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Putting people in the lead

24 March 2015

Dawn Austwick, Chief Executive, Big Lottery Fund

No bells or whistles. No dancing horses. No fanfare of trumpets. The Big Lottery Fund’s new strategic framework is a rather modest two pages and will quietly gather pace over the next few months. It’s more of a statement of intent than a detailed set of directions, a jumping off point for future choices.

Dawn AustwickWe can boil it down even further – in a nutshell it’s: ‘People in the Lead’. From this everything else flows: we want to start with what people bring to the table, not what they don’t have; and from the belief that people and communities are best placed to solve their problems, take advantage of opportunities, and rise to challenges. Our job is to support them in doing so. Much of what we do already points us this way: working with service users on Multiple and Complex needs, the Our Place programme in Scotland. And there are myriad Awards for All and Reaching Communities funded projects that do just this. Now we want to look at how we can push ourselves further, and faster.

Sound straightforward? Maybe – in theory! But there will be challenges
for us on the way. Two obvious ones are how this approach meshes with outcomes and with needs-led diagnosis. Should we as the funder always prescribe outcomes? How might we co-curate outcomes? And in tackling disadvantage, how do we move ourselves from inviting applicants to paint the worst picture of their circumstances to celebrate and build on the best of what they have to offer? Not quite so straightforward then?

We certainly don’t have all the answers; as I said, this is a jumping off point. This will be a journey shared with fellow travellers. We have to be great listeners and collaborators and I hope that we shamelessly beg, steal and borrow from others who are ahead and alongside us on the road!

To support our ambition of People in the Lead we’ve developed a set of principles to guide us. You will see in them our desire to be proportionate in how we work with others, horses for courses, you might say… One of our first actions is piloting a boiled down Awards for All application process which is going live right now. We’ll see how it goes and what applicants make of it, and then think about whether to roll it out or how to adapt it further. The bones of this were formed at a roundtable we held in Newcastle last autumn as part of the Strategic Framework consultation; heartfelt thanks to those who came and for that ten minutes of break through thinking – and I hope you recognise those bare bones from our discussion in the new application form.

We also want to be more of a catalyst and a facilitator – recognising the feedback we got about our place in the funding ecology and civil society more broadly. It’s not our job to prescribe but it can be our job to link, to share, and to encourage. To be a network, or a central nervous system that people navigate around, finding fellow travellers, being surprised and intrigued by the work of others, sharing evaluation and impact stories, and so much more.

To achieve this we are going to have to be out and about more, to invest in digital and other technology, to spot where we can add value, or indeed when we need to get out of the way (!) and let others get on with it. We’re developing the infrastructure for a digital community right now to support this.

Getting to this point has been a combined effort of partners, stakeholders, staff, Board, applicants, and many, many more. We are grateful for their contributions but we will only get to the next stages with the continued involvement and engagement of all those people and others who we haven’t yet met.

Here’s the link to the Strategic Framework and let me know what you think below as a comment, @DawnJAustwick or by email:

11 Comments leave one →
  1. 24 March 2015 9:41 am

    Reblogged this on The Big Lottery Fund Scotland Blog.

  2. 24 March 2015 10:15 am

    Exciting times indeed – thanks for the introduction and the effort in putting together such a concise document and approach. There are some truly exciting principles on offer here that don’t just reflect the current thinking but seek to push it on. So co-creating outcomes (not just talking about outcomes) and building a programme from a base of celebration of what we have not what is missing indicate a fresh and positive approach that Catch22 will enjoy engaging with if we can.

    • Big Lottery Fund permalink*
      24 March 2015 10:51 am

      Thanks for sharing, your thoughts and support are very much appreciated.

  3. Gary Hardman permalink
    24 March 2015 11:34 am

    This would have been an easier read if it was done in Plain English. As for feedback – why always Twitter or Facebook. Why can I not simply e-mail my comments. GRRRRRRR!

  4. 24 March 2015 9:35 pm

    I think the catalyst elements in the strategy, including these ….
    * Developing the skills of individuals and communities to take the lead in civil society, such as building community enterprises and increasing digital capability.
    * Encouraging different parts of civil society – from informal associations to small and medium sized entrepreneurs, through to the biggest charitable organisations – to adapt to current opportunities and challenges.
    * Backing innovation – giving momentum to people, communities and practitioners with new approaches to thorny problems, prioritising and growing the best ideas and practice.
    … are particularly important.
    One example. I’ve been leading an exploration, with the Digital Inclusion Group of Age Action Alliance, into the scope for digital innovation to support older people
    It’s clear there’s increasingly potential at the personal level, with the adoption of tablets and development of apps for health and wellbeing, for example. But people also need support at community level, where the challenges include lack of cooperation among organisations competing for funding, lack of digital capability, hierarchical models of working, silos etc. Of course there are terrific projects, many funded by BIG … but to make a difference we need a champion for innovation, networked approaches, and ways to share innovation. The three steps of Accelerating Ideas, simpler Awards for All, and the Digital Community sound really promising.

    • James Renton permalink
      29 March 2015 9:39 pm

      Personally I would rather not concentrate on the largely irrelevant issue such as how long the A4A application form will be, as I would rather people focused their attention on other issues such as the sentence in the document “Distributing the majority of our funding to voluntary, community, and social enterprise organisations as our core civil society partners”, Currently BIG allocates over 90% of its funding to the third sector setting your target, using the term “the majority” kind of suggests you they are setting the bar much lower? Or why were do BIG intend to spend their £640m per year budget?

      • Big Lottery Fund permalink*
        30 March 2015 3:19 pm

        Thanks for your comment. As you rightly say, currently over 90% of our funding goes to the sector. This was against a target of 80% set out in our previous framework in 2009.

        In our new framework, we have reaffirmed our belief that voluntary, community, and social enterprise organisations are our core partners in achieving the vision we’ve set out. We’ve also tried to reflect the fact that civil society has changed significantly, and will continue to do so. As it does, we need to be able to respond to the things that work best for supporting people and communities to improve their lives. This might mean encouraging cross-sector partnerships, working with ‘mixed income’ organisations and community enterprises, or helping to develop skills in the sector. Rather than set a fixed target at the beginning of this six year framework, our priority is to work closely with civil society organisations to explore how they might adapt to a rapidly changing and challenging environment.

  5. 7 April 2015 12:39 pm

    A very good article – Sam smith Support the you #peopleinthelead

  6. 13 December 2016 1:03 pm

    Hello. It’s instructive to revisit this and review in the light of much of the recent sector discussion, and just ‘almost a year on’. So for example I can see how the ‘generous leadership’ concept is playing to the new strategic vision. And how reviewing how funding is offered, being flexible, how you partner to get resources deployed most flexibly and effectively, reviewing portfolio mixes, and how community Vs thematic focusses play out – as well as how you take what one part of the organisation / region is doing and pull the learning through to other parts. All nailed into a ‘people in the lead’ focus.

    A phrase which I am well aware is repeatedly called into play when considering responses and new initiatives. So it’s clearly either / both gaining traction or else a clear programme of focus for you – and picking up awareness (in my experience) across the charity sector.


  1. Our funding plans 2015-2020 | The Big Lottery Fund Scotland Blog

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