I’ve never worked as hard in the year between April 2020 (when I took on my previous role) and March 2021 (when I started my new/current role as Deputy Director Funding Strategy, Innovation, Policy + Practice). Over the course of that year, I started work on a number of different projects, partnerships, and infrastructures which are all now out in the world. I’ve written a bit about some of these projects below — partly as a way to close a door as some new ones open, and partly because all the initiatives are generating interesting things out in the world now.
Ten Year Grants — Growing Great Ideas
At long last, we have announced the first cohort of recipients of Growing Great Ideas (GGI) grants — a UK funding portfolio programme that provides significant, long-term funding (over a period of up to ten years) to organisations working closely within their networks and ecosystems to build generative, transformative infrastructure for the public good. This is infrastructure to support a transition from now to next.
GGI is based on the idea that in the light of the social and environmental challenges we are facing (many of which predate the pandemic), we need to invest long-term in the groups and networks who are trying to do things that go well beyond fixing or adapting the current systems. The work we have funded through GGI goes well beyond simply redesigning existing services. Instead, it reimagines entire systems and narratives, and focuses on deep, transformational change. The initiatives in this programme eschew the idea of ‘going back to normal’ and instead offer a new vision of what ‘normal’ could look like. They show new ways of organising, new ways of creating value, and new logic models for economic value and social systems.
To capture that process of transformation we used the Power Shift Framework (Fraser and Glass 2020), an adapted version of Geels et al’s Socio-technical Transitions Theory, and we are looking for projects that operate in at least two of these four layers:
In the first cohort of grantholders are ecosystems of work that are finding emergent, creative, relational ways of dealing with some of the biggest challenges our society faces — from racial injustice, to industrial farming, to an economic system no longer fit for purpose, and beyond. Olivia has written a series of blogs outlining the dreams, ambitions and long-term vision of each of these projects, whom we funded £5 Million each over 10 years:
- Transition Network
- Slow Ways
- CIVIC SQUARE
- The Doughnut Economics Action Lab
- Open Systems Lab
- Farming the Future
- Down to Earth Project
- Black Thrive Global
- Healing Justice London
The work each of these initiatives is doing gives me hope for the future. These initiatives attract people to them because they are different, because they are asking new and better questions, and because they are working in ways that recognise interdependence.
“All good work grasps its discontinuity with the past. The work of building a better future is profoundly different now than it was even a few decades ago. Effective strategy — in the real world that exists underneath denial and delay — demands a sharp break with what worked in the past. In this new era, the strategies that can seize opportunities and produce change are different. The sets of skills and insights needed to develop and execute those strategies are different. The challenges each of us face in building a good life and a strong community are different. The habits of mind we need to be at home in the world are different. Even the kind of conversations we have with those closest to our hearts — about our plans, hopes and dreams — are changing as we come to accept our changed realities.” — Alex Steffen
But we need more of what all these initiatives are doing, and as a funder it’s not just about investing in these alternatives — it’s also about creating the conditions through which many more of them can be seeded and grow. Field-building for the third horizon.
Now that the first cohort has been announced, we are spending our time working with more potential grantees in the pipeline, as well as working out how to evidence progress — for individual grantholders and for the cohort and funding stream as a whole — and building wider funding ecologies around the GGI recipients.
It’s important to acknowledge, too, that GGI itself emerged from an ecosystem — thank you to the Advisory Group — Panthea, Anab, Jennie, Cat, Josina, Gemma, Gabriella, Giulio and all the others who have helped bring it to life, including Olivia, Louise, Sophia, Indy and Kerry. We took our UK Funding Committee on a journey in the design of this funding programme, and found ways to show how it might be different from what had felt familiar.
We’ve got some other blogs on the way on the corporate site that share more about what we’ve learning.
Our Partnership with IKEA
Another project that’s been in the works for months but has only just been announced is our new funding programme Places Called Home (PCH), for which we’ve partnered with IKEA. The goal of PCH is to inspire and enable activities that build more connected, more resilient and more sustainable communities and places by making available £1.5 million in grants and a learning platform with Participatory City to enable people to invest in their local communities, building on the energy and creativity of people coming together during the Covid-19 pandemic.
What’s exciting about the partnership is the ‘everyday-ness’ of our two brands within social infrastructure. We’re both prominent in the public consciousness — in peoples’ homes and on street corners across the countries — making it possible for us to collectively raise awareness and encourage action, attracting more and more people within both communities, businesses and funding networks to get actively involved in the creation and renewal of future thriving, resilient and powerful communities.
This partnership helps us move beyond out-dated thinking in terms of ‘sectors’ — the private sector, public sector, charity sector, etc. and begin to move into a more ecoystemic paradigm. To this end, and alongside the funding and support, we’ll be launching a Learning Lab for other interested funders and businesses. In the long-term, the Lab will be a place for us to focus on our long-term focus on community missions: to share what we learn and to invite others to explore what it means to build shared, cross-sectoral community missions that draw on various kinds of capital and assets.
This is the first funding partnership that The National Lottery Community Fund has had with he private sector and I learnt so much taking it through Board, Committee, legal etc, which I couldn’t have done without Emma Robinson in the UK Portfolio. It was funny to initiate this partnership with Hege, who I met back in 2008 when we were both working on the edges of things, in new social enterprises or on projects that sat on the fringes — so to come together when we both happen to work in places so prominent in the public consciousness felt like an opportunity not to be missed.
Emerging Futures Fund
The Emerging Futures Fund was a funding stream we established at the National Lottery Community Fund to invest in communities to bring forth their collective imaginations to seed and centre new narratives and projects that could pattern entirely different futures. It was launched in response to Covid-19, which irrevocably transformed the ways we live, work, travel and connect with others. The Fund sought to go beyond an emergency response to the devastating effects of the pandemic on individuals and communities, opening up a space for change, for healing and for new possibilities to take root.
