The Big Lottery Fund have recently started an important discussion around the concept of The Future of Doing Good; an in-depth report which has, importantly, highlighted a range of questions rather than answers for debate. As our Director of Mission Birmingham Immy Kaur joins the discussion today, we wanted to respond to some of these questions and add to the conversation.


The Future of Doing Good as we know it is undoubtedly changing. In a world of social impact bonds, carbon pricing and corporate social risk management, it seems that social and environmental evils and externalities are increasingly measured, analysed and priced. Decisions on how to tackle these ills and after effects are often boiled down to a cost benefit analysis, with their perceived cost savings or income generation driving decision making. But, is this doing good?

In a near-now future of doing good, where social & environmental goods are de-facto commodified and financialised and increasingly intrinsically priced into our everyday economic model – what is doing good?

To move beyond the financialised model we believe it is important to focus on five key areas:


1. Investing In Systems

It has become increasingly clear, and almost cliche, that silos, heroes and simple self interest do not solve problems. Instead we need to approach doing good at a systems level, to override self interest and realise that deep change (e.g. beyond that 25 people are now more employable…) occurs when authentic missions and legitimate movements mature. Delineation between beneficiary, impact, success and non-success is misleading. It is useful for reporting, but harmful to the movements and systems which are genuinely and consistently part of a change narrative. It is the portfolio and potential of the people that want to be involved which means more. The future of doing good is not just about achieving social good, it’s about creating the space and momentum for people to believe that they can achieve social good.

The role that organisations like Big Lottery can play in investing, uncovering and giving legitimacy to new “Public & Collective Goods” – such as game changing ideas like Basic Income – will be integral to creating a pathway for others and into the mainstream economy, much like the great philanthropists have done previously in funding civil rights movements in the 1960s, or the Anti-Slavery movements of the 19th centuries.


2. Legitimacy and Democracy

Doing good is not just about the doing, but also about creating the new politics of good, thereby creating new legitimacy. In the modern age of data and constant accessibility, legitimacy comes from openness. This has two implications for the future of doing good.

Firstly, funders should make their processes, products, data, minutes (e.g. everything possible and reasonable) open. They are often deliverers of public money and so the public should be able to access all reasonable elements of their activity. This gives them greater capacity to take risks, reduce bureaucratic review processes and creates a culture more open to dialogue than box-ticking.

Secondly, funders should support organisations to be, and become, open and transparent. This leads to legitimacy, collaboration and calls to arms. The training these organisations offer should be less about form filling and impact measurement, and more about building up potential partners so they are better able to do good regardless of if they receive funding.


3. Focusing on place

In a world of globalised finance – where borders are irrelevant – the way in which we address place-based change will drive future good. Place is the only element of our wicked challenges that cannot be off-shored or outsourced. Understanding what is good for an individual place will be essential to implementing strategies to develop this good. The interlocking nature of system deficiencies will manifest in a specific place, and therefore by focusing on place we can start to tackle these interdependencies consistently.


4. Intentionally focusing on wicked problems

At Impact Hub our health and overall mission success is dependent not just on us, but the system balance we exist in. That’s why our key programme #RadicalChildcare takes a systems change approach in creating better outcomes for Birmingham’s children.

Childcare is the archetypal “wicked challenge” which cannot be addressed by one magical social innovation or a brilliant policy intervention in any one particular domain. It requires systems change and commitment at a city level and there is an appetite and sense of urgency amongst many parents, practitioners and experts for transformative change.

This is a broad topic, and it requires us to invest across a wide spectrum of contexts, activities, social and cultural conventions, and institutions. It requires us to imagine new institutional economics for the care of children, replacing transaction with empathy for longer lasting change beyond a project lifecycle.


5. Building movements of actors

Multi-actor change is complex. We increasingly understand that the future will require us to unlock the interoperability of coalitions of actors. Instead of competing for scarce resources, such coalitions will work towards shared system outcomes that build on each organisation’s particular strengths and specialist knowledge. Collective Impact Coalitions have been pioneered by a range of US organisations to tackle issues beyond the control of any single actor. They focus heavily on coordinating relatively well-organised existing actors, and their success is showing some of the practical implications for interoperability beyond aspirational notions of collaboration. Such coalition building takes time, trust, deep understanding of place and context, genuine effort and the building of a backbone organisation to coordinate actions, outcome metrics and investment.

Collective Impact Coalitions are just one approach of many, and we believe that – rather than coordinating existing actors – one crucial challenge is to mobilise communities and innovative, entrepreneurial actors at the edge of our current systems. That’s why movements are as important as coalitions, and why shared open missions are needed alongside finely tuned interoperable arrangements.


Given this, our experiences have led us to believe funding The Future of Doing Good depends largely on investing in legitimate movements, finding authentic moments and focusing on today’s problems whilst building for tomorrow’s world, as organisations like Ford Foundation are starting to do.

In this evolution of future good, funders will have an integral role. They should, in part, see their role as giving movements the security to explore and create placed-based changes. Investing in team and people – with the chance to fail – will increase talent retention and stability in a system and sector, creating a larger knowledge base and broader selection of activity.

In The Future of Doing Good, hopefully funders will not be funding purposeful organisations to perpetually exist in an anxious circle of tail-chasing. The enlightened funders will transcend priced and costed self interest to focus on uncovering, discovering and “investing” in Public and Collective Goods, as yet unpriced and costed; either fundamentally beyond market or pre-market mechanisms. But, they will need the movements to invest in. Starting this debate is an important step, and we thank Big Lottery Fund for doing that.

Let us know your thoughts too and add to the conversation on twitter using hashtag #FutureGood.

Impact Hub Birmingham