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NCVO hosting new initiative examining how understanding power can enable voluntary organisations to embody integrity

NCVO has announced that it is hosting a new initiative called Power & Integrity (PI) – launching today – which aims to enable more coherent, integrated and impactful approaches to organisational integrity in the voluntary sector. PI will investigate how understanding and addressing power can enable organisations to have a more complete picture of how they may cause harm and the steps needed to do better.

With an aim to support a sector-wide approach to issues of power and integrity, PI’s learnings will be shared on an open-source basis. It will be led by a team of independent experts and NCVO will host the initiative for an initial period of 12 to 18 months, with NCVO learning from its approach, after which the intention is that the PI will become an independent nonprofit organisation.

What is Power & Integrity?

The issues of power and integrity (see definitions in notes to editors) have been central to many of the highest profile stories and failings within the voluntary sector in recent years. Attempts to understand and take action are being increasingly prioritised, along with challenges to the long-held assumption that voluntary organisations have inherent integrity. The latest version of the Charity Governance Code recognised the critical role of voluntary leaders to address this by significantly enhancing the integrity principle and introducing the concept of addressing internal power dynamics for the first time.

However, approaches to integrity have often evolved in silos. Safeguarding, anticorruption, and antibullying for example, are often managed by separate teams with siloed oversight. This doesn’t provide a full picture of the harm organisations can cause or the steps needed to improve. PI will explore how voluntary organisations can adopt a holistic, coherent, systems-based approach that cuts across all areas of work. This includes exploring the role of boards, leadership, and governance, to enable power-sensitive organisations.

What work will Power & Integrity carry out?

The project will take place in several stages, with the first phase being hosted by NCVO. This first phase will see PI work with a pilot cohort of up to five organisations to run power labs, conduct research and to test approaches. The Oak Foundation is supporting the power lab to enable organisations to take part at little or no cost. PI is inviting organisations to get in touch if they are interested to know more. The organisations involved in the first phase will be selected through a robust and open recruitment process.

PI will also convene sector-level organistions to understand how best to cultivate increased coherence in the sector about how power works and its relationship to organisational integrity. Lessons learned will be shared on an open- source basis.

How will management of the initiative work?

The initiative will be run by a group of independent experts working initially on a pro-bono basis, with the aim of raising funds during the first phase. PI will operate as an independent part of NCVO but will sit within its management and governance structures. However, the initiative will be independent and afforded a degree of autonomy. PI will remain accountable to NCVO for delivering its objectives, complying with its policies and ensuring we align with the charitable objectives through NCVO’s lead consultant and a senior leadership steering group.

The group leading the initiative comprises eight independent experts. P&I was founded and is led by Alex Cole-Hamilton. Alex is an organisational integrity consultant and led on ethics for Oxfam GB following the safeguarding crisis. Other members include EDI, governance, transparency, and culture experts from board, executive, practitioner, and academic roles.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, project lead at Power & Integrity, commented on the launch:
“Power & Integrity is an open-source initiative which aims to cultivate shared learning within the voluntary sector to understand and address the relationship between power and organisational integrity.

“However good our intentions, non-profit organisations reflect society’s deep inequalities. For years, nonprofits and others have analysed power to address societal inequalities. But we have failed to understand that inequality is reflected in our own organisations. By taking a holistic approach to understand and address how power manifests in our missions, strategies, culture and ways of working, we can reduce harm and work with more integrity.

“Our preliminary findings identify that seemingly separate aspects of integrity have overlapping root causes. We also find that a whole-system approach to integrity, informed by power analysis, could not only address pervasive forms of inequality and harm within organisations, but also could result in strengthened oversight, strategy, and risk management.

“Our journey will take time. Integrating power-sensitive practice requires continuous learning and diverse perspectives to develop shared understanding. By learning collectively, our aim is to establish a strong foundation for organisations to strengthen their integrity, and ultimately their impact. By sharing our learning openly, our hope is that the whole sector can benefit. We’re inviting organisations and individuals to be part of this pioneering work. We hope you join the journey to support our sector to achieve its goals with integrity.”

Dan Francis, lead consultant at NCVO, said:
“We are delighted to be working with Alex and the Power & Integrity team on this vital issue. As an organisation which has experienced failings and challenges similar to the issues being examined, we are happy to be able to host the group’s work and share our learning with them. We hope to learn from their work too and we believe PI will help support continued efforts for an equitable and inclusive NCVO and wider charity sector.”

Further information about Power & Integrity can be found on the project website and recruitment for the pilot groups will begin during May 2022.

-ENDS-

Notes to editors

Media enquiries

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About NCVO

NCVO is the largest membership organisation for the voluntary sector in England. With 17,000+ members, NCVO represents all types of organisations, from large ‘household name’ charities to small voluntary and community groups involved at the local level. We are also the lead body for volunteering in England. To find out more visit the NCVO website.

About Power & Integrity

Power & Integrity (PI) exists to enable holistic, effective, and evolving integrity practice. By nurturing co-creation and shared learning of power sensitive organisational integrity practices, PI will cultivate just ways of working that evolve with changing conditions and new knowledge. PI aims to create an enabling environment, initially for the nonprofit sector, in which organisations can strengthen their integrity practice and, ultimately, their impact. To find out more visit the PI website.

Frequently asked questions

What do the terms power and integrity mean in this context?

Power: Adapting well-established work by nonprofits on power and inequality, we are exploring how societal power structures underpin negative organisational culture and behaviours, such as saviourism, sexism, racism, bullying, and corruption.

Integrity: We are exploring how organisations can embody integrity. We mean this in both senses of the word: honest, responsible, accountable, and principled; and, whole and unbroken.

What is the project hoping to achieve? What are the outputs/impacts?

PI exists to enable holistic, and dynamic integrity practice. By nurturing co-creation and shared learning of power sensitive organisational integrity practices, we will cultivate just ways of working that evolve with changing conditions and new knowledge. We aim to create an enabling environment, initially for the nonprofit sector, in which organisations can strengthen their integrity practice and, ultimately, their impact.

PI has just launched our initial discovery phase (our incubation), during which we plan to:

  • work with sector leaders to shape the strategy for our synergy-led approach – we want to understand how best to cultivate collaboration and common understanding of evolving integrity practice
  • run a power lab to adapt power analysis for organisational integrity – we will work in depth with a small number of organisations to pilot new power-sensitive whole system approaches
  • create an open platform to share learning and resources – all resources will be anonymised, but we will share what we discover as widely as we can.

Given the sensitivity of integrity issues, we will make sure we always provide a safe space to discuss findings and identify solutions.

How will it be funded?

We are currently seeking funding to enable free participation in the power lab. All current work is pro bono as we set up and explore opportunities for funding/income.

Who are the members of the Power & Integrity working group?

For biographies of the working group, please visit the team page on the PI website.

How will the project’s independence from NCVO work in practice?

Prior to incubation and hosting by NCVO, the PI initiative agreed its mission, vision, priorities and ways of working. This included plans to establish an incubation period for our ‘discovery phase’ in which we set the strategy and run the power lab(s) to develop the thinking and approach. We were aware that incubation/hosting would provide support, reach as well as accountability and assurance as we seek funding and partnerships. We naturally align with NCVO’s charitable objectives. Our incubation/hosting means that we sit within NCVO’s legal structure and adhere to their policies and governance. A steering group of NCVO senior leaders meet with us regularly to support the initiative and also as an accountability mechanism.

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