Weeknotes 44 (23rd — 27th September)

We will now be posting regularly as a team on the Digital Fund blog, with a particular focus on what we’re learning across all of the grants we made. This will include regular contributions from our support partners, and from people working in the organisations we funded. Cat Ainsworth introduces the “support ecosystem” here.

I’m sorry to be missing Festival of Maintenance today, which is a whole other area that anyone funding digital is going to need to pay a *lot* more attention to — who is going to take care of and maintain all these digital platforms, systems and infrastructure?

What we’ve been doing

At the start of the week I met up with Josh from Esmée Fairbairn and Penny from Comic Relief (Jake from Paul Hamlyn was unable to join this time) for the first of our regular meetings that we’ve scheduled as we all develop our strategies for future digital funding. The purpose of this is to ensure we link up and compliment what we fund rather than duplicate efforts, and to make that even easier we’ve also created this Trello board where we will be regularly updating what we’re scoping out.

I’ve spent some time this week working with Rowan who’s in the Evaluation team here but currently seconded over to the service design team where she’s leading on writing web guidance content for organisations who receive funding. This ranges from what happens after you receive funding and where to find support for various aspects of your work, to the ways you might share progress and gather evidence about the work as it evolves. I’m drafting content that is particularly relevant for anything to do with digital, design, and tech policy.

Beth and I also caught up with Temoor. He sits in the wider UK Portfolio team, writes the team newsletter, blogs and does all the editing of papers going to panel and committees for funding decisions. Temoor is going to work with the Digital Fund team to support more blog writing, as well as create some learning content and updates for the broader UK Portfolio.

With two new team members starting in October (exciting!) Beth and I also spent some time this week mapping out some of our role responsibilities. There are some activities that I hope we can all do and take responsibility for, and I think it’s helpful to make some of these activities more explicit — it shows that they are valued, and (I hope) creates a sense of permission. Some of these include the importance of staying connected to the outside world —both sharing with and *listening* to what’s happening and on the horizon, alongside attending and speaking at events.

A snippet from our Roles in the Team sheet.

I’ve had quite a lot of external coffees this week — it feels like September is always really busy for this because of the quietness of August. I’ve recently joined the Sector Support strategy group internally — the function of this is to revise and relaunch the strategy and accompanying resource for how we will support the sector going forward. The coffee meetings I had this week inspired me to think about alternative ways to bring colleagues up to speed internally on some of the best sector support activity that is already happening. I’m hoping I can organise a half-day event for the sector support strategy group where I invite a range of people to come and do show & tells about the different work they are doing to support the sector. Thanks Giselle for prompting this idea!

It was a lovely learning opportunity for me to spend Thursday afternoon with a group of peers who work at the intersection of design, systems change and policy, hosted by the Design Council. Tomorrow I’ll be publishing a post about the role of Strategic Design in foundations, which draws on some of this.

What we’ve been learning

As I’ve posted about before, a big focus for my role over the next few months is to help build the confidence and understanding of how to be a good “digital grant maker” internally. Alongside doing user research interviews with different people across the organisation, we also asked people across the organisation to fill in a short survey as a way to get a snapshot of where people believe their greatest need is and what kinds of channels people want to learn through.

It was a very simplistic survey, and I’m always wary of surveys given that we know what people say they want, or the opinions people have, are rarely how they behave — however, 123 staff members answered it, which in itself was impressive in terms of staff engagement.

The answers to the first question really surprised me as understanding how technology is changing society is pretty complex. Having worked on this for 3 years in my previous role at Doteveryone I still feel like it’s something most people in the sector are grappling with. It will be interesting to test the range and depth of understanding in relation to this as we roll out the first version of materials and content.

I was surprised too by how low the percentage was in relation to perception of capabilities around good digital and design practice. This is something that the service design team are demonstrating as they roll out the Grant Management System, and hopefully through that process, will embed the capability into the wider organisation.

Answers to the last two questions pose an unsurprising challenge and contradiction — whereby people want face-to-face learning (and this is something that will be a core part of Melissa’s role when she starts next week) yet people have so little time. We’ll be thinking of ways around this — I love a design challenge!

What we’re celebrating

I’m was sad to say goodbye to Kamna and Lilian this week. Kamna has been working with our team on the collective approach to funding hospices, and I’ve loved working with her. I’m celebrating her move though as I think going on to do policy work for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation is a great development opportunity for her. They are very lucky to have her!

An introduction to someone working inside The National Lottery Community Fund

This week I’m introducing you to John, who I’m personally very grateful to for the ways he’s supported me, but more broadly, he heads up a number of brilliant people and initiatives within the fund.

What are 3 things you do as part of your role

I am the Senior Head of the National Lottery Community Fund’s UK Portfolio and we fund projects that operate across the UK and that are taking new approaches to long term challenges. We are the bit of the Fund where the Digital Fund sits. My role is really varied so I struggled a bit with this question, but essentially I lead a team of about 30 amazing colleagues, supporting them to achieve our aims and am responsible for setting our strategic approach.

What have you / or are you working on that you feel especially inspired by?

It will sound cheesy, but I am constantly inspired by the people that I work with, who are smart, curious, challenging (in a good way) and engaged, I get a lot of energy from those around me. I am also really inspired by the work that our team has done on digital, climate action and lived experience leaders, where I think we will look back in 5–10 years time and see that we have helped civil society organisation have a huge impact and change their ways of working. ​

What reflections do you have specifically about the Digital Fund?

I was one of the people that wrote the strategy behind the Digital Fund. We knew we would get a lot of applications, but not 1,200 and we obviously tapped into big demand, but my big lesson is that we could have been more precise in describing what we wanted to fund. I was pleasantly surprised at how far some organisations already are in their use of digital, but was disappointed that we didn’t get many applications from groups led by People of Colour or disabled people or from Northern Ireland or Wales. It shows we have more to do in those parts of the sector. I also learnt to move away from funding firm outcomes to being comfortable with a more iterative an test and learn approach.

What would you like to see more of or less of in the wider sector?

More —

  • Focus on mission or outcomes not just on organisation/s.
  • Collaboration, most of the programmes that we fund that have the biggest impact are collective approaches where organisations work together.
  • Diversity of thought, experience and background, there has been some progress here, but not enough at senior and trustee level.

Less —

  • Infighting/ competition, which prevents collective approaches, although I know that funders can add to this problem.
  • Jargon that excludes people — “systems change”, “holistic”, “lived experience”, “social impact” and many more. We get wrapped up in our own language which is often impenetrable to others.
  • Tokenistic/ fake consultation with the people that we work for/ with, I would like us to be better at listening and responding to our “users”.

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

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