A Cassie Quarterly.

Cassie Robinson.
16 min readApr 18, 2021


My Weeknote’s definitely came to a halt at the end of last year. Partly because of having so little time and space, partly because it’s felt much better to be quiet for a while. I’ve also hit a bit of a wall these last few weeks — have found it hard to do any work — have tried to rest, and then wondered if actually writing this might be helpful in giving me my compass for the next few months. It’s part looking back, and part looking forward.

I’m not sure what rhythm I’ll end up in going forward but I do know I really miss the reflection and the writing. I’m someone that’s grown to love using writing as a way to think and make sense of things. It’s also just going to be a list because I feel that’s the only way I can write at the moment.


Ever Widening Circles

I started the year by feeling a need to reach out beyond the Fund — I felt like I gave so much of myself to it for so much of last year, and necessarily so. I also wanted to remind myself that I am Of The Network, and still someone able to traverse the edges of things — to have one foot inside and one foot outside. Like many of us I also felt like my world had shrunk in many ways and I was longing for new and unexpected edges. Early in January I sent the message below out to about 70 people I had newly followed on Twitter during the pandemic. People I didn’t know at all, but who’s work or ideas had led me to follow them. I had about 45 x 30 mins conversations over January and February, with people all over the world, and I’m still working out how to summarise them. I’m also continuing them, and I’d recommend it for anyone that wants to refresh their soil and expand their horizons.

I also tried to catch up on reading all of my saved tabs. I got though about 2/3 of them and tried to take some notes here, if of interest to anyone. I called it The Great Reading.

Wisdom Council

I’ve started to curate a Wisdom Council around me. I’m really excited about this. It feels different from mentoring or coaching and much more about a deepening and an expanding. Of course I am surrounded by many other wise friends and people in my networks, and to whom I’m especially grateful these last few months as I have needed to ask for a lot of advice and support. However, there’s something about formalising it that feels important.

Roots of Resilience course

I was introduced to Joanna Macy’s work through the International Futures Forum group many years ago and Roanne and I had a Joanna Macy book group. Together we read Active Hope and Coming Back to Life. I wanted to explore how the tools and approaches have developed over time and took part in the February and March version of this course with Molly and Kathleen. All the practices and resources are openly available here and include things like Deep Time practices to connect with future beings, writing letters to the future and so forth. Many of them are familiar.

“It’s heartbreaking to remain conscious and engaged in our crazy times. Everywhere we turn, we experience the Great Unraveling of our society and our world: systemic racism, the pandemic, global climate change, poverty, mass extinctions, etc. It’s clear we can’t continue with Business As Usual. The fear, grief, anger, and helplessness we feel can be unbearable because it’s not just our personal pain; it’s the collective pain of all life on Earth. When we come together and honour our feelings about our world, we realise our radical interconnectedness and become part of the Earth healing herself. It is essential that we do this work now. This precise moment is an opportunity for unprecedented transformation, a time to root into the wisdom of our living planet and to foster our resilience to take part in this transformation known as the Great Turning.”

The National Lottery Community Fund

My new role

In February I shared on Twitter that I have been promoted again, to a new role as Deputy Director Funding Strategy — Innovation, Policy + Practice. Job titles only matter when you work in a hierarchy, which I do 😉

I’d also call this a ‘Strategic Design Unit’ but that’s not a fit language-wise for the Fund.

It’s a new role at the Fund (though one I’ve kind of been doing for a lot of the last year less formally) and importantly in a new Directorate — the Funding Strategy Directorate. This is important because my team are now more explicitly involved in developing funding strategy. My role broadly includes the following:

