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Weeknotes 33 (1st-5th July)

I was sorry to miss Bureaucracy Hack with OneTeamGov this week and have been following what happened here. I’d love to do a similar hack in terms of funding processes.

Outside of my role at the Fund I’ve started a monthly newsletter about the evolving field of philanthropy, with a brilliant group of collaborators. You can read more here and sign up!

What we’ve been doing

At the end of the month I’m joining the Office of Civil Society at DCMS for their team away day. They’ve asked me to come in and talk about the evolution of “tech for good” and the need for public interest tech, as well as set some provocations to work on to help inform their future strategy. So I’ve been researching and designing that session.

On the week of July 15th (when I’m on holiday!) The National Lottery Community Fund is doing a whole week of content about digital and the different ways we are supporting the sector around it. We will also be announcing the first grantees of the Digital Fund who have been on an embargo. I’ve been working with the Comms and Policy teams to think about what kind of blog posts we can write and what’s useful to share with the wider sector.

We have been continuing to get external feedback on all the papers the Digital Fund team are taking to panel next week. Tuesday 9th is a big day for us. Between myself and Beth we’ve also been setting up calls with everyone who’s on the panel to see if they have any particular concerns about any of the applications. Doing this in advance feels like a really useful way of making sure that on the day of the panel meeting itself we can focus on the decision-making process. It feels like doing user research on how people are responding to or will behave around certain proposals!

We’ve also been writing up a procurement document for Strand 3 of the Digital Fund. We will be putting a tender out for a piece of Discovery research looking at informal civil society activity, local groups and micro charities – and what their common (maybe digital) needs are.

Lastly the whole Digital Fund team (minus poorly Cath) was together in London on Wednesday for the first kickoff session with grantees and the organisations we’ve hired to deliver a support contract. We’ve got an amazing group of organisations working together (Doteveryone, The Dot Project, CAST, Snook, Shift and a network of coaches) to provide this support — like a help desk with an amazing ecosystem behind it.

What we’re learning

I recently sent some of my blog posts to one of my senior colleagues. They said this — “What did strike me (as a non digital native) was the term (digital) seems a real misnomer, and the more I read, it seems primarily about a service design approach.” This is a good observation on their part! A lot of “good digital grant-making” is about mindset and practices. It’s about being human-centred, about experimenting, iterating and testing, using data and (all kinds of) evidence to make decisions, it’s about working in the open, and having experience in things like user research (good user research and user-centred design is not the same as “people in the lead” by the way). It’s a way of working that as a service designer and then strategic designer I’ve been doing for the last 16 years. Designers would call it good design practice….but it’s become synonymous with good digital practice too, part inspired by agile software development.

So how might this all translate into good digital grant-making? I’ve been thinking about the how, the what and the why.

The how

In terms of grant-making this kind of knowledge is important for how we design the grant-making process and how we work internally as an organisation — how we design the services and experiences of our “users” as well as for our staff. It’s also important though to be able to know and identify whether those we are looking to fund are also working in this way.

The what

Alongside this (and not to be confused by the practice and mindset of digital), is knowing enough about technology to know what technology can afford — to know what’s possible to achieve with it. The “It’s this, not this” post that I posted a few months back is us starting to work out what some content would look like for Funding Officers.

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But a more useful framework is that of “Technical Intuition” as set out by Alix Dunn. All grant-makers should have the ability to imagine, to inquire to decide and to demand — and it’s worth reading the article to understand what these mean.

I think the first two are especially relevant to good digital grant making —

  • To imagine“equipped with the information and instincts to conceptualise (good and bad) and suggest (good) tech.”
  • And to inquire“ability to formulate questions that can drive understanding and decision-making.”

The why

I linked to this post by Mike Bracken in my post about the different ways we’d seen Digital Fund applicants interpret the word “digital.” And this quote feels relevant to highlight how important it is that people working in grant-making organisations understand how technology is changing society and therefore all the different reasons why things need to be done differently.

“Digital transformation is the act of radically changing how your organisation works, so that it can survive and thrive in the internet era. That radical change is hard not because it’s complicated (most of it isn’t), but because it’s primarily a function of people and behaviours and relationships.The hardest bit of all is making sure everyone understands not only what must change, but why.”

What we’re celebrating

It was brilliant to meet some of our Digital Fund grantees on Wednesday in person. It felt like another landmark moment in the journey of the Digital Fund.

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

This week I’m introducing you to Joel, a Portfolio Officer in the Digital Fund team. Joel has been in the team since day one, in fact he preceded the Digital Fund and was the first hire for the UK Portfolio with a digital focus. Joel’s been a superstar these last 7 months I’ve worked with him.

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3 things you do in your role

  • I support grant applicants through our processes, keeping them informed and involved. I also try as much as possible to make the process useful for them regardless of whether their application is successful or not. In the best case scenarios, though, I also support them to make the most of their award and generate learning which can benefit the whole sector!
  • I try to keep on top of developments and trends in the third sector by attending conferences and events with a view to encouraging innovative and exciting applications to the National Lottery Community Fund
  • I also make sure I am there to support colleagues who might need a bit of support or confidence when looking at proposals with strong digital elements

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

I’m inspired and excited by all the organisations I’m working with on a daily basis who are putting their grants to amazing use and making their communities better places to be. I’m also encouraged and excited by the curiosity and engagement around digital grant making among my colleagues in the Newcastle office.

What is your burning question at the moment?

What is the most useful role for us at the National Lottery Community Fund to play in order to best support Digital Fund grant holders through their project such that not only is it a huge success for them, but also acts as inspiration and guidance for others in the sector?

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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