Putting people in the lead
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.
We 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.