I’m looking forward to this for a few reasons.
Strengthening the social sector
The whole purpose of the role is to strengthen the social sector.* It’s the sector that I care about, not digital. Though I understand what digital affords in this context.
I emphasise this because I fear being pigeon-holed as a “digital person”... I’m actually a designer, social scientist and entrepreneur (amongst many other things!).
I value digital for what it can help do — build, create, connect, open up, scale, expose, transform, save, reduce etc. I’m also aware of how digital can do some of these things too — alienate, displace, harm, polarise, dissolve, undermine, misrepresent etc.
What I care about is how we make the most of the opportunities digital affords, whilst directing the use of digital, and its impacts, consciously, and for the social sector to keep abreast of that. Digital can help the sector be more resilient, responsive and coordinated.
I care about the social sector in particular because these organisations (in all their forms) stand frontline in finding dedicated, creative and compassionate ways of tackling complex social problems, both responding to urgent need and designing alternatives fit for the future. They also have the public interest at heart. I’ve worked in the social sector since 2005 and the wisdom, integrity and ambition of the communities I’ve been a part has always given me hope.
The Big Lottery talks about “people in the lead” but I want the social sector to be in the lead — I believe it is full of the values we need. And by the way, I see the social sector as huge — from local community associations through to social businesses.
A more direct feedback loop
The Big Lottery Fund is public money. I take the responsibility of that really seriously. At the weekend I was back in the tiny South Cambridgeshire village I grew up in, in the local shop (which has barely been able to survive for years now) and was in a queue behind someone buying a Lottery ticket. I realised in that moment how the person paying £1 for a lottery ticket was feeding into the fund that I’ll be making decisions about. I’m looking forward to working with an organisation that the public can connect with and that so directly works in service of the public.
A different kind of impact
Although I’ve worked part-time at both Government Digital Service and at the Co-op, when I decided I wanted to try a full time role somewhere I’d always imagined it would be a large organisation, with reach and scale. I’ve spent most of my life around start-ups and small projects. I’ve been a co-founder 3 times and also set up my own company, as well as working in lots of small organisations on retainers or projects. Working at the Big Lottery will give me a different experience of how to create impact and change at scale.
The role of funders and foundation
Lastly, another reason I’m glad to be taking on this role is because over the last few years I’ve been increasingly interested in the role funders can (and should) play in facilitating more coordinated effort across fields of work. This will be my first time working in a grant-making organisation and I’m looking forward to learning more about how it all works and discovering new ways that funders might operate.
Goodbye & thank you to Doteveryone
I joined Doteveryone back in December 2015, to work 3 days a week as a service designer and user researcher on an “Improving Care” project. Two years ago I took up my full-time role as Strategic Design Director.
Some of the things I’m proud of
Doteveryone took a little while to find its focus and work out how to address the big issues in Martha’s Dimbleby Lecture. I’m super proud of how we focussed our mission when Rachel became CEO, to become one of the first UK organisations understanding how the internet is changing society.
I helped introduce a more systemic approach to how we thought about influencing change and it was fortunate that in the leadership team we each had an affinity with a different lever of change, that made us a complementary whole. I also introduced the idea of being a more networked organisation.
Society is all about people: the values they hold, the ways they organise themselves and their resources, the way they get things done. These issues are vital to our way of life — and we’re worried that the significance and pace of change in the internet age is making critical aspects of our society vulnerable.
Blog post launching the Digital Society strand of work
Most of my work at Doteveryone was about strengthening the social sector and ensuring it was in the loop. This included ideas for strengthening communities and social infrastructure, wondering what tech could exist beyond the market and the state, designing opportunities for collective action, showing alternatives to protect workers rights, engaging the public in directing the impacts of technology and initiating a list of social harms that shows why the social sector (and wider society) need to care about these things. I’m glad to have recently connected the organisation with the Office of Civil Society and I know the #intheloop work will continue.
A few things I learnt
It’s really really hard to build a whole new organisation while also trying to solve hard problems out in the world, all at the same time.
When a new field explodes, like the “tech ethics” one has, funders in particular have a role (and responsibility) to link up the field as early as possible.
I learnt a lot about how think tanks are still required to operate in the traditional policy sense. PR agencies are actually a thing! It really is important to invest time cultivating relationships in Whitehall, and keeping on top of and responding to calls for evidence, helps raise your profile. I am amazed that these things all still matter as much as they do.
The amount of work and governance that charities have to do to keep in check with the Charities Commission is not commensurate with their size. I worry about the costs of this for smaller charities.
There are not enough funders in the UK concerned with the power and profits that large technology companies have and of the impacts they’re having on our lives. Organisations looking ahead, like Doteveryone, at how the internet is changing society and its cumulative affects, need resource. If organisations like Doteveryone didn’t exist, who would have our backs? I wish more funders would think with a long term view and design more funding programmes to do more than respond to immediate or obvious need.
Some of the things I’m grateful for
This was my first ever full time job. At the age of 40 I was put on PAYE for the very first time. I think Rachel took a chance on me and I’m super grateful for that. I’d only ever applied for one or two jobs before I had the chance to work with Doteveryone.
At one interview I was met with the “you won’t like working inside an organisation” .. whilst I’m sure what they were really thinking was “you don’t fit neatly in to any box and that makes us way too nervous”. In feedback from another interview one person said “why would a person like you want to work in an organisation like this..?” …she was implying I was “radical” and with the organisation being a big bureaucracy, could I really cope? I found that incredibly patronising. And quite frankly I think large institutions and bureaucracies need more radical people within them. How will they change otherwise? I also think I’m someone who once I have belief in an organisation’s purpose, and feel committed to it, am more than capable of towing the line and navigating the challenges that come with large organisations.
So thank you Rachel for taking the chance and showing me I was employable when I’d been left to feel I wasn’t.
Personally I believe that change is most likely to happen through people that work both inside and outside the system. Sometimes simultaneously with one foot in, one foot out — and sometimes in sequence, taking what they learn from one context in to the other and vice versa.
Doteveryone also held me through a lot of grief and loss – the death of my father, the death of one of my closest friends and loves, and the end of a long-term relationship. That was a lot for a tiny organisation and team to hold and I am so grateful for that.
So it’s sort of goodbye, but the organisation is doing really important work, with a great team, and I intend to keep championing what they do from afar.
More on my new role and the fund soon!
*thinking in sectors is probably a bit outdated, but simpler for this blog post!