In the first few months of 2022, as part of Farming the Future’s reflection and renewal process, we hosted several listening sessions. In these sessions, our goal was to listen deeply to what you, the U.K. Food and Farming movement want from us, what you have liked in the first three years of FTF, and what you haven’t liked, and what we could do differently in the future. This blog summarises what we heard from you in the first two of these sessions. If you want to read our full write-up, you can head here. You can find the write up from equity-focused listening session separately - here.
What participants thought about Farming the Future
We were happy that many of you had a lot of positive perceptions of us and the work we’ve done in the first three years of our work. Below you can read some of these.
Farming the Future understands the issues, and feels like “part of the movement”
Some of you said that we are “doing a really good job to move forward agroecological and socially just farming.” Another participant said that FTF has “made efforts to understand the issue—so we don’t have to educate the funders as we go.” Many of you felt we had developed “a really good dialogue” with our network and grantees.
The way we fund has been positive in many ways, including:
We have funded a range of organisations, in terms of type, size and approach
Our funding has enabled connections and catalysed collaborations
At the same time, we heard you as you shared the aspects of our work that haven’t worked so well, and that you would like to see change. Some of these are set out below.
Collaboration hasn’t always worked or been well enough supported
Almost every time collaboration came up, comments were two-sided, with people recognising the benefits it has brought, whilst also sharing the various difficulties that our approach has given rise to. Sometimes collaborations have been “tokenistic,” or a “name grabbing exercise. Some participants shared that not all groups are “on the same page all the time,” making “forced collaboration” difficult.
You want to see us fund differently
We heard a real need from you for longer-term funding, as one-year project funding creates a real burden for many of you. You also expressed an interest in us funding different kinds of entities, including more non-charities and even individuals.
In terms of our type of funding, many of you want to see us go beyond the project-based funding we’ve focused on so far. Some approaches you liked the idea of included micro-grants (a small pot made available to small or new organisations), core funding, and capacity building.
There is more we could do ‘beyond funding’
We talked during the sessions about what more we could be doing to support you beyond funding. One thing that came through very clearly was that you’d like to see more support from Farming the Future for building and nurturing collaboration. Additionally, there was support from some of you for access to skills as well as money, and for us to continue to build our “strong central coordination role” to create more space for meeting and networking.
Our application process could be improved
We could work better to simplify the due diligence process and also the application itself. We also heard various concerns from you about the expression of power in the application process in different ways. For example, some of you felt it was important for us to do better at addressing any conflicts of interest that might come up in the grant assessment process. Others felt that we should flip the burden of application on its head: “why is the onus on us to reach out to funders and not the other way around?” Ultimately, we heard that this is all a matter of trust: “funders need to trust us to know what we need to do.”
We can do more to spread the word and get more funders involved
Key challenges on the horizon
As part of the listening sessions, we also asked participants what the key issues they expected to face in the coming months and years were. Below are some of the key areas that emerged from these conversations.
Policy influencing and lobbying
Cross-sector collaboration and movement building
Young people and new entrants
Those ‘already doing the work’ needing support
Food insecurity and education
Overall, we heard that “Farming the Future shouldn’t focus on just one issue—the ecosystem needs all parts to work well.”
From listening to all you had to share, our core team distilled the following recommendations:
Things to keep
Keep “seeing the system”
Keep funding “a wide range of both sizes and types of organisations”
Things to start doing
Provide support for collaboration (through e.g. providing access to skills, facilitating meetings to enable effective collaboration, coaching for collaborations) and make more investments, recognising the time, energy and resources it takes to collaborate well
Things to improve or do more of
More (in person) gatherings
Going beyond making introductions—convening space for those who are working on the same issues, facing the same problems
Including making connections with those beyond the food and farming movement, from communicators, to artists, to those working in areas like poverty and wealth inequality.
Provide support for collaboration (skills/facialition to enable) and/or more investment to recognise time it takes to do this well
Be clearer about how we understand impact and communicate this to the network
Our application process
Greater clarity on how applications are assessed
Shore up our approach to conflicts of interest—whether perceived or otherwise
Do more to recognise the power difference between us as funders and those within the movement—e.g. through ‘flipping’ the application process so that FTF as the funder bears a greater share of the burden
Continue to build trust
Ensure the ‘closed pool’ approach is fit for purpose
Things to lose
Single-year funding (for the most part)
Any expectation for applicants to comment on one another's' applications—they do not have time for this
For a deeper dive into what we heard, head here.
Thank you to all who made the time to share your thoughts and responses. A constant process of listening and sensing and from the movement informs the strategy and approach for Farming the Future, so the team and now looking at how to design your feedback into the next program of work, we’ll be in touch soon to share more on that soon.