Author: Edd Fry, Listening Fund programme manager
“Jamboree – a large celebration or party, typically a lavish and boisterous one“
OK, so I wouldn’t say we reached ‘boisterous’. And ‘lavish’ might be a stretch given that at one point we ran out of tea. But there was definitely a celebratory air in mid-April when we brought together Listening Fund partners for the first time since before the pandemic.
Connecting and networking
As explored in earlier blogs, there are three cohorts of Listening Fund partners. There are those who have been with us since 2018 as well as two groups of partners chosen by our advisers: one comprised of slightly larger organisations, the other group more focused on grassroots work. Our newest partners only received funding at the start of 2023.
The Listening Fund jamboree was the first opportunity to have all of these organisations together in the same room. We therefore put a real emphasis on time for networking and connecting, supporting partners to build connections with one another. Our hope is that this will be the start of some valuable peer support, helping organisations to support one another as they work to improve their accountability to young people.
Imagining great listening in different areas of work
During the morning session, we asked partners to work in small groups and imagine what listening organisations might look like under the headings of ‘Delivery’, ‘Staffing’, ‘Strategy’ and ‘Governance’.
In organisations where listening was a key part of delivery, partners said that there would be a strong culture of feedback, where young people’s idea of what success looks like are centred and without a tendency to overpromise on what could be done. Young people’s opinions and expertise would be part of day-to-day decision-making.
In relation to staffing, partners imagined an organisation where young people were a key part of any recruitment and where they were supported into the recruitment role. Young people would be equipped with the skills and the knowledge to participate effectively, and the values of the organisation would be co-produced with young people. Employers would also be sensitive to the multiple challenges facing staff members who had a pre-existing relationship with the organisation.
Strategy development in a listening organisation would, partners thought, involve a variety of feedback mechanisms both throughout the design of a new strategy and during its lifetime. Young people would be aware of boundaries and expectations and have a choice of engagement opportunities which involved different levels of commitment. They would be paid and have their expertise and effort recognised.
Listening in governance would be underpinned by a commitment to relinquishing control, our partners said. Organisations would have several young people involved in decision-making, ideally young people with experience of the organisation and its services. Boards would take a pro-active approach to in-person listening and not just rely on reports, and young people would be fully and thoughtfully supported into roles.
How we can move further towards great listening?
The afternoon session was focused on how we can, individually and collectively, move towards our imagined listening organisations. Working in groups, partners considered what steps they could take by themselves, what they could achieve with others, and what they could do with support.
By themselves, partners felt that they could set aside time for reading more resources, invest more time in coordinating internal listening practices and behaviours, and create opportunities for young people to be listened to in a range of different formats: written, spoken, individual, group work etc.
Working with their peers, partners wanted to focus on sharing what does (and doesn’t) work, creating opportunities to shadow each other’s work, and learning about how to better support different communities of young people.
Finally, with support, partners wanted to work on developing an organisational listening strategy, access more funding opportunities for listening work, and upskill themselves and colleagues in key areas related to listening: trauma-informed practice, facilitation skills and using technology.
We’ve only captured a fraction of the content that emerged from the convening. Our learning partner Collective Discovery will be using all the notes, recordings, flipcharts and post-its to work with partners on co-creating a learning programme for the next 18 months. This will support partners to take their listening work further while also generating insight which we will share with the wider sector.
A note on payment
Attendance was high and while acknowledging the power dynamics at play when a funder organises an event, another factor that supported partners’ attendance was that the Fund covered staff time and travel costs for attendance. This was covered as part of our £3,000 annual learning payment to partners. This is in addition to their grants payment and is used by partners to cover the cost of their engagement with our learning activities: action learning sets, events and convenings, and funder visits.