Over the course of this year, we’ve been working to better understand our community and the barriers to participation. The research was led by Anca Matioc and Ana Joaquina Ruiz from Agency, along with support from Nonso Jideofor, Ifeoma Okonji, and Ayomide Faleye.
Today, we’re publishing this report as a work in progress — and we’d love to hear your feedback. You can read the report, and share your thoughts by responding to our survey. We particularly want to hear from people who don’t consider themselves to be “active” Open Heroines.
In this blog post, we interview Anca Matioc to find out more about the research, the goals, and the approach they took.
Who are Agency?
Agency are a collective of consultants working on the “agency issue” within civil society. Our focus is largely on the Global South.
Our work focuses on the fact that civil society organisations structurally don’t have agency over their own agenda. Demands from funders often mean they are stuck in a project and reporting cycle — that means there’s a lack of equity and inclusion in processes that determine their work.
We work on creating and exploring processes that are meaningful and participative to better support civil society. In turn, this helps funders reshape their processes to give more agency to people on the ground who better understand the issues they are working with. Building trust-based relationships between funders and their grantees, civil society organizations, and among activists is key — that’s truly what shifts the power and creates more agency for all.
What is the goal of Open Heroines community research?
Open Heroines has grown quickly — it’s now a community of nearly 700 members. The community grew quickly because of word of mouth, events, and eventually their online presence.
People were joining from around the world, each bringing their own ideas and concerns around their lived experiences. Essentially, people were joining but did not know or did not feel comfortable engaging. This led to a large community in terms of numbers but not in terms of active participation.
We asked the following questions:
- Who are the members of Open Heroines?
- Who is engaging?
- Why do they or don’t they engage?
- How can we support the community better?
How did you approach the work?
It was really important to us that this research helped surface and analyse the complexities and nuances within the Open Heroines community, rather than diminish them. For this reason, it was really important that we worked with people who didn’t consider themselves to be active in the community, but wanted to help it grow and improve. We had 37 applicants from the community.
We created ‘clusters’ from these volunteers, setting tasks in small groups within the clusters to build trust, and finding different ways for people to engage. We made sure these clusters were diverse in terms of all types of representations — from countries and regions to interests and sectors — although we faced some challenges here which we discuss in more detail in the report.
We used theories of power to investigate who holds power in the community, and how those power structures replicate themselves (even with the best intentions of dismantling them).
It’s been really great to work with Open Heroines — both leadership and all of the amazing cluster members and Heroines we interviewed — on this. They’ve really embraced the idea of asking uncomfortable questions and having difficult conversations, which is central to this work. Thanks to the almost 30 Heroines who participated and made this work and report possible!
Read the draft version of the report and share your thoughts by answering our survey. We’ll be sharing the final version of this report, alongside bitesize blog posts that summarise our findings in January.