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Summary: Driving continuous learning as a grant maker – Evidence review

A shift is taking place in the UK funding world. Learning is emerging as a key element of contemporary grant-making. In 2019, we were commissioned by Comic Relief to review a range of evidence and engage with funders and infrastructure organisations to explore this.  


This document includes the foreword from Comic Relief and the summary. 

Our assets, our future

The research, commissioned by Power to Change and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, is the first full analysis of the economic contribution and financial health of England’s much-loved community-owned assets in over a decade. The project sought to address evidence gaps identified in earlier work commissioned by Power to Change. It was authored by a team of researchers from the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR) at Sheffield Hallam University and the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR).

The report reveals a community ownership sector that is growing fast and making an increasingly significant contribution to the UK economy. The research finds good financial health across community-owned assets, but highlights vulnerabilities and areas where support is needed to further stabilise and grow this important sector.

You can download the report from the Power to Change website.

UK Evaluation Roundtable Teaching Cases 2019

Interested in how other UK trusts and foundations think about, organise and practise learning? We have published two detailed case studies – of Pears Foundation and Corra Foundation – on their approaches to ‘making learning everyday’, along with notes for how to use these teaching cases to support reflection and learning in your own organisation. 

These cases were produced for the January 2019 convening of the UK Evaluation Roundtable, which Pears Foundation and Corra Foundation attended. They have also kindly agreed for us to publish their thoughtful closing reflections from the convening, shared after a day of hearing the others’ perspectives on their approaches to learning. 

Note: the lines are numbered in the teaching cases (page 9 onwards), to support detailed discussion. 

Evaluation Roundtable 2017 Framing Paper

Drawing on learning from the two previous convenings of the Roundtable and a literature review, we have explored learning in responsive grant-making. This paper framed discussions at the May 2017 convening.

Getting started with collaboration: A framework for joint action

In spite of unprecedented levels of policy-driven interest in collaborative working involving voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations (VCSEs), we know from our work that individuals and organisations can experience practical difficulties when trying to work collaboratively with others – particularly when that work crosses sector, as well as organisational, boundaries. 

This framework is for individuals and organisations who are setting out on new collaborative ventures. It draws from our back catalogue of work, including Thinking about… collaboration, Working in Place: Collaborative funding in practice and Building Health Partnerships

New principles for grant reporting

Over the course of two workshops in April and September 2018, a group of funders and funded organisations developed a set of principles to make grant reporting a shared, more meaningful and mutually beneficial experience.


Our intention from the outset was to see how much progress could be made over two workshops and early on we decided to focus on core funding, rather than project funding. At the end of the second session we all felt there was merit in sharing and testing the principles we had developed: 

  1. Funders explain why they have awarded a grant. 
  2. Funders and funded organisations are clear about what grant reporting will look like. 
  3. Funders are clear about the type of relationship they would like to have with the organisations they fund. 
  4. Funders only ask for information they need and use, and question whether they need bespoke reporting. 
  5. Funders give feedback on any grant reporting they receive, and share their thoughts on the progress of the work. 
  6. Funders describe what they do with the information they obtain from funded organisations. 

For each funder, this will mean something different. For some, the principles will facilitate internal conversations and thinking; for others, they will be directly applied to a grant-making programme.

Investigating opportunities for aligned reporting

At the May 2017 convening of the Evaluation Roundtable, participants agreed that there was merit in exploring whether grantmaking charitable trusts and foundations could move towards more aligned arrangements for grant reporting. There was interest in simplifying and possibly harmonising grant reporting, with a view to reducing duplication and effort by grantees. It was noted that a similar approach had been taken by Evaluation Support Scotland through their Harmonising Reporting work. 

At our request, twelve charitable trusts and foundations shared details of their grantee reporting requirements. This included information on: 

  • Details of the timing and frequency of grantee reporting. 
  • Standard written guidance and specifications for grantee reports. 
  • Other means by which funders expected to stay in touch and connect with their grantees. 
  • Details of other grantee reporting arrangements that funders thought might be relevant to this study. 

We looked at the common questions asked by most trusts and foundations, and this paper summarises what opportunities this could offer for aligning grant reporting. 

Summary report: The Future for Communities

This 18 month research project asked ‘what needs to happen for communities to feel and be more powerful in the future?’. The findings paint a picture of strong, resourceful communities affected by the challenges of poverty, transience and isolation; but also people and places where resilience and hope offer the prospect of positive transformation and change. In particular, it highlights the need for sustained investment in supporting community-level infrastructure – places to meet, organisations to bring people together and people to facilitate engagement. 


The research was commissioned by Local Trust, carried out by the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR), and funded by the Community Development Foundation (CDF) and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). 

Commonweal Housing: Replicating interventions to address social injustice

Over the past 18 months, we have been working alongside Commonweal Housing to help them enhance the way they use learning and evaluation to inform their work on housing solutions for social injustice.

Our work with Commonweal has coincided with the culmination of the charity’s ten-year
 Re-Unite project . In many ways, Re-Unite was a formative project for Commonweal – it was one of the charity’s earliest projects, and while it was successfully replicated it also faced considerable policy challenges. As the charity moved on from Re-Unite to new projects, they wanted to be sure that they were taking what they had learned with them. 

This framework shows Commonweal Housing’s approach to piloting interventions that address social injustice, then replicating these solutions. 

Community accountability in community business

What does it mean for businesses to be accountable to their community? We carried out 12 in-depth case studies of community businesses, who understood community accountability as being responsible, responsive to and engaged with their community. The idea of being accountable to the community was at the heart of who they are and how they work; and helped them to operate with dual drivers – to serve their community and to be a viable business. As they said, they were not businesses that decided to involve the community, but rather community members who decided to set up a business.

Our final report draws learning from the case studies, a literature review and a series of interviews. You can visit the Power to Change website to read: