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How to deal with a challenging panel

Every Fair Share Trust panel is unique to its local area. When working properly, they consist of people who represent a wide variety of interests and services, all of whom have an active part to play in the community and who work with Local Agents to set local Fair Share Trust priorities and award funding.

It’s unsurprising that clashes of opinions occur. While it’s important to encourage passion for the work of the Fair Share Trust, some areas have encountered small groups or individuals whose enthusiasm is counterproductive, making it difficult to reach a consensus.

1

Problem: One dominant local group

In one neighbourhood, the panel had been dominated by a local tenants and residents association. It was decided that action need to be taken to re-establish the panel with a wider breadth of knowledge. Representatives of related service providers (such as Home-Start and a youth health project) and of faith communities were introduced onto the panel. Voting rights were re-allocated, and restricted to the represented organisations, though members from the previously dominant organisation were still able to attend meetings. This helped overcome the monopoly of the tenants and residents association.

2

Problems with Local Authority representation

One of the dangers of these challenging situations is that other panel members become frustrated by delays and lack of progress. In one area, the local authority that was heavily represented thought the money should be under their control and was slow to communicate with the rest of the panel. Even after attempting to build better relations by regular contact and open discussion, problems persisted, and local panel members threatened to withdraw. An emergency meeting was called by the Local Agent, who also met individually with all panel members, to resolve the underlying tensions and disparity of heavy local authority representation.

3

Changing the descision making process

This example shows how one Fair Share Trust area persevered in working with some challenging panel behaviour.  Distrust of the local authority and the local political context caused problems for this panel from the start. This meant that the panel struggled to reach a consensus, despite the Local Agent’s attempts at mediation and sessions on panel roles and responsibilities. Several options were considered, including disbanding the panel entirely. Instead, a new process was devised. A ‘virtual panel’ was created – the Local Agent now sends out copies of grant applications to all panel members by email and post, for them to rate against the local Fair Share Trust priorities. At the same time, the Local Agent seeks feedback from the local Community Planning Partnership on the strategic fit with other projects in the area. All responses are collated and presented to the virtual local panel for the final decision.

Since the change, there has been a renewal of interest, increased numbers of applications, and most importantly, the programme hasn’t lost momentum - meaning the local community will still benefit from funding.

4

The role of the Chair

An able Chair can be instrumental in maintaining good panel relationships. The appointment of a respected and high-profile individual with experience of chairing difficult meetings has resulted in more structured and focused meetings for one panel, freeing Local Agent staff to contribute fully to the meeting.

5

Keep the terms of reference active and refreshed

Reviewing and clarifying the Terms of Reference has been the solution in several areas. In one area, some panel members were under the impression that they were the final decision-makers – rather than making recommendations for the Local Agent’s Board.

Another area took advantage of the revision of the Priorities Document to retrain and re-emphasise the panel role. They approached this as a series of local panel meetings reviewing the existing priorities. Using large sheets listing the local priorities, they compared achievements against expectations, also factoring in the findings from a consultation exercise conducted as part of a Fair Share Trust funded project.

6

Keeping the panel Terms of Reference

One area was faced with two or three members frequently overstepping the regulations for grant giving, by suggesting to applicants that they would be able to ‘get the funding’ for them. Local Agents clarified this directly with the applicants, and also addressed the issue with the panel by referring to the agreed Terms of Reference.

 In another area, a panel member was not respecting the conflict of interest policy, and was asked to step down. Again, keeping to the agreed Terms of Reference enabled this to be carried out fairly and efficiently.

7

Keep common aims at centre stage

Gathering a wide range of relevant information about project proposals, combined with a strong and shared commitment to finding a meaningful solution helped one Fair Share Trust panel. Despite strong and at times heated differences of views on how to tackle anti-social behaviour among young people, the panel made significant progress through examining a detailed evidence-base of need, and drawing on outside expertise to assist their decision-making.

This process had a secondary benefit, in strengthening the local panel. Panel members now report increased confidence in themselves individually and as a group, and show a greater ability to work out the approach they want to adopt for developing schemes under other priorities.

Further information

 

Summary of key information

  • Consider keeping a wide range of people on panels but with restricted voting rights to ensure all voices are heard
  • Seek new members who may have expertise in the types of projects funded
  • Be aware that tensions can be played out in other areas
  • Actively build good relationships with all panel members – meeting individually if necessary
  • Ensure open discussion
  • Clarify lines of reporting
  •  Hold regular sessions refreshing panel roles
  •  Panel information sharing ensures everyone is up-to-date on progress and local issues – regular project updates to the panel as well as the panel updating local agents and CFN staff

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Page last edited Jun 16, 2017 History

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