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Six weeks into my new role.

What have I been doing this week?

  • I’m probably spending about 3 days of my week at the moment still on the immediate crisis response, whether that is in internal meetings, supporting my team, reading 450 pages of assessment papers, writing assessment papers, speaking to grant holders and potential ones, and so forth. The stats below, and my Tweet from earlier this week, show the work that’s going on at The National Lottery Community Fund at the moment. It’s immense. And hearing stories of all the work that civil society is doing to support people in this new reality is extraordinary. I’m needing to turn more of my attention towards the future now — the recovery and renewal (more below) — but I think generally the whole organisation is going to be working flat out like this for some time.
  • I’m on the Faculty on States of Change and some of us came together this week to listen to research that some of the faculty (Marco and Sascha) have been doing, by interviewing many of us. Rather than present it in slides, they read out quotes from the work, in a poetic way that was meditative and reflective. It was a lovely, different way to listen. A few quotes that stood out for me are below. We also had a planning session about the festival they will be hosting in June.

“We need to decommission those aspects that are holding us back from the future we want.”

“Participatory futures make a lot of sense in the current crisis. Every time we take a decision we save the future. The imagination of the future happens in the present. It is illuminating to talk about futures in plural, instead of singular to highlight that we have a space to shape what the future can be.”

“Central responses have been rapid but not agile. Centrally directed and locally delivered should change to centrally supported and locally led and delivered.”

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Festival planning.
  • I’ve had quite a few meetings this week just trying to get my ahead around different parts of the organisation. I know I have been at TNLCF for 20 months now, but in this new role I need to work with a broader range of teams and departments. It’s mind boggling sometimes and as a designer I’m endlessly fascinated by how organisations have been designed. Something the crisis has positively done for me in my new role is very quickly highlighted where there are fault lines to work on in terms of relational dynamics, where and how things get slowed down in the organisation, and where things don’t easily link up or flow in a way that would make work more effective. It’s felt like us working at pace and under pressure in the crisis has been like seeing blue dye run through the veins of the organisations culture, making visible knotty parts that would have taken me months to excavate in normal circumstances. I should say I’ve generally been blown away by how well we’ve all pulled together across 850 staff and 4 countries.
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  • This week I had the last call sorting out a programme of learning + inspiration for my new team. I’ve curated a range of speakers to cover social dreaming, embodied futures, narratives for complex change, strategic design and a range of social foresight, futures and public imagination practices.
  • We had our third and fourth week (because of the Bank Holiday) of sense-making with Graham as part of the Scanning + Sensing Network that my team have set up. There are now 42 colleagues signed up across the UK, and whilst not all of them attend each of the sense-making sessions, I’ve been really impressed by the level of engagement.
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Sensemaking with Graham using the Three Horizons.
  • I’ve had calls with various people I know at other Trusts and Foundations this week — Ben at Community Foundations, Alice at Lankelly Chase, Emma at Comic Relief, Jake at Paul Hamlyn, Tobias at Edge Funders, Sarah at Omidyar — it’s so important to stay in touch about what we are each doing. I’ve really appreciated the peer support too.
  • I had two meetings this week as part of the Collaborative Funder Hub — which was more formally announced this week. I’m in a team *designing* the Hub, and I love that we will focus as much on the behaviours, relationships and culture needed for this kind of coordination, as the data and tech that will enable it. I especially love Caroline Mason’s vision that this has the potential to change how Trusts and Foundations work together forever.
  • I caught up with Rachel and Gill very briefly on Glimmers — Digital Futures for Civil Society— a piece of work we commissioned before the crisis but that feels more relevant than ever.
  • Nick and I had a call with Chris of Tech Soup in the US about the Foundation Design Lab, amongst other things — he had reached out to us to find out more about it. He’s asking some great questions about civil society, social and tech infrastructure and I’m hoping we’ll end up doing something together. We also linked him up with Catalyst.
  • I had a wonderful first chat with Sharon Chang of Future Architects. Thank you to Casper for the introduction.
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What has been important this week

Yesterday we took a proposal to our UK Portfolio Committee for a new grant programme and it was given the go ahead. These are going to be more about enquiries and experiments than traditional grants, and I can share more on that soon through official channels. I was pretty happy it went through and how it will feed into a much bigger enquiry that I talk about below.

