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Digital Fund Weeknotes 15 (18th — 22nd Feb)

Firstly, if you are a social sector organisation, I’d recommend signing up to these funded places at Doteveryone’s Responsible Leadership training.

What we are doing

I have had some great meetings this week, to name just a few — with Lizzie Hatfield in DCMS (Office of Civil Society) about the Tech For Good agenda that is at the heart of their policy work now. With Tom who set up the Digital Fund and I’m excited about some plans we’re cooking up. And a mind bending chat with my friend Alastair Parvin about how the social sector could aim to “out perform” rather than just survive, alongside developing a new social contract.

We’ve been doing the usual calls, call log writing, Sift decision meetings, writing responses, dealing with disappointed applicants, and supporting applicants we are taking through to next stage. We now only have 25 calls left to do though!

Alongside this we’ve set up 7 events across the UK. With 1200 applications, we wanted to do something that acknowledged the demand and show up in person to give feedback and answer questions from applicants that weren’t successful this time. It feels like an absolute necessity to do this as a funder and is important in terms of spreading insight and new practices across the sector too.

The events are happening in different regions and countries across the UK, and will be a mix of us sharing insights and learning, doing lots of listening and then we’ll also have some practical content (including people like Janet from Reach Volunteering joining us to talk about Digital Trustees and people like CAST and Snook doing sessions on good digital practices). We’ve sent this all out in an email to the 1200 applicants but you can also sign up through the links below.

We will be in:

What we are learning

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I’m handing over to Billy this week, who joined the Digital Fund team a few weeks after I arrived, on secondment from the Policy and Public Affairs team. Today he leaves us for a new adventure, and so he’s going to share what he’s learnt over the last 4 months.

  • How much more there is to do for the social sector to be digitally literate — not just in terms of understanding, skills and practices, but how technology is changing society too.
  • How digital technology and systems are making a massive difference to people’s lives — and how much wasted potential is out there.
  • More than ever, the value of using data to make better decisions — and how many decisions are made without looking at what the data is saying.
  • That the social sector is still largely made up of good people, doing good work, but without questioning enough whether their theories of change are still relevant and enough.
  • Cassie’s approach to running the Digital Fund has been a revelation. It’s a bit outlaw and at times felt chaotic, but once we pushed through the more intense storms of applications and phone calls, it’s been easier to see what it is that we can achieve with the Digital Fund. It’s the first time that I’ve worked in this way, and seen the results of, a lot of the ideas that I’ve read about — working flexibly, changing things as we go along, learning from mistakes and being reflective.
  • Some of the things that I’ve been told about through phone calls have really blown me away, and reminded me that there is so much we can do with the technology around us — notably, Right to Succeeds use of data to change school exclusion rates in Blackpool, and FareShare’s ability to redistribute 9% of the food potentially wasted by British supply chains.
  • Putting services online is not necessarily the same as scaling impact.
  • There’s a role for services providing digital training — but that is not the same as using digital to help people learn more. And there’s probably enough digital training services out there anyway.
  • Organisations in the social sector can be too territorial — they are not always willing to let go of their monopoly on doing good, and perhaps don’t consider enough whether their missions and services are still fit for purpose.
  • The social sector could be more ambitious.

My role is to do the following — I am going to be looking at all of the things that Nesta has said over the last year or so — reports, events, blogs and so on and start to develop a set of common themes and ideas. I will be speaking with people around Nesta to find out what they are doing, and what they think that Nesta should be doing. I’ll be identifying the people that Nesta normally talks to, and find out what they have done as a result of Nesta’s work. I’ll be designing a more cohesive strategy for Nesta’s external policy communication, and ultimately, improving Nesta’s ability at influencing and informing change in society. But in terms of my ways of working, I’m going to start doing more of the following:

  • I am going to take longer to think harder.
  • I am going to record my reflections and look back on them.
  • I am going to gather more data about my own processes and make more decisions about what I learn.
  • I am going to work from home more.
  • I am going to help Nesta think about what it’s purpose is, and how to share what it has learnt in a more effective way.

Thank you Billy, the Digital Team will miss you!

I asked Billy to repeat doing the Digital Understanding survey I created at the start of the Digital Fund so that I could compare his “digital understanding” at the beginning of his time with us, compared to now…and I’ll share that as part of next week’s learning. I’ll be writing more about the internal capabilities and confidence building I’m planning over the next few months.

What we’re celebrating

The end is in sight! There are only 25 more calls. Plus it’s sunny. And it’s Friday.

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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