Developing Good Digital Grant Making Practice
Over the last year, the National Lottery Community Fund has been exploring how we can develop our staff’s confidence and capability when it comes to making decisions and judgements about grants that involve digital, data and technology.
With over 800 members of staff across all 4 corners of the UK, this was always going to be a big job for the small team tasked with the work (that’s us at the Digital Fund). Shifting to working on this remotely during a time of unprecedented crisis, increased demand for our funding and new need for funding around digital was a whole new challenge.
This time last year, we brought together a group of funders to test some new learning materials we had designed to support our colleagues to become good digital grant makers, before we set out on a journey to test them internally and iterate them over time.
Last Thursday, one year on, we brought together another group (with some new, and some familiar faces) to share where we’re at and what we’ve learnt about cascading this learning across the wider Fund.
We also wanted to open up conversation about how UK grant makers are experiencing the process of developing these new areas of confidence and capability within their own organisations.
As we’ve seen the world shift to online delivery and digital ways of working this year, grantmakers will all have faced funding requests for entirely new kinds of activities, new kinds of support resources and new kinds of partnerships. As we continue through this experience, we think it’s crucial that we keep exploring what good looks like in this area, gaining confidence in it, and most importantly, connecting with each other to share what we’re learning.
By bringing together funders this week, we wanted to share learning, reflections, tips and tactics; identify common aspirations, goals and milestones; and seek out opportunities to build on each other's work.
We had a far-ranging conversation that revealed a lot of diversity of experience, desire for collaboration, concerns about what’s on the horizon, optimism about silver linings, and curiosity about how digital interlocks with all kinds of social justice issues.
We opened with a check-in exercise to get a sense of where we felt our organisations are at with digital grant making, using Catalyst’s Charity Digital Journeys as the basis for our scale.
This and the whole conversation revealed a diversity of experience in terms of where we felt our organisations were at, the work we had done and our areas of focus.
Whilst we might all be at different points in our journey, we all have a lot to learn from one another; as one attendee said: “It's been really valuable to have some time to appreciate a range of perspectives and approaches.
Another acknowledged: “the parallels in experience, despite differences in circumstances, e.g. around being the digital/data/tech lead in one organisation.”
We talked about the important work some in the group have been doing around embedding open-access into policy and incentivising re-use of tools; how we’re trying to weave these conversations about digital into other thematic areas of work, like racial and climate justice; and how notorious instances of data, apps and algorithms impacting people and communities this year have had a strange silver lining, in that there are now recognisable examples of how tech is impacting society that we can refer to to help build up our colleagues’ understanding of this topic.
Some hadn’t yet focused much on internal organisation-wide learning, choosing instead to focus their efforts around specific funding programmes for digital social innovation. Others were just starting to work out a digital strategy for the whole organisation and were looking more broadly at how to embed digital across other programme areas in a more intentional way.
Wherever we were at, it was clear that there was a desire for continued collaboration as we all continue to make a greater and hopefully more diverse range of grants to enable communities to use, build and shape digital technologies in new ways.
We'll be sharing more about the work we've done in this area soon, but in the meantime catch up on what we've been doing here.
Thanks to Esmee Fairbairn, Comic Relief, London Funders, Luminate, John Ellerman Foundation and the National Lottery Heritage Fund for joining us at this event.