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Final project report – findings & recommendations

After being delayed because of the pandemic, I have completed my final report for this project. In total I interviewed 12 organisations, and my findings paint a concerning picture of how “the closing space for civil society in the UK” has been impacting on small civil society organisations. The report documents a small fraction of the silencing being experienced through restrictions on political activity, which amount to a significant loss of the legitimate political voice and agency that should be protected by the Compact and charity law.

The headline findings (explored in more detail in the full report) were:

  1. The organisations all saw their work as political – but recognised it was a contested term
  2. Uncertainty about regulations led to self-policing
  3. Pressure from regulators was most strongly felt when groups tried to register as charities
  4. High profile cases of exemplary punishment by regulators had ripple effects
  5. Most pressure around “political activity” came from funders
  6. The “reasonable NGO voice” and public perception was another significant constraint
  7. A lack of resources limited their ability to speak out politically
  8. It is increasingly difficult for small organisations to have a political voice online
  9. There were differences between charities and non-charities, but this was not a major fault line
  10. There was a strong awareness of the constraints they faced, and organisations had established workarounds

The report is primarily aimed at funders who want to support effective work by CSOs, including where the actions needed to achieve their mission might be negatively labelled as “political”. The report ends with a summary of the findings and five recommendations for funders to better support these kinds of grantees. The recommendations for funders are:

  1. Recognise the constraints of the context, and treat them as a shared problem
  2. Recognise the silencing taking place, and invest in building trust with grantees
  3. Fund groups with a range of legal structures
  4. Provide appropriate support for navigating regulations
  5. Consider alternative ways of distributing funds other than grant giving

Although all of the content in the report is heavily anonymised, I have decided not to make the full report freely available. If you would like to see a copy of the full report, just drop an email to debsgrayson [at] protonmail [dot] com


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