Digital Fund Weeknotes 03 (19th–23rd November)

The first round of the Digital Fund closes in just over a weeks time and the inbox for the fund is now receiving more like 30- 40 emails a day, rather than 20. We’re all bracing ourselves for how many will arrive on Monday the 3rd December — the closing date.

What we are doing

This week we are doing much of the same — a cycle of reading applications, having calls with people who we’ve put through to the next stage, letting those who have been unsuccessful know, and then having Sift meetings (a space for discussing applications where we have differing views).

We are also introducing new people in to the team, so we need to work at a pace that they can get on board with and things like the Sift meetings become really important spaces for learning.

The rest of my to-do list this week looks like —

  • Pulling together a set of resources and materials for the new team I’ll be line managing. Part of my role at Big Lottery Fund includes building the confidence and understanding of digital grant making across the organisation. Initially this will start with my direct team (David, Cath, Joel, Amy and Billy— Birmingham, Newcastle, Wales and London respectively) but then using a networked approach, engaging more staff through regular hangouts online, peer coaching and openly publishing learning and insight (like these week notes) etc. I love organisational design shaped challenges and it draws on my MSc in Positive Psychology, but it’s something that requires some time and headspace!
  • Setting up a meeting with the Learning and Evaluation team here so that we can design what we hope to see in terms of change, value and impact from the Digital Fund.
  • Developing Strand 3 of the Fund, which will be launching in new year and is very much focussed on small (tiny) charities, associations and community groups etc.

What we are learning

Through the calls and the Sift meetings we’re learning that if we re-open the fund in the new year, we’ll definitely make some changes to questions in the application form. It’s great that John and Tom conceived of the fund in a way that means we can iterate it as we go — adapting it based on what we’re learning.

The Sift meetings are basically the 5 of us sitting around a table (with Amy and Joel on screen), and going through the “Master Spreadsheet” that has highlighted where we need to have a discussion based on differing scores. Each person puts forward the case for their score (and this is where our notes come in really handy) and then we all vote based on what we’ve heard through the discussion. So far this has been straight-forward, as people’s minds have changed as we’ve gone deeper in to discussion and understanding. As the Digital Fund (secondee)team grows and gets settled, hopefully they might start to publish their own Weeknotes and the learning from these discussions in particular, will be useful to share across the wider organisation in terms of facilitating greater digital understanding.

Two things I would highlight at this stage though, are that for Strand 1, we really are talking about redesigning organisations, not just new digital services. And for Strand 2, it is really important that the product/service is already being used, can evidence demand, and that people are able to articulate how the fund will help them grow their impact.

There are patterns in the applications which I don’t feel is right to share publicly until next week when the fund is closed, but this is interesting and exciting. It might mean that separately to the Digital Fund there is an opportunity to design a more systemic or ecosystem response to some of the challenges that social sector organisations want to address through digital.

What we’re celebrating

Billy and Amy, who only joined the team at the start of this week as secondees, are now fully contributing to the scoring and discussions about applications. This is brilliant and needed, especially as Amy brings 7 years of grant making experience and Billy has a great understanding of policy and engagement.

I’m celebrating that I sent Tom a love heart emoji via Whatsapp by mistake — and we got over it.

I was also lucky to join a learning community which will be hugely useful for me in my new role. Tom runs a group called Funders Who Tech, which is for people working in funding organisations who do digital grant making. I got to meet Fran Perrin who I’ve been following on Twitter for years but never actually met, as well as Gen Maitland Hudson, who is one of the sharpest people around — I love her tweets and blogs — and Helen Turvey who runs the Shuttleworth Foundation. Thanks for having me Tom!