How can we make more collective progress when funding single organisations?
Most of the challenges and opportunities facing individual grantees can better be explored and resolved with more partners involved and we must find more ways for these partners to be brought meaningfully into a shared journey, says Founder of Shift, Nick Stanhope.
All of the grantees that Shift is supporting as part of the Digital Fund are taking on big, tricky questions about where to focus their efforts and resources in the first year of their various digital journeys, which range from efforts to shift organisational culture through to rapid cycles of design on particular services.
Thankfully, they have a lot of the right conditions for taking on those questions: 2–3 year grants; experienced support teams that have been through the same questions with a lot of similar organisations; and, critically, trust and freedom from The National Lottery Community Fund to reassess their original proposal, undertake more learning and update and improve these plans.
We feel that all of the organisations we’re working with are taking on these questions thoughtfully and using this freedom well. But, there’s something missing in our approach and it’s not clear how to overcome within the current structure of our support or the funding.
Challenges and Opportunities
The major challenges and opportunities facing these organisations are very clearly shared by dozens of other similar teams. Not only would the issues in question be much better explored and understood with multiple similar actors participating in the learning process, but the design of the response (in this case, things like what digital capabilities to build, what services to innovate and improve, what tools or platforms to use), would have much greater potential with more partners involved.
Here is an example…
Children 1st has funding to transform the support they provide through the Parentline service, which helps over 2,500 parents and carers a year with a wide range of issues. The Parentline team is, rightly, using this opportunity to get a richer picture of which groups of parents and types of needs they are currently addressing (i.e. data analysis, user research etc). They are also trying to build a picture of what needs, priorities and preferences for support look like across Scottish families and how those needs are currently met by existing services. That, in turn, will help inform how best to focus, deepen and grow their impact through service design, building more partnerships work, more targeted marketing etc.
These last two questions, about wider needs of families and the landscape of existing provision, are examples of the kinds of heads up, context-aware learning that every organisation should be doing. But this is also clearly the kind of learning that would be at its best with multiple contributors and multiple beneficiaries. In fact, the scale, depth and breadth of learning required to build up the views and understanding we really need, can only be done with lots more actors involved, from across government and civil society. And not just as one big report (of which there are some good examples in Scotland), but as ongoing shared learning.
Furthermore, there are currently at least 60 sources of helpline support for parents in the UK, targeting different combinations of audience (e.g. single parents, kinship carers), need (e.g. legal, financial, mental health) and forms of remote, personal support (e.g. phone, web chat, text). And our light review of existing services, doesn’t include the hundreds of other sources of relevant support that are available to these same families but which wouldn’t target them as parents, but via different issues, needs or contexts.
Questions for the future
Ideally, this entire landscape of services becomes better at understanding families, working with them and meeting the full range of needs, preferences and priorities for support — that it is better connected, more interdependent and builds the right capabilities, skills and assets in the right places. Again, this could only happen by doing what we’re doing with a lot more people around the table at each stage of a journey like this.
This isn’t suggesting that, in order to make any meaningful progress, with learning, design or digital capability building, a big web of partners has to be involved. Nor is it suggesting that everything has to be a collaborative effort. But, the question we will continue to think hard about is:
When challenges and opportunities for grantees, relating to discovery, planning, capability building, design or development, can better be explored and resolved with more partners involved, how can they be brought meaningfully into the process?
How can this be resourced (one well funded member of a collaboration and five unfunded ones doesn’t work)? How can this help all those participants make more progress, more efficiently, with the questions they are addressing? What existing networks and associations can this build on? What existing models can be drawn upon? How can we make these open and diverse, rather than locked down groups of the usual suspects?
We’ll continue to think hard about this, bring partners around the table whenever we can and try bring in more resources to pursue opportunities for shared progress.