The Digital Fund
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The Digital Fund

Weeknotes 70 (20th April to 24th April)

This week the Digital Fund team has been very busy — and adapting to new changes in the team! As you will know if you’ve read our previous blogposts, Cassie has now moved into her new position as Senior Head of UK Portfolio full time which is exciting for all of us — and it already feels like it’s been months as so much has started to happen already! So it’s just Beth, Melissa and I, however as you’ll find out in this post we are starting to feel much more integrated into a wider UKP team.

Additionally, Beth and Melissa have moved focus a bit to help with the Fund’s Covid-19 funding response, so they are spending a lot of their time working on that while some of the usual Digital Fund work is paused. Therefore, on Monday we made some time as a team to think about how we can work best together over the next few months, given that much of our plans are shifting due to Covid-19.

Staying together as a UK Portfolio team

One thing I appreciate that has come out of this strange pandemic time is how much the UK Portfolio (UKP) team has banded together and got closer as a result of all the online calls we have started to do together. Every Wednesday the UKP team gathers for ‘What’s up Wednesday’ where there is usually a hilarious theme decided ahead of time — this week it was ‘sunglasses’ and last week ‘hats’ — it’s the simple things that keep us going at the moment!

“Lovely, soothing and hilarious team chats with our amazing UKP colleagues — today with sunglasses thanks to our genius colleague Ang”

Additionally, I have been hosting a weekly ‘sharing space’ with the UKP Team to create a bit of time to reflect together and share what’s been difficult or challenging about this time. What’s great is that we ring-fence this time to be a sharing space for the more feelings side of things, and try to avoid logistics/planning chat. This week I hosted some exercises from a body of work called The Work That Reconnects which consists of group processes for ‘resilience in uncertain times’. The exercise was a series of ‘open sentences’ which colleagues would finish one by one:

  • One thing I love about being alive on Earth right now is…
  • When I think about the current crisis what I find most difficult is…
  • What I’m learning about myself during this time is…

It was really lovely to have the space and time to share a bit about what’s going on from a more personal place together.

Digital Fund grantholders and Covid-19

During the week, Beth and I have been hosting check-in calls with some Digital Fund grantholders to find out about how they are responding and adapting to the Covid-19 pandemic. This was really inspiring and heartening for us as it’s so amazing to hear how these organisations are continuing to adapt and cope, and continue their important work under adverse conditions.

Excitingly, we received the following news today:

Samaritans is coming together with Mind and Hospice UK, supported by The Royal Foundation, to launch Our Frontline, providing round the clock mental health support to those working on the frontline against the Coronavirus. It’s a combination of 1–2–1 support and online resources for NHS workers and carers who are putting their mental health under pressure.

You can read more about this in: The Daily Mail, The Sun, ITV and The Telegraph.

Having caught up with our support partners from DOTPROJECT, CAST and Shift this week, we’re also noticing the pattern of increased collaboration and larger scale shared efforts across the grantee cohort as they respond to Covid-19. Speaking to The Children Society on Thursday, they spoke of the cross-sector collaborations they have been engaging in, and we have been hearing about grantees from the Digital Fund consulting each other on advice regarding how best to respond to Covid-19 and on the digitisation of services.

Support partner sensemaking and learning

This week we had our monthly sensemaking and learning session with support partners (listed above) on our learning and insights from the cohort of grantholders. The purpose of these sessions are for me and support partners to work together to surface insights and learning from what we are noticing across the cohort of grantholders — and pick out the patterns and higher level understanding. This in turn feeds back into how we understand and test our theory of change at the Digital Fund — i.e. why we gave funding to this cohort of organisations and not other organisations, and testing learning assumptions around the following themes:

  • Investment in the work of medium and large charities in sector digital capabilities
  • Whether recruiting, supporting and sustaining an internal design and digital team the is best way to do organisational transition work
  • The level of progress possible in building the confidence, mindset, and processes to become ‘digitally/future fit’ within 2 years
  • How much having a detailed plan actually poses a barrier to success for our strand one grantholders (those who are using our funding to undergo organisational transformation and change)
  • Whether charities are putting people in the lead in meaningful ways, and what that looks like in practice

It was an interesting session, particularly as our support partners have queried the way they provide support and interrogated how they can deliver support in a more networked, holistic way. It has been interesting to see how effective they have come together to support the sector through the Catalyst project, which has grown in capacity and coordination very rapidly over the last few weeks to respond to Covid-19. Over the coming weeks we will be hosting a retrospective and learning/design session for support partners to iterate on their ways of working and approach together.

Digital funding drop-in calls

One thing Melissa is continuing to keep in place is the weekly digital funding drop-in call for colleagues. This week the drop-in call hosted two funding managers, one of which was looking for examples of digital social innovation projects for engaging people experiencing street homelessness and multiple disadvantages (I highlighted Beam, Streetlink and Reboot); and the other to gather and share learning with grantholders on the Ageing Better programme. All this led on to sharing insights about what we’d heard grantholders across different programmes are doing to adapt through digital technologies, including:

  • Using personal budget to by mobile phones and devices for beneficiaries.
  • Setting up social networks for beneficiaries, and hurriedly setting up guidance for staff/volunteers.
  • Relating digital resources: creating guidance and other online content to inform people about the pandemic; creating downloadable and printable cards for people to use to show to authorities when doing essential errands outside, e.g. Humankind’s ‘Essential Journey Cards’; webinars and other learning pieces to help staff adapt to new ways of working.
  • Nothing radical in terms of the platforms they’re using but utilising the platforms they already have in new ways. (Although, we said, it is lots of small things that make up the radical!)

Covid-19 UK Portfolio response

As mentioned above, this week Melissa and Beth shifted focus to work on the Covid-19 response. This required writing a number of panel papers at speed to get them through to panel on Thursday, and will continue like this for a few months. Melissa said:

“Though not digital grant-making related, it will be a really valuable experience in terms of learning more about grantmaking practice, which will inform all the work I was doing before (and will continue with a bit more lightly whilst in response mode).”

On Friday Melissa will join the first UK Portfolio Covid Sense Making Session which is part of the UK Portfolio-wide horizon scanning and learning network being established by colleagues. As a ‘sense maker’, she will work through and make sense of what the new network of ‘scanners’ have found through their conversations in the last week.

Digital, Data and Technology CoP

Lastly (long Weeknotes!), Melissa hosted the second meet up for the new Digital, Data and Technology Community of Practice set up with a small group of colleagues across the Fund a few months ago. It happened virtually, as it would have done anyway to accommodate colleagues across different countries, but felt especially useful to be able to meet like this now.

“We shared learning, resources, tips and ideas to take forward to other teams (e.g. recommendations for the service design team and partnerships/collaborations the organisation could make).”



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Phoebe Tickell

Phoebe Tickell

Cares about the common good. Building capacity for deep systems change. Complexity & ecosystems obsessive. Experiments for everything. 10 yrs #systemsthinking.