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Involving the public: it’s not a question of how? It’s a question of why?

18 February 2015

Simon Burall, Director at Involve, shares his thoughts after attending a round table discussion at the Big Lottery Fund.

The Big Lottery Fund wants to be able to fund worthwhile projects in every community in the UK. However, like any big, national organisation, it finds it hard to be connected to enough people from the UK’s diverse communities.Simon Burrel

I went to their recent roundtable that aimed to tackle this challenge head-on by asking, ‘How can we involve the public in decisions about Lottery funding?’ The discussion, which ranged across a lot of issues, was useful because it brought together people I’d never met or heard of before.

For example, we heard about Crowdfunder, which is using the power of the internet to connect different networks, to help thousands of community projects raise funds from funders they could never access alone.

Livity drew on their work to highlight the importance of going to communities and engaging on their terms rather than designing the purpose and structure of the engagement on your own terms.

While all the examples we talked about were inspiring, they also highlighted the danger of starting with the ‘how to involve’ question; it can lead you to focus on process before you’ve got some of the basics right. This led a number of us in the group to start exploring the question of why the Big Lottery Fund might want to involve the public. We identified a number of different reasons, not all mutually exclusive. For example, does the Big Lottery Fund want to involve the public in order to:

  • Be held more accountable to those who buy tickets?
  • Identify new ideas and requests for funding?
  • Make better connections to communities it can’t reach?
  • Get public input into funding guidelines?
  • Hear more authentic stories about the impact that Lottery funding can have?

As the discussion developed it was clear the Big Lottery Fund is concerned about digital exclusion and finding ways to reach out more widely, to scale-up, particularly to communities that it currently doesn’t fund but probably should.

The discussion helped me to clarify a switch in perspective I’ve been making over the past year, particularly as we develop NHS Citizen for the Board of NHS England. I’m beginning to learn that reaching out to communities that are rarely involved requires a switch in mindset towards understanding and working through networks. Who is in your network? Who are they connected to? What might motivate them to bring their networks into conversations that you want to have? How might they help you access conversations that their networks are having?

The discussion provided far more questions than simple answers, and I thought it was a good sign that the Big Lottery Fund is willing to think about them with a diverse range of people openly and honestly. It’s the first step towards engaging with the public and communities in a more authentic way.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 18 February 2015 2:18 pm

    I’m an Age UK digital champion and involved with the vexed question of digital exclusion. Here’s my idea: create some digital champions of your own in communities, and use them to gather information, using a framework you set for them. Neighbourhood forums, which are attended by ‘concerned citizens’ might be useful places for these champions to gather information. Just a thought.

    • Big Lottery Fund permalink*
      19 February 2015 3:58 pm

      Thanks for your comment Jan, really appreciate hearing your ideas.


  1. Involve – Involving the public: it’s not a question of how? It’s a question of why? | The Big Lottery Fund Blog

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