  • Continuing to oversee the UK Portfolio funding programmes — from Climate Action Fund and Growing Great Ideas, through to Global Partnerships, Leaders With Lived Experienced, and Bringing People Together.
  • Establishing an ‘Explorations Service’ internally. Using a design-led approach to co-create funding strategy across the Fund, and engage with different Directorates, bringing in their areas of enquiry and their expertise. As well as bringing in from the external context best practice ideas, foresight, outsight and insight to rapidly scope and prioritise. This might include experimenting with new approaches (e.g how to use collective intelligence in grantmaking) or new focus areas for us to fund (e.g. like the New Infrastructure programme) or different kinds of capacity-building (e.g. resourcing community-led imagination through the Emerging Futures Fund). Part of this work is then about how it translates into the wider Fund context. We’re already trying to do this with the Digital Fund work, Leaders With Lived Experience funding and through a series of participatory grantmaking experiments. How we design and offer this as more of a coherent ‘service’ is the work we need to do now. There’s quite a shift to achieve in terms of how this approach is perceived and received. Using prototyping and explorations to build evidence, momentum and engagement in an area of focus is quite a different way of working for the Fund. Prototyping strategy and policy is a different way to bring confidence about the likely benefits of a proposed direction — putting ideas through their paces by making them tangible and exploring their implications early on — so that it can be trialled on a larger scale in a more rigorous way. I believe prototyping is especially important at the early stage of developing funding policy or strategy, when an area is not defined, and there are many possible directions to take. And of course I am biased but I believe the practical tools and approaches of design are especially helpful here — to be generative and identify possibilities, to refine questions, synthesise a range of constraints, unlock creativity, bring new and different perception to the work, make things tangible, and test assumptions practically.
  • Strategic foresight, futures, horizon-scanning and sensemaking. This is work to ensure that the Fund stays relevant, works wisely and does work that shapes and influences, not only work that is responsive and passive. As Caroline Mason says so brilliantly in this film about Esmée Fairbairn Foundation’s new strategy “We used to fund other people’s outcomes, we had no strategy or goals of our own, we had no opinions, we had no views on what we funded other than we thought it was good work… that was fine for its time but times change and we felt that wasn’t an appropriate model for the enormity of the issues going forward…and we needed to have our own outcomes that we were looking to achieve as an organisation….” This is key if we are to do work that actively shapes and orients, that takes responsibility for our positionality and our access to a view on the whole landscape. And it’s also work that is honest about the fact that whilst they know a lot, communities don’t know what they don’t know — we can’t only fund through the lens of “communities know best.” Some of this work is about building more capacity internally to think differently and longer-term, to use foresight and outsight, and to resource communities to also think beyond what they can know, feel, imagine or understand in the responsive present. To address this, over the last year we established a Fund-wide Scanning + Sensing Network, a Futures Club, and a fortnightly Futures Digest and we will continue to develop these. This work is also about gathering other types of intelligence — recognising what isn’t in the data, and the limitations of data in terms of foresight and outsight. My team have designed and are now hosting our emergent civil society strategy-making process. This includes running things like the Open Enquiries, monthly cross-fund Show + Tells and then collective sensemaking sessions to provide foresight material for SMT/Board to use for strategic decision-making.
Adapted from Policy Lab UK — my role, and the work of my Innovation, Policy + Practice team is focussed on the area circled in pink.

Ultimately, you can’t do ‘shaping’ work if you don’t think, imagine and explore further ahead, take ‘field’ ‘ecosystem’ or ‘landscape’ perspectives, and also from completely different kinds of soil. As per the quote below the times require of us to go way beyond piecemeal reform.

“Designing policy or strategy without an imaginative sense of where you are going means your best efforts will land you toward the front of the status quo, but not ahead of it. Imagination enlightens strategy, policy and programming and helps you break free of institutional thinking that leads you to piecemeal reform.” — Jennie Winhall

Goodness, that was really long — but now you know a bit more about my role. I’d say the whole thing is a bit of an experiment so lets see how we go.

Narrative Infrastructure

We’ve finally started some work that’s been in train for 2 years on scoping out what better narrative infrastructure might look like for civil society. I’ve written before about the need for better narrative work in civil society — something that goes beyond the over-reliance on simplistic stories, case studies and ‘lived experience voices.’ These complex times require new skills that draw on practices from culture, framing, data, and systemic narrative practice.

The US is ahead of us in this with both a Narrative Initiative, a Narrative Observatory and a Pop Collab — all funded through philanthropy. Towards the end of 2019 we met with Comic Relief and Gulbenkian Foundation to talk about co-funding the scoping and development of a UK version of the Narrative Initiative. It feels like an appropriate time to revisit this. The brilliant On Road Media — with Nathalie and Nicky — are going to lead this initial piece of work, and explore whether narrative infrastructure is needed here in the UK, and if so, what might it do, and how can it contribute to and strengthen the existing ecosystem.

Some initial thoughts on what it might do include the following — but there are a whole range of assumptions that need testing here.

  1. Build network infrastructure — Make connections between people and organisations working across narrative change disciplines. Provide infrastructure for an emerging field and create space for collaboration.
  2. Improve narrative change practice — Bring together tools and methodologies from the narrative change field and make them available and accessible. Highlight good practice, but also develop new practice, and build capacity across civil society.
  3. Catalyse alignment in the field — Explore opportunities for greater alignment among communities and the organisations that support them in order to advance deep narrative shifts.
  4. Highlight technology’s role in narrative — The landscape is vast and specialised, and there is little connection between the technology and narrative change fields. Organisations and practitioners are using new tools but rarely have the capacity to share access, invest in further development, and identify new opportunities.

