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Weeknotes 26 (13th-17th May)

This has been a full and productive week — my inbox is a mess as a result. Sorry to anyone waiting for an email from me!

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THE book.

A few highlights from the week include going to my boss Derek’s book launch last night (buy No Win Race now) and getting to see all of his family and friends brimming with pride. It was also lovely to have a rare evening out with some colleagues from the wider fund that I don’t get to ever spend time with.

On Thursday I finally got to meet Lucy Bernholz in person. She heads up Standford’s Digital Civil Society Lab and was over in the UK to run some workshops on the policy infrastructure of digital civil society. I’m on the advisory group and so it was useful to see how initial discussions and interviews I’d taken part in had been translated into workshop activities. 30 of us working across policy, civil society and digital did a series of activities to draw out insight about where these 3 areas intersect. I found the activities a useful way into thinking about the policy considerations of digital in relation to civil society and plan to run the activities with my team. Hopefully I might also get to run them with the policy team at the fund.

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One of the activity sheets.

And if you’re interested, this week I wrote some personal reflections on 6 months of being a funder.

What we’ve been doing

I’m continuing to work with 7 organisations on their proposals for our July 9th panel. All day on a Monday I do back to back calls with them, updating our shared Google doc as we go. It does feel so much more conversational working in this way, and avoids the applicant doing lots of unnecessary extra writing work as I can guide them on what I need to gather to make their case for funding.

Something else I/we are all needing to get our head around on the Digital Fund is State Aid. State aid is defined as “any aid granted by a Member State which distorts or threatens to distort competition by favouring certain undertakings or the production of certain goods.” As a public body if our funding could give an applicant any advantage over other organisations offering similar goods or services, or if the activities they want us to fund could affect trade between EU member states, then our funding might be considered to be ‘State Aid’. We are having to do extra due diligence and legwork around this.

Lastly, yesterday Kamna and I kicked off our work with hospices. We hosted a Zoom call with 21 different hospices, introducing the Discovery work we plan to do in collaboration with them. We didn’t fund any hospices individually who applied to the Digital Fund because we believe, given that they had such a common set of needs, there may be a wiser and more effective way to work with them collectively. Over the next 3 months we will be doing 3 design workshops with them, and looking at how to prioritise some of their needs and the potential solutions that may address them. We used these slides for the call, which go into a bit more detail about our plans.

What we’re learning

Over the last 6 weeks I have kept open a feedback survey for the Digital Fund and wanted to share more of what we’ve heard. The survey questions can be found here.

“The process was ok, though difficult to put into two small paragraphs especially as the fund was so vague.”

“It was easy to apply but also, it would appear, easy to completely misunderstand what the funder was looking for.”

There were a lot of comments about the application process. People generally liked that we only required a few paragraphs — we only asked 3 questions. However, alongside this shorter format people would have liked to see more content before we launched that described better what we were looking to fund. Related to this, I liked Tom’s thought experiment and need to go through all 84 responses properly. You can find the thread here.

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Tom’s tweet.

“Refreshing, and sometimes confusing.”

“It would also have been useful to share more on eligibility success with examples, at an earlier stage. So much of the approaches to digital development are new to us, we are still getting used to the language and terminology!”

“I found the workshop very inspiring and felt I learned a great deal. I don’t think the workshop could have been improved. I think the application could have been improved through more clarity about what they wanted to fund.”

Whilst the feedback for the initial application was generally positive, we did have a few comments (seen below) about the follow-up telephone call.

“A bit frustrating, we appreciated the pace of the application process but found the telephone call closed and one way.”

“While we felt we had the case for support prepared, we didn’t feel the telephone call brought out that content in a meaningful or supportive way.”

I don’t have much to say in response to this. We did 270 phone calls between us, and no doubt there may have been times when we weren’t at our best. I wanted to include the comments here though to be transparent about where people were unhappy with the experience.

The survey also drew out some more feedback from the learning events.

“I felt a bit out of my depth with a lack of clarity but felt it important that I tried to understand and learn how to tap into this area of funding and development. I feel more confident now as a result of the learning workshop.”

“Our experience has been really positive even though we didn’t get funding — it was great to receive feedback on our individual application, attend the workshop for an overview and now think about where we go with the resources we have been given.”

Something I have been thinking a lot about recently (blog incoming) is about what strategic design looks like inside a funding organisation. How do funders take a test and learn approach as a way of developing a funding strategy? In some ways the first round of the Digital Fund was an experiment, which is one of the ways I described it at the learning events. However, this was frustrating for some people.

“I feel conflicted about my experience. A little bit misled as it felt we were used as guinea pigs but then grateful that we were provided with a post application information session which has been useful on all kinds of levels.”

I’m someone who’s unconvinced that consultations and interviews are effective ways (or enough) to understand how a new fund should be framed, designed and delivered — I have a preference for putting prototypes out into the world and using the response to them as a way to inform further design decisions.

Lastly, it is important for all of us to remember this — who might be excluded from any fund because of the basic infrastructure they have in place (or not).

“Not everyone in the community is connected — in rural isolated areas do not have equitable access, and therefore cannot even start to apply the vision that this fund seeks to achieve.”

What we’re celebrating

It feels really good to be starting the Discovery work with hospices. They’ve been waiting patiently for us to have the space to do this, and I really believe we could do something helpful for the sector using a more ecosystem approach to problem-solving.

Who works here? — an introduction each week from inside The National Lottery Community Fund

This week I’m introducing you to Beth, Portfolio Manager in the UK Portfolio, and luckily for us, she’s just moved across to join the Digital Fund.

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3 things you do in your role

  • Support organisations to navigate our funding processes, developing trust, transparency and real connections.
  • Work with people to develop their skills and confidence. Finding ways to help people thrive and being a good manager are very important to me.
  • Make sure we have the right tools and processes to work quickly, smartly and compassionately.

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

So so excited to be working with the brilliant Digital Fund team and looking ahead to how we share and cascade what we’ve learnt across the Fund, and beyond.

What is your burning question of the moment?

The demand for funding for digital projects and transformation is ENORMOUS. What can we offer alongside funding to make a bigger dent in the demand? Where are we most useful?

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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