertise and lived experience into the heart of the design and delivery of GLA work. That shift requires courage from everyone involved with funders pooling their resources, seconding organisations parting with their staff, secondees taking a leap and the GLA accepting change from within. As trust in the model grew, the language the GLA used became more inclusive and aligned with the sector, messages started to land better and GLA’s advocacy became bolder. So ask yourself, what else could we encourage the Mayor to speak out on, and how could we try to push his position even further?

5. Capacity

The CII model of seconding staff into the GLA is made possible through a unique source of funding, but there are other ways that an organisation like the GLA can offer support. Training programmes and workshops can be commissioned or co-designed with civil society experts to further the knowledge in particular areas. What does your sector need more training on? The GLA runs a number of consultative panels and fora to enable strategising and collaborating on specific issues, whose voices are missing? The GLA often bridges the gap between civil society and government departments and other institutional decision-makers, what meetings can they convene to facilitate dialogue? The GLA is also a funder - are their funding priorities supporting the agency and resilience of London’s civil society?

As Deputy Mayor of London for Communities and Social Justice Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard said at our recent CII event,

The CII has provided a model which enables a much greater and closer sharing of knowledge and skills. It is a strong example of how to come together with purpose and resolve to tackle some of the most important issues facing our society and I would encourage other cities and regions to take a look at some of our findings and results.
Debbie Weekes Bernard
Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard speaks at City Hall. Credit: Greater London Authority

So if you’re a funder, civil society organisation, or other regional governmental body with questions, please feel free to get in touch to talk through how we can all work together to further shared goals on social integration.

25 January 2022