Designing a more collaborative and connected funding ecosystem — an update from the Funders’ Collaborative Hub.

Over the last two months, as part of the delivery team of the Funders’ Collaborative Hub, we’ve started to undertake design research.

The first thing to say is that this is not quick work because what we’re really trying to understand and shift is funder behaviours and practice. Products — tangible things like the platform (which is also being developed) — can really help with this. Putting something in front of people to use is a way to see how people behave, how they understand something, how they interact with it, and ultimately over time, as the product or platform is adapted based on user feedback, it becomes part of the practice. Alongside this, we wanted to do a series of design workshops and interviews that start focussing on different aspects of funder behaviours whilst building a culture of trust and shared awareness at the same time.

The question that we’ve been focussed on is — How might we, as funders, set our priorities for recovery and renewal more collaboratively and interdependently in order to maximise our individual and collective impact?

With both workshops we had 16 people from different Trusts and Foundations in attendance.

Workshop 1

In the first we were setting the scene of the Funders’ Collaborative Hub, with broader questions that explored the wider context of the Hub. What did funders want to be different in a year’s time, by Summer 2021?

“That there is more considered funding happening across the funding landscape based on more awareness of what others are doing, so that at least longer-term, strategic funding is coordinated. And that we are funding more systemically (e.g. not individual projects and initiatives)”

People spoke of wanting to see a continuation of the collaborative emergency response, for more longer-term strategic purposes. That there would be a network of similar funders joined together to influence systemic change and a clearer understanding of how each different Funder was adding value in the context of the wider ecosystem. This would all be possible because of data available data to help each Funder define where they should play a role in the funding ecosystem.

“How do we take the willingness to collaborate in times of crisis and employ in “normal” times. The art of the possible has been demonstrated, but it seems likely that we retrench into individualism once this pandemic has passed.”

Another key theme was about seeing an increased representation of the communities funders serve within decision-making, inputting in to the design of funding priorities, and on staff and board teams.

We asked participants what the potential gains are that they thought more collaborative funding can help address. From the options that we gave them, people voted for the following:

  1. Understand what other funders are doing
  2. Increase diversity and representation within priority setting
  3. Play our best role with and alongside other funders
  4. Increase awareness of needs and gaps
  5. Better understand who we should work with
  6. Better understand the changing context

And beyond the voting people gave more specific examples of where that collaborative effort could be beneficial, and not just in the funding itself, but much further upstream in the discovery of needs and gaps —

“We are doing user research to inform priorities, but are sure that it is duplicating other consultation. We should be better respecting people's time and voice by doing that more collectively.”

“Can we develop a collective sense of where the gaps are and recognition of how the pieces of funding can fit together more broadly?”

We finished the first workshop asking the question — what is the most important intended outcomes for the Funders’ Collaborative Hub? From the options that we gave them, people voted for the following:

  1. Increase the diversity of voice and perspective within priority setting and increase the representation of those with lived experience of social issues within decision making processes and grant partnerships
  2. Increase the collective impact of multiple funders working on the same sub-sector, issue, audience or system
  3. Reduce duplication and increase the benefits of funder efforts to understand needs and gaps in systems, identify who is playing what role, build relationships and design their funding
  4. Build shared ways of working and infrastructure that improve long-term alignment and interdependence and increase the collective impact of UK funding sustainably
  5. Increase the confidence of Trusts & Foundations that they understand where they can play their best role in Covid-19 recovery and renewal with and alongside other funders

Workshop 2

In the second workshop we focussed in on the processes that funders are going through to set priorities in response to the current crisis. We also wanted to identify immediate opportunities for funders to design priorities with more mutual awareness and interdependence.

In this session we could see there is appetite for offering and delivering different approaches to sector support and building shared infrastructure. Funders want to embark on more coordinated effort and collaboration, but there is currently a lack of established approaches and platforms through which to do this. There is also appetite for more systematic learning shown through comments like “How do we keep the best parts of the response and change other things” and “Are we collecting sufficient data to have effective learning from this whole period/process?”

This session also highlighted some of the challenges that the crisis has surfaced. A lot of funders have defaulted to providing more support, with more flexibility to existing grantees and organisations they know, rather than identifying what organisations are best placed or most important within the response and further stages of the crisis. People also spoke of how critical ambitions that haven’t aligned with the immediate needs of crisis have been pushed back and there is anxiety about how much this will continue as the crisis evolves and what the longer term effects of this will be. Lastly there was a shared sense of lacking the data and insights required to identify needs, gaps, changes etc.

These are all good starting points for the design of the Funder’s Collaborative Hub, and to ensure that the Hub is immediately useful we know that sharing and socialising the questions that different funders are asking at this time, almost in real-time is key. That’s why I’m sharing below some of what we heard in the workshop when we asked — What changes to your priorities are you considering for the next 6–12 months? What questions are you asking right now?

These are just some of the questions people shared which touched on mutual awareness and collaboration, resourcing, challenging existing practice, participation and representation, priorities, responsiveness, and learning and adaptation —

  • How do we practically work with other funders?
  • Who else is funding what, so we can avoid duplication?
  • How can we do things in a way that shares responsibility and accountability across a network of funders ?
  • What should or can our role be?
  • Can we encourage or support delivery charities to collaborate more ?
  • How do we make sure we are not just plaster sticking? Re-patterning old patterns.
  • How do we stretch our (and wider civil society’s / and other Funders) thinking about what is possible at this time?
  • Capacity is an issue — we are already over full capacity, how do we keep this going in the medium-longer term?
  • We’ve been able to be more flexible and work more quickly, how do we keep that going longer term with not enough capacity?
  • How do we manage spend given that our income is likely to go down?
  • How do we define those facing greatest disadvantage — should we include a new regional focus for our grants?
  • How can we get money out of the door quick enough while giving charities enough time to apply and us enough time to design new approaches ?
  • Some charities won’t survive this period -how can we help charities to have ‘a good end’ (assuming our funding couldn’t stop them from closing)?

As a funder, are you asking similar questions? We’re looking to gather more of those questions and enquiries here.

Would you be interested in joining further workshops and building a shared evolving view of what’s needed where and who’s doing what where? Please email me on cassie.robinson@tnlcommunityfund.org.uk — this is a growing community.

Thank you to Nick Stanhope who’s been my collaborator in the design, delivery and synthesis of these workshops.

Written by

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

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store