Setting up a Listening, Learning & Sense-making infrastructure at The National Lottery Community Fund
Cassie Robinson, Senior Head, UK Portfolio at The National Lottery Community Fund discusses how the practical Three Horizons framework helps us think about the future and make sense and keep track of a rapidly changing landscape
Over the last 10 weeks various teams across The National Lottery Community Fund have been doing things a little differently to respond to the current context we are all operating in.
Obviously, many of the funding teams focussed on an immediate funding response — which was largely informed by the initial user research we did out in the sector.
The recent past
The Data team has developed context specific dashboards so we can monitor in real time trends across portfolios and where funding is going. Our Continuous Improvement team and Service Design team are using the data from our Grant Management System, alongside user research, to ensure the experience people have applying for funding is as straight-forward as possible, that it adapts to need, and that funding policies are developed as the context changes.
Our Knowledge and Learning teams have been doing interviews, reading articles, going through our knowledge archives and curating Insight pages that gather useful information and learning for the sector.
These activities, that have been established for some time, all contribute to us distributing funding more intelligently, in a more user-centred way, and provide us with important provenance — about what we are funding, where and why, and what we are learning.
However, this activity is all very much about the present - our responsive funding. We also wanted to look further ahead, to anticipate, look at what’s changing in communities, what patterns are emerging — not just simply at what is.
This means we’re doing a range of other activities — a series of events, a series of interviews with people in different sectors (Pockets of the Future) and we’ve set up a Scanning & Sensing Network across the fund, with 48 colleagues from across the UK listening to communities.
For five weeks now the Scanning & Sense Network has been doing on average 20–40 interviews a week with people, communities and civil society organisations. Alongside this, colleagues have been filling out a questionnaire each Thursday reflecting on what they’ve seen, heard and read each week. All this data is then taken into a sense-making session every Friday, using the Three Horizon’s framework, supported by the International Futures Forum.
The framework encourages us to see things as patterns, to think systemically and shows that it is possible to convene the future by listening out for and becoming adept at managing a conversation between the ‘voices’ of the three horizons.Bill Sharpe
Three Horizons is a practical, simple and robust framework for thinking about the future and is an effective scanning framework to make sense and keep track of a rapidly changing landscape. At its simplest, it describes three patterns of activity and how their interactions play out over time.
The first horizon is the dominant system at present. It represents ‘business as usual’. We rely on these systems being stable and reliable. But as the world changes, so aspects of business as usual begin to feel out of place or no longer fit for purpose. Eventually ‘business as usual’ will always be superseded by new patterns of activity.
The third horizon emerges as the long-term successor to business as usual. It grows from fringe activity in the present that introduces completely new ways of doing things, but which turn out to be much better fitted to the world that is emerging than the activity in the first horizon. What we find in the third horizon give us encouragement and inspiration.
The second horizon, existing between the two, is a pattern of transition activities and innovations. It is where people try things out in response to the ways in which the landscape is changing - new ways of working, new capacities, new structures even. Some of these innovations will be absorbed back into the first horizon systems to improve them and to prolong their life while some will pave the way for the emergence of new and different systems.
The framework maps a shift from the established patterns of the first horizon to the emergence of new patterns in the third, via the transition activity of the second.
Innovations, adaptations & a changing landscape
During the COVID-19 crisis we have been paying a lot of attention to the reliability, capacity, and performance of our first horizon systems. We’ve also been noticing innovations and adaptations that have been made to improve the performance of the first horizon, in particular to address increased demand and/or to maintain performance in such changed circumstances.
Technology has had a big role to play. There has also been fringe activity, either persisting or springing up on the margins of mainstream services, institutions and practices – both inside ‘the system’ and out in the wider community. This is horizon three and can be described as the emerging future.
By using Three Horizons as a scanning framework we can remain aware of the changing landscape and the need both to address the challenges to the first horizon - addressing today’s crisis effectively in the moment, alongside supporting communities and civil society to emerge stronger on the other side - likely with new patterns of operation fit for the future. We need both to ‘keep the lights on’ today, and to find a way of keeping them on in the future in very different circumstances.
Thank you to Graham Leicester and the International Futures Forum.