Underwriting Collaborative Thinking

Pritpal S Tamber

July 17, 2018

How you keep the energy up in volunteer-reliant work

One of the key challenges to volunteer based work is keeping the energy up. That’s the challenge we – the Steering Group – are facing as we go through the slog of trying to get funding.

For over two years we’ve worked hard to carve out time to get to know each other, share our perspectives, test each other’s thinking, and then find a core truth to the change we think is needed. We were lucky that the work was under-written by funding. That funding ended just before we secured the next piece of funding so we’re self-funding the gap (assuming we get further funding making this period a ‘gap’ not an end). In reality, that means we don’t have the means to spend quality time together.

What makes that all the more important is that we’re all constantly evolving our understanding of the challenge. For me, that’s magnified by writing applications to funders and getting a sense of what might interest them. While we’ve decided not to bend our thinking to what a funder says just for its money, we also need to be pragmatic about focussing in on what ‘thing’ we want to do – and funders can get behind – to bring about change.

I’m increasingly clear that the ‘space’ (defined by people working on the basis of parity, trust and an equal voice for all) is not only amorphous but also lacking the habit of sharing its experiences through formal publications. This process – of intentional evidence generation and evidence communication – is to my mind core to the ‘space’ becoming a true discipline able to garner respect from colleagues in different sectors. My view is that through that comes investment and growth (including further evidence generation and communication).

We’re not all on the same page in this regard and that’s not surprising. Some of us have backgrounds in editing and publishing so we’re bought in to the need. Others don’t, and so need convincing. That isn’t a problem. To date, we’ve found that difference in our perspectives part of the tension of the space, part of what we not only need to hold but also help others hold. But it is a problem when you don’t have the resources to spend time together, deepen your relationships, and face those issues.

One funder said to me last week that they don’t support ‘development work’. They want the finished idea to consider funding. Given our situation, it’s made me wonder how ideas get developed and how they get packaged for funding. Perhaps there are other funders that support development work but it does worry me that you can only enter this work, only engage these funders, if you have enough privilege to have done the development work on your own dime. Relying solely on the views of those with privilege is an exceedingly bad Idea in work seeking to have a social impact.

Anyway, I’ve written about that before. For now, I’m grappling with how we keep our energy up when our respective focuses are naturally diverging. I think the answer is to plug away at getting the funding, including honing in on a focus that’s only part of what we agreed as a group, and then seeing who wants to carry on as we get to the other end.

It’s a little brutal but it may be the only way.

Pritpal S Tamber

I’m a doctor who trained as a medical editor and publisher and now researches and consults on the link between community power and health equity. My interest in community power started when I was the Physician Editor of TEDMED and is explained in My Perspective. I also work as a freelance medical editor and publisher for organisations that want to write high-quality articles and a strategy for their publishing and promotion. Find out more on my About page.

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