Through the EFF, we funded 52 communities across the UK addressing various issues facing them. Emerging from their work (no pun intended) is a web of new narratives, resources, relationships, and ideas — seeds for the future these communities are building today. These include this film based on New Constellations’ work in Barrow-in-Furness, this film on imagining a new future for land in the UK: with land we can, Hilary Cottam’s paper on the need for a new infrastructure for imagining the future and building local/community capacity, Jessica Prendergast’s blog on attachment economics, Gentle/Radical’s Doorstep Revolution, CIVIC SQUARE’s Department of Dreams, the Design Council’s Design, differently project centring on community-led design and a community foresight resource from WCVA. These are just some of all the brilliant things seeded — more can be found on the website.
We’ve been doing a lot of work over the last 6 months on the idea of imagination infrastructuring, with a growing community of people and organisations — writing, events, and more — so much work, in fact, that we’ve created a new website to house it all: https://www.imaginationinfrastructuring.com/.
As part of this work we’ve developed an International Learning Community (hosted by Nicole and Thea) as well as a Community of Practice centred on imagination infrastructure and community-led foresight, a monthly session hosted by MAIA Group where different collective imagination practitioners share their work (and you can sign up to the CoP by clicking here).
We’ve developed a Collective Imagination Playbook — initially for the Imagination Infrastructuring event hosted in mid-June. The Playbook was a way to acknowledge and bring to the table the rich and sprawling field of collective imagination. The playbook is a live, open document that can (and should) be added to by anyone with an interest in the work of the collective imagination. We currently have two US based practitioners developing additional material for the playbook.
What’s next for this work beyond the community growing? Some of the Emerging Futures Fund grantees like New Constellations have been awarded larger grants to take the work they did in Barrow to other places in the UK. We’ve also partnered with Unearthed and Watershed to do a UK tour — taking collective imagination practices to rural communities and towns. That will all start in the Autumn.
We’ve started work on a range of other infrastructures, too, including:
- The Civil Society Foresight Observatory — a new collaboration between Careful Industries and the National Lottery Community Fund, the aim of which is to “weave together formal foresight practices with other lived and learned experience to create a new foresight commons” (Rachel Coldicutt, here)
- Narrative Infrastructure — a piece of scoping work being led by On Road Media, and which you can read more about here.
- The Funders’ Collaborative Hub — which is currently seeking input on a survey to inform its post-pandemic refresh, including updating the Hub’s look, feel, tools, service and activities.
All three of the above are interesting for how they become shared infrastructure — collectively invested in by multiple funders, similar to 360 Giving and Catalyst.
- Collaborated with the GLA on an event at the 2021 Festival of Ideas on Civic Infrastructure — Many of the resources and reflections from that event are here, including a poem by Olivia.
- Collective Tech — an investigation into how tech can support communities to carry out collective decision-making, design and collective action. We’ll be doing an event about this work in September and I think there is something very practical and newly useful about what the project team have come up with.
- Linked to the above but starting from a wider lens, we gave Beatrice Karol Burkes a brief — see below — to look at the role of collective intelligence in grantmaking and how that might progress towards collective wisdom. In particular Beatrice has been looking at different types of wisdom/intelligence that might have a transformative impact on how we do grantmaking (e.g. machine intelligence, embodied intelligence, relational intelligence, etc). The work will be shared in September, alongside an event and I’m especially excited about the direction of travel this work suggests.
Tech and Impacted Communities
Pre-pandemic our UK Funding Committee signed off us exploring how we could direct some of the Digital Fund resource towards tech and impacted communities. Initially we’d proposed to focus on race and technology, and this was before last Summers Black Lives Matters uprising. It now feels more important than ever. We commissioned the brilliant trio Ade, Tracey and Edafe to take forward the work— they led an exploration on the impact of data and technology on Black communities in the UK. So far what they’ve learned was that:
- Awareness-raising isn’t enough;
- It’s important to understand who we, as funders, need to work with to improve the ways in which data and data centric technologies are used in our lives;
- It’s important to foster an environment of psychological safety;
- Challenging tech power requires a whole system approach; and
- Data and data-centric digital technologies also support greater inclusivity.
As part of the work they made a set of recommendations for the National Lottery Community Fund on how to support rather than extract from marginalised communities. Alongside several other funders we are now in conversation with the group about where the work goes next.
Developing new seeds
Alongside the funding programmes mentioned above we’ve also been able to fund other great work through our UK funding budget. Some I’ve been personally involved in and am excited by include:
- Innovation development grants to some great initiatives like Rekindle School, Kin Structures, Local Equality Commission, Cooking Sections ClimaVORE, Initiative Earth, Multitudes Co-op and a new Regenerative Design fellowship in partnership with the Design Council. Other grants in this space don’t have websites yet, like Liberated Futures — an International network of signal spotters and horizon scanning folk. Some of them don’t even have names yet, like a young black women led cultural organisation that is being scoped out.
- Initiatives we got money out to during the pandemic beyond the usual service delivery organisations, like Do It Now Now, Common Knowledge, Spark & Co, and the Landworkers’ Alliance.
- And new grants we’ve just awarded through our open UK Funding programmes like Whose Knowledge, MySociety (to develop their climate tech work), Understory and Neighbourly Lab.
I mention all these initiatives because each of them are doing really important work and I always think part of our role as funders is to signpost out to things that can inspire and give hope. Also, none of this would have been possible without a brilliant team of people — in the UK Portfolio, the wider Fund and others external folk that supported the work in different ways.
Lastly, this blog is all about things that are now in train, if you are interested in some of what I’m going to be focussed on when I come back to work in September, you can read more here.