Shared infrastructure funding: a vital step for civil society and funders

Sam Grimmett Batt, a Funding Director at City Bridge Trust, explores shared infrastructure, the opportunities it represents for the sector, and offers ideas for ways that funders could embrace it moving forward.

  • Author: Sam Grimmett Batt
  • Published: 5 July 2022

Earlier this year, Careful Industries released a foresight* report called Belonging, Care and Repair. It outlined more inclusive ways for civil society to look ahead, see past the overwhelming present and focus on creating longer-term change.

The report followed workshops with thirteen civil society leaders which explored how important lived and learned experience is for shaping the future. Belonging, Care and Repair poses questions about the role of civil society, both now and in the year 2036, and probes what might happen in the context of technological breakdown. It also reveals the benefits of civil society thinking, working and sharing together to show what the future might look like.

Taking three example future scenarios, Belonging, Care and Repair highlights what is missing now; what is too dominant; and shows that innovation is something driven by people, not technologies. The relational foresight approach used can be applied to specific themes, or to the wider work of the voluntary and community, funding and philanthropic sectors more broadly.

But more importantly, in the longer term this approach can be expanded to create a shared foresight infrastructure – an independent foresight commons” – that showcases futures that are rooted in communities and shares them in accessible ways, to be used and reused by funders, policy makers and civil society organisations.

City Bridge Trust and infrastructure funding

City Bridge Trust has been proud to support London’s civil society infrastructure and infrastructure bodies for many years. As the capital’s largest independent funder, we’ve made it a priority to support people and communities most impacted by injustice and inequality, not just by funding service delivery on the ground, but also by shoring up the sector through capacity building, second tier and voice and leadership infrastructure.

Since 2015, we’ve spent £13.2m directly supporting such work, and on average we now spend about £3m a year on this type of activity through our rolling, responsive grant programmes. We also fund strategically on this theme, including a recent grant to Catalyst for digital infrastructure, and we partner and co-fund with other infrastructure funders like the National Lottery Community Fund, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and Trust for London. We also convene events such as a recent event with SafeLives, the UK-wide charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse.

In response to the pandemic we paused our responsive funding to focus on emergency support, although we continued to fund existing work and to extend grants. I’m pleased to say that our infrastructure funding has recently reopened – applications are welcome for new or tried and tested work, including core funding.

Shared infrastructures

Infrastructure bodies have always worked with a range of voluntary and community organisations, but as in the rest of the sector, those inside the tent” have been limited – by the membership parameters (or their trustee bodies), by the types of communities accessing support (or not accessing it), and by the type of work undertaken and valued.

It has only been fairly recently that a new type of infrastructure body has emerged. They are somewhat of a hybrid between traditional infrastructure bodies” like those I described earlier, while also being the glue that organically creates the more general infrastructure” I previously outlined.

Due to their open-source nature and network approach, these shared infrastructures” represent new ways of working which are more inclusive and collective, acting as capacity builders, convenors, catalysers and connectors. They also represent a shift in the dynamic between funder and funded: it’s a more symbiotic relationship which challenges the traditional power imbalance. Examples of shared infrastructure are Catalyst (incubated by CAST), 360Giving, and the Civic Strength Index.