Weeknotes 47 (14th — 18th October)

Finally we have a tender out, not that you can quite find it! It’s shown here but it’s actually something that you get the documents for from here.

This is a great piece of work from AI Now Institute helping bring more understanding to the ways that tech is and will impact on our climate and ecological crisis.

And I love Eirini’s blog post building on our conversations about how to fund “enabling environments” for Climate Tech.

What we’ve been doing

Beth has done a stellar job of stewarding things towards our last UK Panel for the first round of the Digital Fund, happening next week. Whilst Melissa’s been at quite a few events, as well as starting to set up her first visits to different regional and country offices.

The learning content is being finalised — how to be a “good digital grant maker” — and I’m excited to start testing it over the next few weeks with some other Foundations and grant makers, before we publish it on the web.

I’ve been out a lot this week — a workshop and event in Paris, hosted by R4D and the Global Innovation Exchange, and with USAID, the UNDP, Skoll Foundation, and Rockerfeller Foundation. I was invited to talk, alongside Alice from Lankelly Chase, Tom from Climate KIC, and Luca from Axilo, about the work we’re doing with the Digital Fund, and about the Catalyst.

I loved getting a chance to learn more about Axilo’s work as they’ve been so central to the design of Climate KIC, which I’m really impressed by.

Walks around Paris. I got to see the “pumpkin” by Yayoi Kusama before it was taken down due to high winds.

On Wednesday morning I was invited to a breakfast with other Foundations to discuss Collective Intelligence Design with Nesta and to learn more about the different work they’ve been doing since they launched the Centre for Collective Intelligence Design last year. One strand of work has been to develop the practice of Collective Intelligence Design — this has culminated in the creation of a playbook, developed with Liminal — it can be downloaded here.

Nesta breakfast and goodies.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Point People and the Design Council invited some of the leading design practitioners we know, into a room together to start an enquiry about where design practice can uniquely contribute to society.

How does design practice, especially for an interdependent and complex world, need to evolve away from its prescribed and often reductive practices of co-design, visualisation, insights and prototyping? What if design stopped being — User-centred, iterative, consensual, neutral, reliant on user testing?

The last two days of this week I was at a Lankelly Chase organised event about social learning — primarily it was an effort by them to continue building the community of people working systemically and on systems change initiatives across the UK. It was amazing that they brought in the expertise of Bev and Etienne Wenger to facilitate the process.

What we’ve been learning

Off the back of Nesta’s event, I’m writing up a blog post about the role of Collective Intelligence Design in philanthropy, but it’s not quite finished. Luckily, Melissa from the Digital Fund team has been able to write a brilliant summary and reflections from an event she went to earlier this week — thank you Melissa!

Thriving Together: Communities in Uncertain Times

To mark the re-launch of the Institute for Community Studies, The Young Foundation brought together a range of speakers and audience members to participate in a debate around the role of community in uncertain times. Breaking with tradition in the format of the event, they lived up to their values around participation and inclusion by making space for a variety of voices to be heard, building on their ethnographic tradition and commitment to seeing evidence in real stories, not just data. The following themes stood out…

  • Division: Helen Goulden reminded us that there are many ways of telling our stories, and that today stories of communities are often told in terms of (a) loss — stories of divided communities, left behind communities, precarity, need for safety and security; or (b) power of grassroots community action — stories of passionate providing, filling gaps and inclusive spaces. Other speakers discussed how there is also division between how these stories are researched and communicated. For example, Professor Mike Savage spoke of places being “bombarded with metrics and labels” and calls for deeper qualitative research, a sentiment echoed by poet Sagal Farrah in the line “they will stab you with statistics.” The idea that division is inherent with our very concept of community was posed by historian Jon Lawrence, whose book Me, Me, Me: The Search for Community in Post-war England argues that “exclusion is always lurking in the language of community.”
  • Bridges: However, there are bridges between these divided stories and communities. Jon Lawrence went on to say that we will facilitate real community when we allow for pluralism, when we think of communities more like networks and allow them to overlap. The Youth Mayor of Tower Hamlets Jaami Barry called for a bridge between his community and the police, whilst the Institute for Community Studies itself “seeks to bridge the divide between elites and communities.” This desire for new connecting forces was suggested by Mike Savage and audience participants to be caused by the disappearing middling communities (groups in every town that hold communities together as intermediaries, as social glue), which are increasingly under strain. Many others picked up on this and cited austerity as the main cause of strain, such as Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement Debbie Weekes-Barnard who discussed her previous experience in the third sector as “operating against a backdrop of cuts and austerity” and occupying a role of “plugging gaps”. “Civil society is a bridge,” she went on, “but we can’t rely on it to be the engine.”
  • Civil society: The role of the more informal layer of civil society activity was made clear throughout, especially in live audience polling showing that we find community in the home, sports groups, markets, mosques, cinemas, unions, churches etc. Julia Unwin, who chaired the Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society, continued this conversation, making the demand that we need to invest in “the trusted mediators and intermediaries,” especially the places and spaces where people come together. Trust in institutional civil society needs rebuilding, she argues, as the degradation of public/community spaces has been done deliberately, leaving people with a lack of trust in institutions. “Places aren’t left behind, they have been kept behind” she said. In one of two references to Grenfell, Debbie Weekes-Barnard recalls that in that disaster, civil society came first and fastest, reminding us of the strength, resilience and responsiveness of informal civil society, but also the burden that it carries.

What we’re celebrating

LOLz, it’s The National Lottery’s 25th Birthday this year, and on the 29th October The National Lottery Community Fund are inviting past and present grant holders to post a cross finger selfie on social media in a digital celebration. There are lots of things I’m crossing my fingers about at the moment, but if I see you between now and then and I discover you’ve received grant funding from us, I’m going to snap you doing the pose.



Working with Joseph Rowntree Foundation, EarthPercent, P4NE, Policy Fellow IIPP, Co-founder Point People, Founder Stewarding Loss, International Futures Forum.

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Cassie Robinson.

Working with Joseph Rowntree Foundation, EarthPercent, P4NE, Policy Fellow IIPP, Co-founder Point People, Founder Stewarding Loss, International Futures Forum.