A Community Approach to Rethinking Governance
Written by Dr Shaun Danquah & Paul Addae Jun 22, 2022

Categories: Blog, CR Blogs

“Governance structures .. need to be adapted to accommodate new challenges, varying dynamics and the emergence of new organisations .. who truly understand the nuances within the urban locale.”



(by Dr Shaun Danquah)

My first experience of rethinking governance came during the New Deal for Communities initiative (NDC) in 2005, introduced by New Labour in 1998. At this point, funding was allocated to organisations but not necessarily to communities. Traditional governance is not always equitable when it comes to race. Communities were not allocated funding as it was perceived they did not understand monitoring and evaluation, process, project management, budgeting protocols and financial regulation.

I became frustrated at this and had an intense conversation with the CEO and soon found, as per my being put on ‘gardening leave’, that I was reprimanded. During my time in the garden, I reflected on an idea, which I dubbed the ‘community anchor’. With this concept, I attempted to formulate a proto-rethought governance structure wherein the NDC would be utilised as a project hub, with communities having the autonomy to do what they do best at the hub and deliver services and initiatives to the grassroots.

As a result of my concept, which I had subsequently discussed with Lambeth Council, the council took on the idea. Lambeth Council adopted my revamped governance structure as an approach to engage grassroots organisations within the serious youth crime agenda under Steve Reid, the then leader of the council. Moreover, it was used as an approach to build the capacity and capability of grassroot organisations at the forefront of the youth crime agenda.

Centric have successfully won some funding from Lankelly Chase to look at governance and how it has manifested in real terms in the urban locale and how it can be rethought. The landscape is changing as distrust is prevalent, compounded by the cost-of-living crisis and apathy towards institutions increasing. Yet these complex and ever-changing issues cannot be handled with traditional governance approaches.

Consequently, governance structures within the system need to be adapted to accommodate new challenges, varying dynamics and the emergence of new organisations coming through who truly understand the nuances within the urban locale.

Challenges such as Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, new tech and the current financial crisis mean there has never been a more vital time to be agile and begin looking at more flexible models and frameworks for governance.

Conventional and traditional governance structures which create too much process and protocol can subsequently also cause conflict. Furthermore, underlying assumptions are often made about the community's literacy and comprehension of governance, fitting into unconscious bias, structural racism, paternalism and prejudice.

Background and Context

(by Paul Addae and Dr Shaun Danquah)

In the early 1980s in Brixton, South London, grants were distributed after the riots. Young black males were disproportionately targeted by the police in the urban conurbations and summary beatings and assaults, including deaths in custody, were commonplace, with largely black and Irish people dying in police custody in the UK.

The report published in the wake of the riots by Lord Scarman (1981) led to new codes for police behaviour exemplified in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and also the forming of the Police Complaints Authority in 1985. Yet, even though there were no black police officers in Brixton in 1985, Scarman at the time rejected the idea that the Metropolitan Police were ‘institutionally racist’.

Nevertheless, the first Brixton Riots of November 1981 set the ball rolling for Met Police reform and action on racial discrimination. Scarman deemed intricate socio-economic dynamics had facilitated the violent protests in Brixton. Further to the Scarman Report, in the aftermath of the Broadwater Farm Estate disturbances in Tottenham, North London, Lord Gifford conducted an enquiry in 1985.

Increased government funding was made available for minority communities (Annetts et al., 2009: 203) and Lambeth’s rate support grant was increased in 1982 (Benyon, 1984: 172). The campaign “We’re backing Brixton” was a private sector project, alongside funding from the then Inner-City Partnership, which resulted in some improvements in Brixton during post-riot Brixton.

For instance, Thompson notes in her book The Schematic State (2016: 166):

The Local Government Act 1966 and the Local Government Grants (Social Needs) Act 1969 gave local authorities with substantial numbers of Commonwealth immigrants the opportunity to obtain funding for special projects designed to meet the needs of minority populations.

The impact of the Local Government Grants (Social Needs) Act 1969 was also highlighted by Birkinshaw (1984: 56), while Anthias and Yuval-Davis (1992) highlighted funding made available after Scarman for black community organisations under the Urban Aid and Section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966 was significantly increased.

Nevertheless, Sudbury notes (1998: 12) that in the wake of this increased funding:

…the 1980s saw significant grant aid programmes being offered by the Greater London Council, which funded many black women’s organisations for the first time (Greater London Council 1986). Numerous scholars have identified this as the turning-point where black struggle was transformed into a ‘professional ethnic community’, run by a state-credited petit bourgeoisie of ‘career militants’ (Bains 1988: 240; A. Wilson 1984: 177; Gilroy 1987).