Foresight Observatory

Similarly, as it’s also been in a train a while, we’ve now commissioned Careful Industries to scope out and prototype what a Foresight Observatory infrastructure could look like for and with civil society. From initial research we believe the Foresight Observatory should consist of a multi-disciplinary team of subject matter experts (economics, technology, social sciences, design, data science) working to create a knowledge base and share a continuous understanding of the future. This would:

  1. Help foundations fund for the future (be able to shape not just respond, and to take greater risks)
  2. Help civil society organisations to anticipate and adapt more quickly
  3. Draw together weak signals from across civil society to show what is coming next


  1. Strengthen the decision-making and evidence base for civil society
  2. Encourage more diverse and anticipatory funding decisions, so that funders feel more comfortable backing a more emergent world
  3. Help civil society organisations to more actively shape the stories of the future
  4. Co-ordinate and showcase the expertise and voice of civil society in long-term thinking and planning

We think this can be different to what is already happening because:

  1. It will centre different voices, experiences, perspectives
  2. Futures tend to be related to capital; what do they look like from the perspective of social capital, or stronger communities
  3. Ethical and responsible use of representative data; using atypical data sets to generate insight — a values-driven approach to data analysis
  4. This would be a collective endeavour across multiple trusts and foundations — this kind of intelligence is normally used for competitive advantage.
  5. It’s focus would be on building a foresight commons — a public infrastructure

Over the next 6–9 months Careful Industries will be prototyping how it can work — what does a cycle of activity look like that includes research, translation of research, design work, communications work, dissemination and adoption and the development of a community around it — giving back to the people who have helped to shape it.

Rachel and I have a design and planning session for the work next week and she is also recruiting for someone to work on it. Please share far and wide! One of my main aims is to bring other funders on board — some I’m already in conversation with — so that it can be situated as a shared infrastructure.

Collective decision-making, collective design + intelligence(s)

Ian, Paul and Bea are doing some design work with us to explore the question: How might tech support communities to carry out collective decision-making and collective design?

This started off as a brief to look at what affordances tech could bring to participatory grantmaking. Two weeks in and we’ve established that what we’re more interested in is how to create an end to end journey or experience, that starts further upstream, and that uses tech to bring coherence and belonging to the processes in an ongoing way. After I heard Farzana talk about ‘meaningful presence’ I am also interested in whether tech can create any feeling of this within an ongoing collective decision-making and design process. Ian and Paul, as skilled designers and technologists are looking at this aspect of the work.

Bea has a slightly different brief —

In any participatory process or collective decision-making process within communities, it can be easy to assume that communities have the insight that they need to be able to make the best decisions — decisions that are well informed, and benefit communities not just in the present but in the longer-term. These approaches never account for blind spots — communities don’t know what they don’t know, for our natural predisposition for short-termism, our biases, our crisis of imagination, our ignorance towards other ways of knowing and types of knowledge, and in some communities a lack of awareness about the affordances of technology in this context.

The questions that we’ve given Bea to explore are therefore —

  • What is the role of collective intelligence in grantmaking?
  • When human intelligence is combined with machine intelligence, how and where might this be useful in grantmaking?
  • What other kinds of ‘intelligences’ or ways of knowing or intuiting could communities draw on when imagining, decision-making, deliberating etc.?
  • If ‘collective intelligence’ was to grow into ‘collective wisdom’ how might that be developed during a grantmaking process?
  • Are there any examples out there of work that’s drawing on the collective intelligence / wisdom of communities and combining it with data/machine intelligence?

Imagination(s) Infrastructure-ing

Mark Hurrell’s wonderful design for our event.

Another piece of infrastructure we are thinking about, is one that seeds and builds capacity for community-led collective imagination. I’m writing a separate blog post on this to accompany the event below — so more soon. And please do hold June 10th as a date in your diaries, from 1pm GMT onwards. You can register to attend the event here and we will be announcing speakers etc soon. It will also all be recorded.

Tech and Impacted Communities

This was a programme I had signed off in March 2020, just before we went into the first lockdown. Late last Autumn Tracey, Ade and Edafe started scoping out how we might develop the work further. You can read more here.

“We are a collective group that aims to both ‘build back better’ and ‘build back fairer.’ We support the UK Black communities’ resilience — to resist and challenge negative consequences of data and technology. We work towards fairness — a future where technology and policy are designed to actively enable and improve the lives of marginalised communities impacted by technology.”

