As you can tell from this report and the work I’ve been involved in, I’m a big advocate for participatory grant making (PGM). I think having diverse community voices in the design and delivery of funding is a great way to make effective and impactful grants. However, I also think there are some instances and contexts for which PGM might not be the most suitable approach.

The first of these is in urgent action or rapid response funding. This is often when a funder is required to provide a funding decision within a day or a week, and also to get the money to an organisation or individual within this time frame. When you’re working at such pace, having the community involved in these decisions might not be possible, primarily because it is very likely to slow response times down. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights is a good example of funding being delivered in this way.

The second context where PGM might not be the best option is situations where it is done badly. Doing PGM is hard and sometimes we can end up causing more harm to communities than the problems we are trying to solve, often unintentionally. This can happen when a funder’s behaviour undermines or damages a community, individuals or the relationships involved, and the impact of this can be unfair and harmful.

This can be done in lots of different ways including:

  • Tokenistic approaches whereby a community is asked to spend time and effort for no other purpose than to tick a box.
  • Taking people’s time and input for granted.
  • Not listening to communities or ignoring the insights they provide if it doesn’t match what a funder wants to hear.
  • Having no clear parameters around the role of the community or why they are being asked to be involved.
  • A community’s input not actually having any impact on the decisions made.
    Expectations not being managed and the funder not being able to deliver what they have said they would.
  • No feedback loop, with community members brought in but not being told about the outcomes of their involvement.
  • Communities being asked to input on the design and decision-making of something that isn’t their area of expertise, without the resources being invested to build their expertise.
  • Communities not being resourced properly for their time and skills to take part in PGM, which is also extractive.

Read the full article about when to skip participatory grantmaking by Hannah Paterson at Medium.