In late 2019, with the help of Think Social Tech(opens in new window), Comic Relief and Paul Hamlyn Foundation conducted a review of our Tech for Good funding approach, to ensure the fund is working for those it was built for.
The below learnings were crafted before the COVID-19 crisis, with the aim of sharing what we found out from speaking to organisations and stakeholders before launching the Tech for Good fund again in 2020. We believe that they remain relevant to the current context and the future that is yet to emerge.
The review process involved reflecting on previous iterations of the programme and speaking to stakeholders including past grantees, other funders, and sector experts, to take stock of what organisations need and want from digital funders, where the gaps are and what has changed since we started the fund. See here(opens in new window) for more information on our new ‘Explore’ fund, including how to apply.
Earlier stage funding: how can we support the groundwork necessary for teams to build an impactful digital service delivery idea?
From our experience running Tech for Good rounds, a good digital service delivery idea is underpinned by:
Solid ‘that articulated the specific challenge or opportunity organisations were responding to
Evidence from organisations’ users about the usefulness of a digital solution
An awareness of what other, similar solutions might be out there
The review showed us that successful applications had put in a lot of work, time and investment into this early-stage preparation but this wasn’t possible for many.
We know that in the current climate, time is an even more stretched resource. The ‘Explore’ programme is designed to guide organisations to lay some of this groundwork:
Collect evidence of user needs
Explore how you know what type of digital solution is needed
Develop a basic prototype ready for testing with your users
Considering the implications of change for stakeholders
Think about how you present all this to funders when the time comes to embark on a full-scale digital development project
Ripple effects: how can we spark effective long-term digital transformation?
At its heart, the Tech for Good fund is about supporting change and growth in the sector. The magic ingredients in this are organisations and their people.
Over the last few years non-profits have made a lot of progress building up digital capability across different areas of operations. However, no one could have predicted that in 2020 the sector would be forced to undergo a rapid digital transformation to maintain core services.
We want more than just ‘tech-savvy’ charities to apply for our funding, but we learned through our review that there are barriers to entry that often deter potential applicants who may lack the confidence and capacity to engage with digital development, and we know organisations vary hugely when it comes to their in-house (or access to external) digital skills and capabilities, and stage in their digital journey.
We know from past evaluations that organisational learning is a key outcome of digital development. Organisations apply the practices they learn to wider areas of their work, and learn much more about their users in the process. There was also evidence that the new knowledge in-house sparked the development of other digital services and products.
The funding available as part of the ‘Explore’ programme will help applicants budget for investing this time for their organisation. The small grant allows organisations to backfill operational costs (e.g. salary), as they embark upon a fast-paced programme of digital development. Resourcing staff time properly will put organisations in the best position to both deliver their project and open up the potential for long-term digital transformation across their organisation.
What counts as a Tech for Good solution?
Until now, the fund has largely focused on helping single organisations to develop solutions that are used directly by the people the charity supports. However, digital can support teams in varying ways - from a tech solution that’s in the hands of beneficiaries, to innovative back-end tech that serves to radically improve user outcomes.
Reflecting on the fund, we also examined our own past communications in light of the perception that digital service development necessarily means creating something ‘shiny and new’ for your users.
We hope ‘Explore’ will provide the scoping, skills and groundwork needed for teams to know what is possible within the realms of ‘digital’ and how tech can best serve them in their individual contexts.
With that in mind we’re are also encouraging:
Innovative back-end ideas that make human-powered services better for the people an organisation supports (see Alexandra Rose’s Rose Voucher project(opens in new window))
Re-use of existing technology that, where used well, can be just as effective as building something new
Creation of more joint and sector-owned digital solutions and platforms where possible.
Beyond funding early stage thinking which could have significant impact on the long-term capability of the organisations we aim to support, we hope that this new funding strand will create the space for teams to make an informed decision on the feasibility of their imagined idea or product: whether the best course of action is to go ahead with building something new, or re-using or adapting an existing product.
This review process offered so many valuable insights that are shaping our funding approach and that are even more important now that organisations are being pressured by external circumstances into re-thinking how digital intersects with their service delivery in the mid-to-long term.
Over the next two years of the Tech for Good funding partnership, we plan to support the sector in two key ways: our ‘Explore’ strand will offer short, early stage funding allowing organisations to scope early stage ideas while we also intend to reopen the main Tech for Good fund later in the year, offering larger grants to allow organisations to develop their solution further.