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Weeknotes 28 (27th-31st May)

It’s been such a full on week this week.

In between the busy-ness of my job I still managed to have to great call with Tessa about her work at Drift and how to design for transition. Our Strand 1 applicants are all in a phase of transition from being one type of organisation (designed in a different century), to fundamentally changing their purpose, services, ways of working etc to be an adaptive, relevant and resilient organisation in a digital society.

I also had dinner with Maureen O’Hara, over from the US. Maureen is Professor in the Psychology Department at National University, La Jolla, in California and President Emerita of Saybrook Graduate School, San Francisco. Working with American psychologist Dr. Carl R. Rogers, she helped develop the Person-Centered Approach to psychotherapy and large group process. She’s so wise about the psychology of not only individuals but of communities and societies too. And co-author of one of my favourite books, Dancing at the Edge, which has a second edition coming out soon!

Also, we said goodbye to Nikki Clegg this week from the UK Portfolio team. She’s amazing and I can’t wait to see what she does as COO and Grants Director at Thirty Percy, a new fund for the climate crisis. I love their organisational values and how they describe who they are too.

What we’ve been doing

On Tuesday I spent the day with all the managers in the UK Portfolio. It’s nice to see colleagues in person from across the UK all in one place.

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Kick off of the legal session on State Aid and Beth and Amy doing a service blueprint of the next stages of our customer journey’s.

On Wednesday the Digital Fund team spent the day together with a focus on learning, reflecting and designing. We try to meet once a month like this, because we mostly work remotely — 3 of us are in London, 2 in Newcastle, 1 in Cardiff and 1 in Belfast.

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I loved that on the away day, different team members delivered different parts of it.

Thursday we had a half-day workshop with the organisations we’ve commissioned to provide an ecosystem of support to Digital Fund grantees.

Alongside this, the whole team have been preparing papers for the next panel on the 9th July. It may sound like we have a whole month or more, but actually our deadline is Monday 3rd June because once we’ve written the initial papers that go to panel they undergo a 4 week process of peer review, management review etc. I’ll be spending my weekend writing the 8 that I’m taking to panel this time.

What we’re learning

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It was good to finally do a retro within the team about what had worked well and less well in terms of our delivery of the Digital Fund in its first iteration. We were meant to do this back in April, but flu!

I’ve already shared various bits of feedback from our applicants in these Weeknotes over the last few months, with comments we’d received through the open survey we regularly posted a link to. But what did we learn internally? And what could we have done more and less of?

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These are obviously reflections we want to share back with the wider organisation and with senior management too, because there will definitely be things to learn from when other new funds are launched.

Amy also asked us to to describe how we felt working on the Digital Fund over the last 5 months and what animal we thought we’d been embodying. They ranged from a performing seal and a rabbit in the headlights, through to a fierce tiger.


All of the richness we had in the discussions during the away day is too much to share here, but two things I’m struck by and will write separate blogs on:

  • What are the trade-offs a funder has to make and what are their responsibilities? e.g. should a grant maker be responsible for checking if an applicant is eligible? Or should we remove people from the process if they haven’t bothered or been able to work out if they are eligible? (I’m talking about basic eligibility criteria here).
  • Just because you have a “service design” team within an organisation, doesn’t mean every other team shouldn’t take a service design approach to how the fund they are working on is being designed and delivered. I’m an experienced service designer and it was great to work with the Digital Fund team on our away day to design the next phase of the service we are offering to our applicants.

What we’re celebrating

Amy’s gone off to Barbados and I am celebrating that for her. She’s worked above and beyond her role and pay grade for the last 5 months and the Digital Fund couldn’t have been delivered without her. I hope she is on a beach and supping a cocktail right now!

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

This week I’m introducing you to Yvonne, Senior Portfolio Manager in the UK Portfolio, and without whom I literally wouldn’t have survived even a month in my role. She is the person who never gets anywhere near enough recognition but is basically holding the whole UK Portfolio team together! Smart, calm and pro-active in problem-solving, I am so grateful for the work she does.

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3 things you do in your role

  • Forward planning and strategising, working out with colleagues the impact we want to have as a UK Portfolio and how we go about achieving that.
  • A lot of trouble shooting, supporting staff so that they can do what they do best, and problem solving, especially around making us more efficient to free up staff to work more closely with applicants and grant holders.
  • Engage directly with many outstanding organisations with amazing ideas and then ensuring that we do our best to represent those ideas to the UK Funding Panel and Committee which make decisions on what we fund.

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

Having spent nearly 20 years working in the sector mostly around securing funding for fantastic projects around children, young people and families, it is an absolute honour and privilege to be on the other side. I am genuinely overwhelmed by the volume and range of great ideas that are shared with us and the potential wide reaching long lasting impact. Today I spent some time catching up with David Robinson about the Relationship Project that we funded last year which is being delivered through Shift Design. It is exploring how relationship based practice can be used as a common approach in public services, community activities and businesses to address the current trends around increased individualism and reduced meaningful connections. This really chimes with the recent campaign #BeMoreUs from the Campaign to End Loneliness (again another one of our fantastic grant holders), highlighting the small things we can all do to combat loneliness.

What is your burning question of the moment?

There are probably two at the moment:

  • How can we continuously improve our customer service?
  • How can we have a broader reach, ensuring that we are opening funding opportunities to those who may not have approached us before — or indeed even know about us?

We have probably made the mistake in the past of making changes to our ways of working with customers without really dissecting what will work for different customers. In the UK Portfolio, as with the rest of the Fund, we have a very broad range of customers, and what works for some people will not necessarily work for others. We now have the support of a dedicated Service Design team at the Fund to help us design our systems, processes and new programmes in a way that helps us think through these issues and design tailored solutions with specific customers in mind.

Over the last few years within the UK Portfolio, we have made a concerted effort to increase our funding of small to medium sized organisations — we have had an 88% increase in this from 2015/16 to 2018/19, which I am very proud of. But I think we probably have a long way to go in reaching the ‘unusual suspects’. We have made a bit of headway in this recently with our Leaders with Lived Experience funding programme, where the programme was specifically designed to reach new audiences. We are now learning from this to see how we can replicate this in our other funding areas.

Run UK Portfolio at National Lottery Community Fund, Co-founder of the Point People, Policy Fellow IIPP, Founder Stewarding Loss, International Futures Forum.

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