How Knowledge Management is ensuring The National Lottery Community Fund contributes more than just money
In 2020 The National Lottery Community Fund’s Knowledge and Learning team won the Government Information Group annual award, which recognised our ‘major contribution to the government knowledge and information management profession’. We were also highly commended in the Henley Forum 2020 Awards, which recognise people and teams that are advancing organisational practice and capability in knowledge, learning, change, and innovation.
Julia Parnaby and Anne-Mari Hall head the UK Knowledge & Learning team share the story of their work: what they have put in place, the difference this is making, and what they have learned along the way.
When we took up our roles at the National Lottery Community Fund, we were hard pushed to think of good examples of Knowledge Management (KM) being used effectively in charities or civil society. That is changing, so we were thrilled to have received these important awards, and to be recognised by peers for our work.
Our team was established in 2017 with a remit to build on our privileged position in the voluntary sector and our access to vast and varied knowledge, which we had struggled to make most of. We wanted to make our grantholders’ evidence and learning accessible, and share their expertise and experience to inform policy and practice. And we give a platform to the groups we fund, telling a more compelling story of the contribution they make to helping people and communities across the UK thrive.
Improving access to knowledge about our funding
Open, equal access to knowledge is at the heart of everything we do. Insights hidden in personal drives or people’s heads help no one. That is why we started by building an accessible SharePoint site - the Knowledge Bank - as a foundational piece for our work. We designed it after collecting feedback from 20% of staff, ensuring it is accessible to all our colleagues, at all times, from all devices.
In the first year we created 134 content pages, curating evidence from staff, grantholders, beneficiaries and contractors. A new document library has 1,600 evidence briefs, that we’ve tagged, catalogued and shared – they were previously scattered across multiple shared or personal drives, defunct websites and the National Archives. It is also home to a searchable staff directory and an events calendar.
Our 800 staff viewed the content over 22,000 times in the first year, which exceeded all our expectations. Visitor numbers continue to rise as we add new curated content, with staff telling us that they use it support their funding assessments, and improve their understanding of the issues people face, and solutions that work. One of our favourite quotes is from a funding manager who told us: “In the past learning at the Fund was a serendipitous accident, now you bring order and structure.” A Funding Officer also commented: “Your work has made a huge impact on my team’s understanding of these issues.”
Embedding Knowledge Management
An accessible knowledge infrastructure is only the beginning. We believe that successfully and sustainably embedding KM means all staff making it a part of their work. There is no way that our team of eight can capture everything that half a billion pounds’ worth of funding achieves. It needs to be an organisational effort, which is why we work hard to build staff confidence around KM practice and culture.
We started by introducing some tried and tested initiatives like Randomised Coffee Trials (RCT) and developing a “lessons learned” model with nearly a quarter of our staff, enabling them to reflect, share and improve what and how we fund. We piloted one-day “content challenges” to co-curate new insights and to enthuse others. To respond to feedback, we have co-produced 20 “top tips” with staff to summarise practical evidence in a bite-sized format.
We have continued to innovate and are in the middle of running our first Grantholder Coffee Club pilot, connecting 200 charities and community groups across the South West of England and encouraging peer learning. We have introduced ‘potluck lunches’, where we co-present findings from our work with a member of funding staff, and encourage others to share their learning in a friendly and informal setting. They have broken our internal record for attendance at a virtual meeting!
We are also working out loud by blogging, writing regular updates for colleagues on Yammer, publishing by default in the Knowledge Bank and compiling our experiences into a Knowledge Toolkit with practical guidance and examples. One has already been used to inform the development of a new funding programme.
We ensure that the Fund contributes more than just money to the voluntary and community sector (VCS) by researching, writing and sharing our own insight reports. Previously this work was contracted out externally. We published 11 reports in 2019 and this year we have been sharing real-time learning on the contribution the VCS has made during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Our evidence library gives our grantholders an accessible platform to share and access evidence. People viewed these pages 41,800 times and downloaded 5,250 documents in 2019, and we have seen huge increases in visitor numbers this year. Our colleagues also use them to inform their work, including stakeholder events and consultation responses, like into the review of the National Autism Strategy. We present our findings regularly to audiences from frontline charity workers to specialist audiences and we are working with more academics to incorporate findings from charities into their work.
What have we learned over the past year?
We know that there is still a lot to do, but we are proud of the progress towards a more collaborative, transparent and sustainable model of knowledge and information management. Our key takeaways from the last couple of years are:
- Do not seek permission; make things happen because they are the right thing to do.
- Do not procrastinate or look for the ‘perfect’ approach. We found that creating some boundaries, no matter how imperfect, helped us get going and ultimately prove to ourselves and others what was possible. But we also learned that if you try to do everything, you will not achieve very much at all.
- Embrace technology for what it can do for you right now and not at the expense of connections and relationships.
- Keep an unwavering focus on your purpose, what you are trying to achieve and why, and making everything transparent and accessible. Work out loud, explaining what you are doing, and to what end. And always invite and welcome feedback and constructive challenge.
- Use plain English in all your work; bin jargon and generalisations, and cut to the core of what really matters. Combining stats and stories helps enthuse and motivate others.
Want to find out more?
If you’d like to find out more about our work, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org