Outside of my TNLCF role we hosted the first Loss Circle as part of the Stewarding Loss enquiry, funded by Paul Hamlyn Foundation. I’d been tentative to do these. Is it too soon? Are we well equipped to hold the space? Actually it went really well, and that was a lot to do with the great team I’m working with — Iona and Cass. It felt like we have lifted the lid on something hugely important, that people do want to talk about, and as someone said — “We don’t have the language or the tools to deal with organisational endings and the loss that comes with that.”

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What I have learnt

There is a lot I need to learn over the next few months. The UK Portfolio is undertaking an enquiry about the medium and longer-term needs and opportunities for civil society in its recovery and renewal. As Russell Davies says, a good strategy helps make decisions about what you will and won’t do.

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The questions below are some of those I’ve posed to colleagues this week, and that we will be seeking to answer through this enquiry work, alongside others that will appear as we go. I’d love to hear what other questions people think Trusts and Foundations should be asking as they consider the longer-term.

  • What timeframes do we want to consider? (after 6 months, 3 years, 10 years? )
  • What language do we want to use (beyond our existing messaging) — E.g Recovery, renewal, maintain, rest, build back better, bridges to the future, seeding the future
  • Do we want to commit to some thematic areas?
  • Do we want to commit to some ways of working — PGM, foresight etc.
  • Do we want to/ how can we explicitly fund in a way that acknowledges the unequal experience that people are having?
  • Do we want to link Covid recovery explicitly with climate?
  • Do we want to do open and responsive or targeted and strategic (or both)?
  • Do we want to have different funding streams that recognise the different kinds of pace needed (e.g quick experiments alongside slow, deliberative seeding and strengthening of People of Colour led infrastructure)
  • What does it mean if we can’t plan far ahead? (e.g will we need to invest in individuals/ communities and teams, rather than projects?)

“With rules in flux, it will feel hard to plan weeks ahead, let alone months.”

The Economist

  • Who will have ideas about renewal and the future? (e.g how do we ensure it’s not the same people doing all the thought-leadership? Can we give people resources to have time and space to engage?)

“When mental capacity is taken up by worries about whether or not to touch that door handle or whether or not to believe the results of the latest study on the virus, focusing is difficult.”

The Economist

  • Do we want to commit some funding strategy to be about stretching ideas / aiming for things that are transformative?

The collapse in investment points to the second trait of the 90% economy: that it will be less innovative.”

The Economist

  • Do we want to incentivise / encourage more coordinated activity / collective effort e.g fund more partnerships in renewal and actively seek them out? This would help re-pattern civil society.
  • Do we want to ask for additional commitments for longer-term funding e.g that the org will finally adopt better digital infrastructure or practice, or that all orgs getting renewal money will need to make commitments to climate action? (this is an opportunity to seed new behaviours across the sector)

I’ve also been reflecting on what spaces I go to at the moment that take me away from work. This is a new thing for me, as someone who’s never had any distinction between my work and the rest of my life — work now feels like something I need an escape and rest from in a way it never has for the last 16 years.

This week I was grateful for a lunchtime session with MAIA Group who held a space for honouring ancestry and our elders, to see my old friend Dougald Hine as I joined an eight-part online series with him called Homeward Bound, and This Human Moment who have provided the most beautiful space and experiences for my last three Friday evenings.

I’m grateful too for my regular Tuesday and Thursday evening gatherings with different groups of friends, and my Sunday morning virtual coffees with Shelagh Wright bringing some different perspectives into my small bubble of the world. I’m normally the one that gathers people but I have had no energy the last weeks, so I’ve been really appreciative of others doing that.

Written by

Senior Head, UK Portfolio at The National Lottery Community Fund & Co-founder of the Point People. Previously Strategic Design Director at Doteveryone.

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