Sivanandan in his book Communities of Resistance (1990: 19, 124-126) argued for instance these new social movements represent the politics of the petit bourgeoisie, self-appointed leaders “whose task it is to look after the disadvantaged, but [they] are not the disadvantaged themselves” (Eder 1985: 876). Though Sudbury also argues that:

These critics ignore the complexity of community organisations which engage in both campaigning and service delivery and embrace both black politics and ethnic identities (Qaiyoom 1993b; Brixton Black Women’s Group 1984a: 89).

Yet despite this increase in funding, many organisations were reprimanded for not managing finances. However, it was later discovered that capacity was not built to support these organisations to improve their financial literacy.

Recommendations and Agility in Governance

These stories seem to plague black community initiatives and here in the UK there are stories of how former impactful organisations collapsed into insignificance due to allegations of misappropriation of funds and mismanagement – all indicative of poor governance capacity building in the first instance.

Training must be provided which emphasise procedures to ensure the split of funds and appropriate use. Running costs should be regulated and not disproportionate to charitable or organisational outputs, and effective controls on financial expenditure, along with clear authority, must also be in place. Yet, all of this should not be assumed within the current knowledge scope of communities hence, bespoke training may be required to disseminate these aspects of governance.

Moreover, fresh thinking may need to be imparted so organisations early in their development immediately begin thinking about diversifying their operations and effective sustainability. This ensures they do not merely become reliant on grants and donations but consider building their reserves from the outset, with a reserves policy for instance in the event of sudden cessation of finances or donations.

Although commensurate risks require management and record-keeping should be impeccable, governance nevertheless must shift and become far more agile, rather than merely becoming meta-project management. Agile governance emphasises adaptability, experimentation and bringing deliveries forward much sooner, recognising that progress can be measured not merely by reference to proxies over the work and what has been delivered.

This is particularly the case for disruptive enterprises and initiatives which do not always align with traditional and conventional forms of governance, as a lot of smaller actions get completed in a shorter space of time by teams which are more agile, self-organising and possess a wider breadth of skills.

Conventional governance looks for big things, rather than smaller deliverables and small progressive steps. This also means that major questions which get asked at the beginning, usually in governance, are asked continually as work advances in a more agile governance framework. This may mean in agile governance: “If we’re being honest, we don’t know when the work will be finished exactly or how much it will cost!”

Agile governance then is about decision-making but also recognising there is a level of uncertainty about some aspects and so tools such as flexible budgeting, based on evidence of value, may be required. This is even more pertinent in a post-pandemic landscape mired in a morass of financial ambiguity.

Agile governance can make challenges and difficulties more apparent, by getting the early and regular involvement of clients and decision-makers every month for instance, rather than just twice per year or quarterly. In this way, conversations can take priority over reports.

This fresh approach to governance focuses on outcomes and if end-users are satisfied, plus business benefits are achieved, then this is what should drive decision-making. Value over volume in agile governance is more significant, and being able to determine trends takes precedence over absolute figures as it takes into consideration things are changing fast, especially within complex environments.


Centric will be developing a piece of research, mapping out a timeline of challenges and conflicts which have arisen over governance within the black organisations in South London. This will be an important exercise for the team to tap into showing how conventional governance has been received across South London and when it has, or has not been, effective in communities. It also looks at the challenges which may have arisen within black communities due to governance processes.

Good grassroots organisations which deliver on the ground can often miss out as they do not have the right governance structures in place. This exacerbates inequalities and structural racism and increases the risks, as it shuts the door on individuals who have accessibility, credibility and positionality (ACP). With these insights, Centric will look at how we can co-design and co-develop agility within governance at a time when new strategies need to be developed.


  • Annetts, J., Law, A., McNeish, W. and Mooney, G. (2009). Understanding Social Welfare Movements. Bristol: The Policy Press. Anthias, F. and Yuval-Davis, N. (1992). Racialized Boundaries: Race, Nation, Gender, Colour and Class and the Anti-racist Struggle. London: Routledge.
  • Benyon, J. (1984). “Unemployment, racial disadvantage and the cities.” John Benyon (ed.), Scarman and After: Essays reflecting on Lord Scarman’s Report, the riots and their aftermath. Oxford and New York: Pergamon Press. 163-174.
  • Birkinshaw, P. (1985). Grievances, Remedies and the State. London: Sweet and Maxwell.
  • Eder, K. (1985) “The "New Social Movements": Moral Crusades, Political Pressure Groups, or Social Movements?” Social Research 52: 869-90.
  • Scarman (1981). The Brixton Disorders, 10-12th April 1981: Report of the Right Honourable Lord Scarman. London: HMSO. Sivanandan, A. (1990). Communities of Resistance. London: Verso.
  • Sudbury, J. (1998). ‘Other Kinds of Dreams’: Black Women’s Organisations and the Politics of Transformation. London and New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Thompson, D. (2016). The Schematic State: Race, Transnationalism and the Politics of the Census. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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