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Digital Fund Weeknotes 06 (10th — 14th December)

In between different office Christmas parties (Cardiff and London’s were last week, and Birmingham and Newcastle’s this week) we’re just head down and getting on with things.

I’ve also added a 4th section to these Weeknotes called Who Works Here? — each week I’ll introduce one of the people that works in the wider Big Lottery Fund.

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John bringing some festive cheer in to the office with his jumper.

What we are doing

Alongside application sifting and phone calls with applicants we’ve been doing some planning for early 2019. We wanted to give people realistic dates about when they’ll hear back from us, and for those applications we’re taking forward, how long that next step of the process will take. If we want social sector organisations to be more strategic and effective with grant funding then I think we can help them plan based on when they can expect money to land in their accounts.

We’ve also started to explore ways we can more intentionally direct some of the applications the Digital Fund can’t support, towards other funding programmes in the Big Lottery Fund. Next week I’m meeting all the Regional Heads of England to talk about just this and understand how we can work with them to take on some of the applications.

Whilst my main focus at the moment is delivering the fund, part of my role is also to look ahead and think about the future. This morning I met with the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation to talk about how we (and other funders) can be involved and shape how the data ethics agenda links up with civil society. Whilst the Digital Fund is focussed on the applications of technology, we also need to have in mind the implications of technology too. We started to discuss what it would look like to bring ethical technology practice to digital grant making and will meet again in early 2019.

What we are learning

As we’ve mostly been head down in applications, I asked each person in the team to share something they’ve learnt this week.

Cassie

“I’ve learnt this week how important it is to hold different timeframes in mind when making funding decisions — some funding needs to be responsive and about what is needed now, sometimes it’s important to zoom out and take a long-term view. Something I find really hard is recognising that some things are *good enough* for now — what is really needed or a better way of doing things, might take more time.”

Billy

“I heard a good quote on the phone, from an organisation talking about how they want to change their organisation: “less like a face lift, more like a complete body reconstruction”.

I’ve been really impressed by how many organisations I’ve read about and spoken to, who are already doing so much, for so many people, with such few staff and resources. Although the Digital Fund might not be for all of them — loads are already making a real difference, and could definitely get support from one of our other programmes.”

John

“I have learnt that it’s very tempting for organisations to want to use the latest technology, without questioning whether the new (ish) technology is best for the task they want to achieve. Also learnt that asking people to just submit a short outline of their idea was a good idea and has hopefully saved hundreds of organisations from filling out long and detailed applications.”

Amy

I’m finding the sift meeting discussions super-useful. I like that we have a real mix of different people in the group; everyone has something different to contribute, and there is always more to learn. For me personally I find them a great reminder to slow-down slightly and to challenge my own assumptions.”

I’d add how important is has been to create a rich learning environment in the Sift meetings where we each hear a different perspective and hold a space where there is no right or wrong.

Cath

“What I have learned is that the word ‘digital’ seems to encompass many terms and not everyone views digital in the same way. Digital just means ‘not analogue’ in its basic dictionary terms but people seem to view it as something a lot more mysterious and complicated.”

Joel

“ I’m learning how difficult it is when grant-making in a specific programme to reject applications from strong organisations doing great work with great ideas, but who just don’t fit the criteria.”

*Tom is on a plane and David is off sick, so no reflections from them this week.

What we’re celebrating

Laura sent out a holding email to everyone that sent in an Expression of Interest, which is a huge relief.

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Who works here?

Each week I’m meeting new people here in the organisation and they’re super impressive, so I wanted to introduce you to them. I’ll feature someone new every week and ask them the same 3 questions.

Rosie Mockett, Portfolio Policy Manager, @RosieMockett

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3 things you do in your role?

  • Creating a shared understanding of what we’re trying to achieve at the Big Lottery Fund, both internally and externally
  • Devising ways to co-create policy guidance and improvements with staff
  • Supporting the overall shift towards more conversational grant making, ensuring that our funding policies support a more flexible approach.

What are you working on at the moment that you’re inspired or excited by?

I’m most inspired by seeing people at the Fund, which distributes public money and is therefore subject to various rules and regulations, really push the boundaries and stretch themselves in terms of being more customer led, intelligence led, human and conversational in their grant making. It’s a movement that’s happening across the sector, but to see the change happening at such a large, public body shows the potential for it to become more mainstreamed in funder practice.

What is your burning question of the moment?

My question — Is the future of grant making decided by funders, organisations or citizens? My answer — Who knows! But I’m certainly keen to see the power shift as far as possible to the communities who are most impacted by the funding, facilitated and supported by policy makers and professionals who are led by communities, and constantly listening to what they need.

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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