Disintegrating Silo’s Lab

At the Fund we’re about to announce our first ever funding partnership with a global corporation — a true social business. It’s been in development since last June and I’m really proud that we’ve made it happen. As part of the partnership, and alongside the funding we will do together, we’re also going to establish a new ‘Lab’ where we want to enquire around how civil society and social businesses can better work together. We’re hoping that over the next year we’ll bring more partners into the work too. I’m leading on this in the Fund and so if you know any corporations that are socially and ethically aligned with us, I’d love to connect with them!

A new Community of Practice in partnership with the European Foundation Centre

I’ve been working with Stefanos over the last few months to establish a new CoP with the European Foundation Centre. It’s called — Imagination, Regeneration, and Foresight — philanthropy practices towards a new paradigm.

We’ve got a group of 20 foundations from across Europe joining and I’m especially happy with the plurality of who’s in the room — large established foundations, some corporate foundations, as well as small independent ones. Delphine will kick off our first session next week. Our invitation was:

“We are living in complex, uncertain times that require competencies that we all need to develop. In philanthropy we’ve needed to work differently in the last 12 months — to be more flexible, more adaptive, to say ‘we don’t know’ and to be comfortable to ask questions rather than say we have all the answers. It’s also a time that requires us to do really transformative and imaginative work — to protect and preserve but also to take great leaps, and build preferred futures. It needs us to be smarter about how to combine both strategic and participatory grantmaking approaches, and more wisely weave together lived, learned and practiced experience. We need to embrace plurality rather than getting stuck in singular approaches — and recognise who we each need to be, and can be, within the wider ecosystem. This requires us all to ask what is needed of us now and to equip ourselves with new or more developed skills and competencies. This Community of Practice we help build those.”

Future Generations

I’m working with Roman Krznaric to develop a workshop for funders where they can build greater awareness and capacity in order to design funding with future generations in mind. We will have a designer on board who will turn the materials from the workshop into a shareable set of resources that we hope other funders will pick up. If you work as a funder and would like to join the session, please do get in touch.

Mission-Oriented Innovation Network

We’ve also officially become part of the Mission-Oriented Innovation Network at IIPP, headed up by my brilliant friend Rowan. This is a global network of organisations, all of whom are in the pursuit of public-value driven innovation.

“MOIN brings together over 75 leading global policy-making institutions — including state investment banks, innovation agencies, and sectoral units setting the strategic direction of governments — as well as private organisations interested in public purpose, to share the challenges and opportunities they face when trying to create and nurture public value.”

I’m looking forward to myself and some of my team being part of this community of practice for its relevance to our work at the Fund, and also for the support! It can be pretty isolating trying to create change from within a large public institution.

Other work

Creative Grantmaking

I’m in the early stages of developing a new Creative Grantmaking course with Goldsmith’s University, working with Sian, Matthew and my collaborator Sadaf Cameron. I’m really excited about this. It links to a very long blog post I wrote 18 months ago about the kinds of skills and capabilities I wanted to see more of in the funding world. If grantmaking (or the design of how money and value flows) is a practice, and if you want to do shaping work then it needs to be, then I wanted to see that practice seeded and explored within an institution known for its creativity and radicality. The course will start in the Autumn, but we are also publishing a website at the end of April with some initial content, tools and essays from grantmakers.

Ecologies + Technologies

I’m also developing a programme for on Ecologies + Technologies as part of the Ecological Design Thinking MA that I taught on last year. Imagine where the edges of the more-than-human and more-than-machine become imperceptible. This will start in June and all content will be filmed and shareable. I’m just finalising my co-curator(s) and then can start announcing the speakers etc.

The Point People

After a sabbatical last year I am back in relationship with the Point People. There is a new website, and some lovely blogs they authored during the pandemic. Next month we will also be publishing Design to Create the Systems We Need, in partnership with the Design Council. This has been a year-long inquiry by Jennie, Cat and I in the hope of evolving current design practice.

My Fellowships

This is the year I intend to do more with both Fellowships. The Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence one is new and so I’m just started to design a programme of work. I imagine this will focus on the application of design in shaping future intelligences (and wisdom).

With my Policy Fellowship at the Institute of Innovation and Public Purpose I’m going to look at the role of philanthropic money in missions, and what the character of that money particularly affords in terms of risks.

Lastly, if you haven’t already, do take some time to listen to the Audio Encounters on New Constellations. As these grow, and the other work the team has planned grows too, I know it will be a personal compass for me.



Cassie Robinson.

Working with Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, P4NE, Arising Quo & Stewarding Loss - www.cassierobinson.work