The data informed us that many of the groups have a fluid concept of leadership and participation. When asked how they practice participation, most groups explained that they strive for consensus within small teams of co-leaders who share the responsibility for their organising.
With small teams leading the organisation and participating in its work, these groups often make decisions together, instead of having a single person in charge. They regularly meet to discuss and debate all major decisions within the organisation. Most of the groups that participated in this evaluation said that when participating in the voting process, they met to review the summaries and came to a joint decision on who to vote for. Many also got together to participate in the interview as a group, or, if that was not possible, had meetings prior to the interview to discuss the topic and agree upon an organisational position.
In other words, for feminist groups who participated in the evaluation, consensus building is achieved through dialogue and enabled by affective bonds, rather than through specific tools and processes. Interviewees showed great interest in participatory practices and expressed a curiosity towards discovering new models. Groups are actively asking themselves: “How do we make our decisions?”
“So this is what I mean when I say the participatory decision making (…) was sort of baked in and we didn’t recognise it because, you know, three of us co-founders would just talk about this over breakfast. It was what was on our mind. It was part of our everyday life.”
“We make decisions collectively, involving all members of the organisation. Moreover, if the decision is important and has an impact on different minority groups, we consult professionals and members of the community.”
“We have a nuclear team responsible for decision-making of the overall organisation. However thorough consultation is made with the rest of the team and our partners i.e. community based leaders, local governance structures.”
“We make sure that everyone in the collective is involved in any decision making before we start on any project. This way we are more committed to doing it because we ourselves are those who planned it.”
“We are trying to avoid any kind of dominant or hierarchical behaviour, we’re trying to be sensitive about it. We don’t have the formula to sustain our participatory decision yet.”
“Participatory Decision Making is a very broad thing. We’re a small organisation with a flat-ish structure, and even if there is a structure, we all are more like peers and not hierarchical. Irrespective of age, people with varied experience come with different ideas; they discuss; and then decide whether to veto, etc. So I think PDM is not a formal process in our organisation, but we follow it. I also feel like when it comes to funding, PDM is a very different process. In our organisation, I feel what works is, we are on the same page; we’re working towards the same mission; we’re committed and tied in a certain way; we have the best interest of the organisation (…)”
From the data, we learned that groups don’t have a technical understanding of participation – it is not operationalised through formalities but rather through ongoing dialogue between the people involved. Yet, participatory grantmaking provides a system, a mechanism, to engage with more complex decision-making processes. This is particularly important as groups grow.
Participatory grantmaking poses the question: ‘who makes decisions and what platforms and processes can we use to make them?’ When FRIDA poses this question, it spills over to the grantee partners. It sparks internal reflection, questioning and experimenting, especially because interviewees pointed out that participation within a group becomes harder as the organisation grows. For example, only one group was explicit in saying that their model is hierarchical. They shared that from a team of 3, they grew to a team of 8, thanks to FRIDA’s support. As the team grew, it was too hard to manage horizontal participation. They then realised it did not work for them if all people participated in all decisions and instead, they decided to organise by assigning roles. Many groups considered participatory grantmaking to be inspiring precisely because it invited them to think more critically about their understanding of decision-making.
In the implementation, it’s very participatory. All the team has a say in what to do, what not to do and the suitability of the choices we have. I’m the founder and the CEO but that doesn’t mean that my opinion is obligatory. At the end of the day, I don’t recall that any decision was made by one person specifically at the beginning period. Another observation is that when we were an initiative, meaning limited resources and activities, participatory decision making was easier. The more you grow the harder it becomes.
Groups tend to involve their communities in decision-making processes.
Most of the groups surveyed also involve their communities in decision-making about their programmatic work, and about how they offer community support and services. They are conscious that if they are creating programs for a certain community, such a community needs to be consulted and involved in decision-making.
“Among our team we take decisions in a participatory method, we discuss the needs and requests of the community in one platform, we listen to all the team members and make decisions based on that. Likewise when we are doing beneficiary selections for meetings we consult the community” (ex we display the name lists in the villages for final endorsement )
“Yes, every 3-5 months we organise a communal decision-making event with community members about our finances, how we should use the resources on what and when. Everyone is involved in the decision making process and can come with their suggestions for possible changes and improvements.”
“We make decisions by a discussion process within our collective and once a year we conduct a common meeting with our audience. We invite everybody who is willing to participate, we ask about their requests and then we make a decision. We cannot be completely transparent about our activities as according to our country’s law, namely, our collective is not registered and we are doing advocacy work which can be dangerous in our country.”
“We always consult the community before making decisions. We make decisions based on their needs, our experiences and possibilities.”
A few groups are also experimenting with participatory grantmaking internally.
Two groups shared concrete examples of how they tried to implement participatory decision-making practices internally. One group made available small funding and let community members vote and decide which project should get the funding. After ideas were proposed, the group facilitated a discussion so that every community member involved participated in deciding what kind of project to select. The group focused on facilitating the participatory process, while the community members decided everything else. They communicated with their community by saying:
“Well, here’s the pot of money on the table, and you’re going to decide how to split it amongst yourselves. And you’re gonna decide how much is going to go to each group and whether one group is going to get less depending on the kind of work they do and one other group is going to get more. So it’s entirely you guys who are going to decide what happens to the money.”
“We have some sort of participatory grantmaking process internally too.”
“We have learnt a lot and are now implementing Frida’s Participatory model”
Another group shared that they tried to mirror FRIDA’s participatory grantmaking. The group had come together to vote on FRIDA’s grantmaking cycle and realised the power of participatory decision-making. So, when they received funding, they encouraged the young girls they worked with to make decisions together about how to spend it. They were curious about the quality of the conversations and noticed that girls made collective decisions with respect.
It appears that many groups are discovering what internal organising practices work for them without following a fixed model, but with an orientation towards challenging hierarchical practices. One of the lessons learned is that “Participatory decision-making could mean different things to different people.”
Broadly, interviewees saw FRIDA as an example to look up to in terms of internal organising and participatory decision-making. Several interviewees stated that the relationship with FRIDA generated interest and learning around participatory practices. One interviewee, when asked if they were familiar with participatory decision-making practices, responded: “I am, and I was introduced by FRIDA. So that’s where I learned.”
Young feminist groups took FRIDA’s participatory grantmaking process very seriously and many made significant efforts to ensure that, when participating in the voting process, they included all members of the group (even if that meant incurring costs). Many also expressed that this level of participation continued during the implementation of the work they received funding for, including for financial decisions.