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Weeknotes 27 (20th-24th May)

What we’ve been doing

Monday’s are always back-to-back calls with people I’m supporting through to panel.

Tuesday was spent with the whole team in London designing our strategy for building up more confidence and understanding of digital across the fund.

On Wednesday I was invited to attend the European Foundation Centre annual conference in Paris. It brings together foundations and philanthropists across Europe for 3 days. If you’re interested these are the notes I made to share with Dawn and other colleagues at the fund.

This meant I missed going to the Pro Bono Economics’ Anniversary Lecture featuring Andy Haldane, the full speech can be found here. And whilst I don’t agree with some of the solutions he suggests, I’m glad someone with his profile is talking about civil society in this way. As Patrick Butler states in his write up of the talk

“Civil society’s place in this massive societal shake-out is relatively unexplored — but it will be profound.”

What we’re learning

We had a big focus on learning this week. Part of my role at The National Lottery Community Fund is to build the digital confidence and understanding of the fund internally. Or as it said in the original advertisement for my role “Would you like to help one of the UK’s most significant funding organisations to get better at grant-making in an increasingly digital world?” and to “support the Fund to become a ’digitally savvy’ funder.”

A few of the ways this was suggested included:

  • “Leading a collaborative process to map the journey that we need to go on to make the Fund into an organisation that can confidently make great grants in a world that is completely permeated by digital tools and digital norms.
  • Developing and potentially delivering a programme of support for our staff and committee members to increase their skills.”

To start the day each team member brought in examples of effective materials, content and products for learning that they’d either seen or used themselves. This meant we could discuss and start to map out what kind of learning materials work and what modes of learning too — formal, informal, self-directed, in person, online, social, discursive etc.

We then mapped out our audiences. Who in the organisation needs to know what? And importantly, what would be their motivation for engaging with anything we create, and what would be most relevant for them. Shortly in to this we realised a first step will also to be to ask people(!).

“What do you most want to learn and understand about digital?” and “For what reason or purpose?” — and “what do you mean by the word digital in this context?” — recognising that people across the Fund will have different meanings for the word digital, a bit like people who applied to the digital fund. So we will be sending a 3 question Typeform around to colleagues as a first step.

To really help understand what is possible in terms of learning across an organisation I asked my friend Laura Billings to come and give a talk about the work she leads at Government Digital Service in the Cabinet Office— setting up learning communities of 1000’s of people across government and working with other Learning Designers to build a learning organisation.

“A learning organisation is a group of people who are continually enhancing their capabilities to create what they need to.”

The team share below some of their main takeaways from the day. We left with a range of ideas for a “learning system” — a few of them are listed here.

Content

  • Slide decks of things like the the cafe analogy and “It’s this, not this.”
  • A “good digital practices” poster and other materials like badges with simple messages such as “this isn’t about digital, this is about the future.”
  • Questions for grant makers poster — a list of powerful and necessary questions for funding officers to have when reading applications and to ask in assessment conversations. As Amy helpfully articulated “it’s often not about what applicants want to do, but more about the process they will use to work out what to do.”
  • Materials that bring to life why digital is important — e.g. how digital is a part of everything changing, the need for social ambition and the social sector to be at the heart of the digital revolution etc.
  • A map of expertise and experience in the fund around digital grant making, around tech (and how these are different), design, digital engagement etc.

Interactions

  • Zoom monthlies where we discuss up to 3 “digital” applications as a way of others’ learning how we’re making judgements and decisions. This would be a more experiential way of other funding officers seeing what good digital grant making looks like.
  • Live Yammer Q&A’s as a way for the wider fund to ask the Digital Fund team anything they want. The questions that are asked would be important for us to document too — a way of doing user research on where the wider fund feels their knowledge gaps are.
  • Podcast’s and short video’s — specifically where the rest of the Digital Fund team (not me!) go out or online to do short interviews with different “experts” — Tom Steinberg , Alix Dunn, Annika Small, Laura James, Laura Bunt, Alex Mecklenburg… we are coming to you first!

Products

  • Design Your Learning Journey workshops as a way to encourage self-directed learning about digital grant making (and future grant making!)
  • Other themed learning workshops (though I think we are interested in how to avoid this model as much as possible as it’s so hard to scale and resource).
  • The team came up with several games as ways to build knowledge and understanding, including Amy’s “Lingo Bingo” which as the name suggests is a way of myth busting around language and digital.
  • Signposting on the main website similar to the one here on Data & Evidence, but specifically for digital.

Beth, Amy and Cath share what they took away from the Learning Design day and thank you to the RSA for use of their collaboration space.

“I had a really interesting, fun and inspiring day and came away energised, and if I’m honest, a tiny bit daunted. One of our aims for the day was to start mapping out our internal audiences — after 20 minutes the whiteboard was full of teams and names, all of whom will need some common information about what we’ve learned, many of whom will need more specific information.”

“ The key thing I took away from Laura’s reflections, and the day that I will keep in my head is, it’s about learning not training. I need a postcard of this: Are you trying to train people — or are you collectively creating a learning organisation?”

“Laura Billings’ advice about how to build a “learning organisation” was particularly inspiring and I like the idea that we’re not going to try and train people about digital but instead we’re going to create a spread of knowledge within the Fund which will grow naturally — a bit like a fungus I thought!”

“I had a fantastic time at the learning day this week. We came away with armfuls of ideas of how to encourage digital learning to grow across our organisation. I am most excited about the possibility of a podcast, or short videos so that useful learning can be shared with both colleagues here and the wider sector.”

“I have also been thinking about what good questions would be to ask applicants or potential applicants to open up dialog around their digital aspirations. The most important take-away for me, though, is to remember to ask people what they want to know or learn about digital, so we can tailor our efforts towards what is going to be most useful. Simple really, but so easy to overlook, especially if you’re a super-busy.”

A final takeaway from me is how we can also work with the UK Knowledge and Learning team, headed up by the brilliant Julia Parnaby — they’re already doing great work across the organisation and this all needs to link up!

Other learning for me this week included the need to send the following blog post out to a few of the organisations I’m supporting through to the July panel. There is definitely some confusion with applicants about what we mean by a “service” and why something like an online forum is not a digital service in and of itself. What do we mean when we talk about services ? is an important read.

Lastly, two things I took away from Wednesday’s conference in Paris. The image on the left is one slide that was part of a set breaking down the energy, material and ultimately climate costs of technology. Something we clearly need to think more about. And the photo on the right shows a list of questions that the panel and moderator wanted to bring into the room and into the debate. I was pretty impressed by these questions, and so wanted to share them. Some of them reminded me of questions I was looking at whilst working at Doteveryone, and that Doteveryone will be helping our Digital Fund grantees look at through their Consequence Scanning activity. Also, apologies for the bad photographs, I was at the back of a room of 100 people.

What we’re celebrating

Mostly I am celebrating being away for the weekend with 20 friends and my Sister and two nieces at this magical place. But from a work perspective, it’s always brilliant to spend a day with the team like we did on Tuesday, and to feel us all working so well together.

Lastly, I was both horrified and then excited by the opportunity of only 4 people’s hands going up in the EFC event session about the Digital Revolution on Wednesday. One speaker asked the audience to raise their hands if they were actively working on the opportunities and the potential consequences of technology on our lives. It was 4 hands out of 100 that went up. What a lot of scope there still is to ensure that the philanthropic world is helping to resource not just the applications of technology but building more awareness and practical ways of addressing and directing its implications too.

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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