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Weeknotes 30(10th — 14th June)

I’m a bit fed up today because I was meant to be in Glasgow by now and about to start a roundtable with my colleague Evelyn and some other funders up in Scotland about “digital” — instead I am in bed with no voice. I am especially sad not to get to meet Carolyn in person!

A quick newsy type update first.

We are hiring. Come and join the team! You can find out more here and I would really appreciate people passing on to others too.

“In a world which often risks being captured by the past, we need a civic society which can be both fiercely independent in organising itself, and also truly interdependent with all those seeking to build a shared future.”

The quote is from a really exciting new civil society leadership programme from the GLA. It has a really refreshing tone and framing, and they are looking for 25 people to take part.

I had a meeting this week with the Partnership For AI to explore how funders could get involved in the initiative. It feels like philanthropy in the UK has a lot to still understand when it comes to how technology is changing society. We are developing a set of ideas with them about what a programme could look like around this.

It was the bi-monthly dinner this week that I host along with Brittany from Deep Mind Ethics & Society team and Ellie from the Point People. It’s for women and non-binary people who work at the intersection of tech + society + ethics and we’ve been doing this for 18 months now. I always get to meet new people and generally get blown away by all the much-younger-than-me people who are leading this work.

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So impressed by this group of people and the questions they are asking. We’re very lucky they are working in some of the most powerful companies and institutions, like the Office of AI in Government, Wellcome Trust, the Law Society etc.

What we’ve been doing

This week the team have been going through the feedback from our panel papers and responding to that. It often means digger deeper into a particular area like the organisations finances, or doing some more due diligence — getting in touch with people about the organisation and their track record.

I joined our Evaluation Team (expertly headed up by Tamsin) for their “Data & Evidence” advisory group meeting this month to share some of the learnings and design principles from the Digital Fund. They are scoping out some interesting initiatives to launch later in the year and the advisory group is helping shape that. We discussed whether the cafe analogy I used in this blog could also be applied to data. Lets face it, when you talk about “data” it can mean as many different things as the word “digital.” It was great to see Helen and Hetan there, and meet Dan for the first time.

(Brilliant) Beth and I have been liaising with the procurement team about the contracts with our support partners and with the legal team about State Aid. Notice how little I am saying about this!

I ran a session with Power to Change, Locality, Cooperatives UK and the Plunkett Foundation, who are asking some great questions, together, about how they might bring more coherence to this landscape and what the local and informal layer of civil society needs in terms of a platform.

I attended the first OECD Future of Democracy Network meeting, which I was glad to see is going to focus on more than deliberative democracy, looking at the physical spaces (social infrastructure) we need too and what they were calling a “democratic muscle” but what I would call connected, empowered, participatory communities.

Lastly, I met with some of the Insights & Intelligence team in the Grenfell Recovery Programme at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. I’m going to help them design some programmes around digital rights and empowered citizens. I’m thinking of Grenfell a lot today on the 2 year anniversary.

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Images from the OECD meeting. I loved the work that Madrid have done — https://www.medialab-prado.es/en/laboratories/participalab

What we’re learning

I’m learning a lot about the challenges of organisational design at the moment. The National Lottery Community Fund has about 800 people working in it. Some of the funding programmes are long standing, like Awards For All, others, like the Digital Fund, are temporary. Demand for the different programmes is also unpredictable and changeable. When the Digital Fund received 1200 applications it was a lot more than the organisation had been anticipating and suddenly there was a need to find enough people to work on it. It means I am currently asking the following questions —

  • Where do those people come from? (often there are lots of secondments in the fund but…)
  • How long do you need them for?
  • And even more importantly how do you move people around in a timely way? (making business cases for people can take up to 4 weeks)
  • And in a way that makes people feel valued and have agency?
  • As well as in a way that ensures a quality and consistency in our work?
  • And that we deliver as good a service as possible externally?
  • And to round this all off, how do you ever build up organisational wisdom, and spread learning throughout an organisation with such a transient feeling in the teams?

It reminds me of when I was doing my Fashion Design and Management BA (YEARS ago in 1998) and we had a module on the design of work spaces. We had to study the best ways to move machines and people around to be most effective.

Except we aren’t a factory, and this isn’t just about moving bodies around. We are an organisation made up of many people, with competing demands, working in a very changeable context. It feels like we need some kind of amazing predictive (and much more strategic) modelling system — any idea what this might look like and who knows how to do it well?

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Line layout plans for a garment factory.

What we’re celebrating

I was lucky to fit a visit in this week to Participatory City, which most people know I think of as the most hopeful, ambitious and future-facing programme of work out there. I got to take Gemma and Kitty to visit and Tessy and Nat talked them through the whole 9 year journey.

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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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