Weeknotes 37 (29th- 2nd August)

This week we’ve had Maddy officially start some work with the Digital Fund — she’s looking into the impacts of technology on the climate so that the Digital Fund can form some recommendations in relation to that, as well as help the wider fund make more informed decisions about any digital grant and its environmental consequences.

Follow Maddy on Twitter, and if you have any other leads or thoughts for her, we’d love to hear from you.

It’s nice to come across news of organisations we’ve supported through the Digital Fund out in the world. Addaction has published their new strategy here and CEO Mike has written more here about how and why they set a new direction.

“Our goals — Radically improve people’s chance of getting better.”

And the Law Centres Network are in the Times talking about the grant from us and the difference it will make given half of all law centres and not-for-profit legal advice services have closed during the past six years.

The workshop that I participated in for the UNDP in New York last week has been written up here by the brilliant Millie, Kal and Bas, and and it’s well worth a read to understand the question they’re asking about “tackling social and environmental challenges in a deeply interconnected world.”

Lastly, I’ve been reading up on DisCO’s —a distributed cooperative organisation and I especially love this — “Centered on care work: We distinguish between two types of care work: that performed for the health of the collective(where the collective is seen as a living entity that needs commitment, material inputs and fidelity to its social mission) and care work performed for the individual persons within the DisCO(mutual trust and intimacy support structures).”

What we’ve been doing

This week Joel and Cath have been starting to prepare papers for the October panel. This is the last UK Panel we have to take papers to for the first round of the Digital Fund — all 1200 applications whittled down to 48 proposals taken to 4 panels (of which October is the last), and likely 30 grants will be made in total. We’ve announced the first group, and hope to announce another 13 that went through the last panel in the next few weeks.

I’m spending the summer scoping out what the next round of the Digital Fund will look like and hope to announce something later in September. It won’t be a big wide open call like last time though.

On Monday I worked on a procurement document for a Discovery programme we’ll be commissioning looking at informal civil society activity and micro-charities — and whether digital has any role in strengthening and supporting these groups.

On Tuesday I spent the day with colleagues from across the Fund who’d been brought together by Gemma, our Development Director, to explore participatory grant making approaches — to reflect on what The National Lottery Community Fund has already done in this area, and what we might go on to do.

And on Wednesday I spent the day with the Office of Civil Society team on their away day, where I gave a talk (slides are here) and also listened and contributed to a range of questions they are asking about their future strategy. Also, a thank you to Rachel and Indy — always helpful having them in your back pocket if you want to ask for input into something like that.

What I’m learning

Participatory Grant Making

It was lovely to spend a day with colleagues from across the fund on Tuesday — it’s rare to get time to think together like that — thank you Gemma!

Hannah gave a great presentation and overview of Participatory Grant Making (which her Winston Churchill Fellowship will focus on) and which drew on this work by GrantCraft. She also referenced the Leaders with Lived Experience programme that she’s been running and which was designed and delivered in a participatory way. Colleagues like Evelyn from Scotland and Northern Ireland and Sacha from the South East & London team also talked through programmes they’ve delivered in a participatory way.

Our Head of Knowledge and Learning, Julia, led us through a workshop where we shared our experiences of doing work in this or similar areas, and then drew out common themes and questions. Out of these we’ve decided on 5 lines of enquiry that I’ll share once they’ve been written up. It’s exciting to think about what’s possible to do in this space as such a large UK-wide funder, and especially because it’s one way to create a very direct feedback loop between the general public, their Lottery ticket purchases and how they get to design and decide on themes for funding programmes or what more directly gets invested in, in their communities.

Some common themes from our various experiences.

A few lines of enquiry that I’m personally interested in include:

  • Long-term thinking and prevention — I’m particularly interested in the idea of “who knows best” because I think there are real tensions in the social sector in terms of people’s beliefs and theories of change about who does. In my view, sometimes it’s people with lived experience, it’s communities, and sometimes you also need different kinds of expertise and different kinds of abilities and styles for holding space or influencing. I think we never account enough in participatory processes for the fact that most people aren’t versed in thinking long-term or about prevention. This article by brilliant Nicky sums it up well.
Snippet from — https://ssir.org/articles/entry/six_ways_to_boost_public_support_for_prevention_based_policy#
  • Our ability to imagine what’s possible — linked to the above, and in my experience of running about 1000 co-design workshops and participatory design processes over the last 16 years, whilst people get a huge amount out of the processes themselves, the quality of ideas are often not going to change the status quo, or lift people into better realities and that’s because people taking part in participatory processes don’t always know what’s possible. I’d love to see an organisation like The National Lottery Community Fund do some social dreaming and public imagination work, at scale, to try and build a UK-wide sense of what is possible. Especially as there’s never been a time we’ve needed to be more inventive, more able to care collectively, more able to create together as a “Larger Us.”
  • Laying the foundations — when I was part of the London chapter of the Awesome Foundation and similarly when I was part of the team that set up Somers Town Soup I was always struck by how much support some people needed to begin participating. Whether it’s building confidence, articulating ideas, identifying with and engaging in the whole process in the first place, there is a huge amount of work to do in creating the conditions for participation that shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s why I love the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of Participatory City’s work.

Office of Civil Society

I also want to give a shout out to the Office of Civil Society that invited me to their team away day — I was so impressed by the questions they were asking, their openness to me being there for the whole day, even during more sensitive conversations, and the way they welcomed my challenge. I learnt a lot about how to prepare for new Ministers coming in, ways of framing work to make it land with different stakeholders internally, and about the budgets and timeframes that they work to.

What we’re celebrating

I’m celebrating having some time to now focus on the next phase of the Digital Fund, as well as on how to start building more confidence and understanding of “good digital grant making” across the organisation.

Also, the first edition of our new newsletter “Evolving The Field” comes out on Monday, so if you haven’t signed up, you can do so here.