The past year has been exceptionally difficult for everyone and it is with a heavy heart that we are announcing that we are closing down Losing Control due to the impact of the pandemic.
We (Bob Thust, from Practical Governance, and myself, Esther Foreman from The Social Change Agency) set up Losing Control in 2017. It was born out of a desire to support the many colleagues and organisations that were interested in exploring power dynamics in social change. Those who wanted to find new ways of sharing power and find practical approaches to improve decision making, governance and practises for greater social impact.
We brought together a motley crew for our first conference in Oxford – and were supported by several foundations who just wanted to see what would happen when we were set loose on the world with 120 people from all different sectors who were all interested in this topic.
The network was born and then grew from strength to strength. Between March 2017 and February 2019, the network had grown to 600 members, a steady beat of gatherings to share ideas and learn new skills, connections made, and (see our next blog post on the history and impact of the Losing Control Network) spin out groups such as Losing Control in Funding and Commissioning were started to get into the nitty gritty details of specific issues.
Our intention was to create a genuine peer-led network and, while we didn’t always get it right, we had developed a sustainability model and were en route to making Losing Control fly. What began as a big 2 day festival and enquiry into power had turned into a network of changemakers across a multitude of sectors and geographical areas. People were connecting to each other; finding each other in other spaces, events and other networks; supporting each other to take brave new steps; sharing training, learning and insights; and generally helping to shift power in systems and organisations from the insight out and the outside in.
However, the network was always designed to be a reflection of real life; it was based on people meeting each other face-to-face to build trust and share challenges and solutions. Lockdown presented a massive challenge to the model. The Losing Control organisers, much like the rest of the nation, sprung into emergency mode last March. We moved vibrant discussions online – hundreds of people across the network and new people from all over the world came together to explore the response to the pandemic. There was talk of solidarity, new forms of the high street, Mutual Aid, the role of local authorities and more importantly, how power was finally starting to shift as the response to the pandemic lay in the hands of local networks and local organisations.
Four months into lockdown, the management of the network just got too hard. The discussions around build back better were working until our members hit the 4-6 month wall (you know the one that you get in war zones and national disasters) and had to ask themselves, ‘actually, how do I stop MYSELF from shutting down?’ People were getting exhausted between looking after their local community, or getting their organisation through this ordeal as unscathed as possible while homeschooling, caring or even as many of us were, recovering from the virus itself. By the time the third wave hit, people were simply looking after their own sustainability. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but it slowed the beating heart of connection and fresh ideas that fuelled the network.
We had started to work with Nudj in late 2020. Nudj is an excellent emerging platform built for networks, innovation and connection, but we realised by April 2021, there was no way we could re-create the deep levels of trust, intimacy and connection that we created in our events, online.
It was very clear that the Losing Control Network had to become a virtual one. There was no immediate future where we could be doing conferences and face-to-face meet ups; the fire that fuels a network. Instead, we were facing a long dark tunnel of more zoom meetings, building an online training platform (which we never wanted to do) and trying to keep the Losing Control Network funded when our business model was built for real life. Our one-to-many network was turning into a one-to-one network and we did not have the infrastructure or the resources to manage this.
Our intention to make the network peer-led was failing fast too. This also wasn’t helped by the fact that most of the members of Losing Control are a lovely combination of do-ers and reflectors. The pandemic had swallowed up the doers as they understandably at every level, were 100% immersed in their local communities, their organisations or their networks, helping them to face the challenges that the pandemic and the lockdown brought. Over the past year, we lost most of our most active participants, ourselves included.
By the end of April, we had to admit to ourselves that we were done.
When we started Losing Control we swore an oath that it would never become a social sector zombie, a social venture shuffling around, half alive and half dead. If we were to continue we would need to start raising money to pay for costs and we would have costs because we were fundraising. This never ending cycle of fundraising without impact is everything we stand against. It seems only right that we practise what we preach.
However, all is not lost – the Losing Control in Funding and Commissioning group will continue to meet and flourish as there is great commitment, activity and interest in the network and its potential to help funders work together to shift power.
We would really love to encourage all our Losing Control members to join the CTRLshift network instead. We made great friends with them as Losing Control grew. Our shared values and purpose around shifting power will make it an excellent place where many of you will be able to carry on conversations and connections.
As of the end of May, we will not be holding any more Open House Sessions, we will be sending out our last newsletter and we will be closing down our Twitter feed and WhatsApp groups. By the end of June we will be withdrawing from Nudj platform.
In true Losing Control style, we will also be holding a funeral party/wake Losing Control Quiz on Thursday 17th June 5-6.30: to join please follow this zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84802067583 where we will celebrate all the things we have done and the new connections, friendships and social projects that have started due to Losing Control. There are way too many to list here. We hope to see you there.
So many of you have supported the crazy vision that we had at the beginning and we do not know how to thank you all enough. Special thanks have to go to our funders, Lankelly Chase, The National Lottery, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, JRF, Barnwood Trust, Blagrave and Power to Change, and our partners, Collaborate CIC, Transition Network, The Eden Project, and the countless other people and organisations who sponsored themes and areas and generally got involved to help power the network.
From Esther, Bob, Dawn, Betsy, Mikee – we thank everyone for their support!