Using Tech to Make Place-Based Funding a Success
Giving 150 local communities £1 million each with no strings attached: This is the leap of faith the National Lottery Community Fund took in 2012 when it established a nonprofit organisation called Local Trust to deliver Big Local, a programme that puts money directly into the hands of communities across the UK.
The £217 million fund is the largest single-purpose Lottery-funded endowment ever made,and the biggest-ever investment by a non-state funder in place-based, resident-led change in the UK. In terms of scale, time horizon, and ethos, nothing like the Big Local programme has ever been attempted in England before.
Let’s have a look at how cloud technology and a user-led approach are enabling the programme’s success.
One of the initiatives created through the Big Local programme is the Big Local Little Voices project in England’s West Midlands.
Big Local was designed from the outset to be radically different from other funding programmes. At its heart is a vision of empowered, resilient, dynamic, asset-rich communities making their own decisions about what’s best for their areas.
The changes Big Local is creating are best illustrated by the hundreds of local initiatives that have happened across the UK since 2012 thanks to the programme. The story of Big Local Little Voices (BLLV) Printing & Merchandise is one of them.
The area known as Grace Mary to Lion Farm consists of four separate neighbourhoods: Grace Mary, Lion Farm, Tividale, and Wallace in the borough of Sandwell, West Midlands. The community has a larger-than-average youth population with nearly 40 per cent of children from low-income families, compared with 26 per cent across the North East. Historic distrust and division between the estates typically made tackling issues like crime, drug abuse, antisocial behaviour, and isolation difficult in the area. Despite each estate having its own youth activities, there was no coordination.
In October 2018, Big Local board members went around each neighbourhood and invited young people to start a new youth project. Although the board facilitates the programme, it is the young people themselves who run the weekly meetings and activities independently.
By the end of their first year, the group had set up a youth enterprise, not-for-profit business called Big Local Little Voices Printing & Merchandise, selling personalised items on their Facebook page to raise money and reinvest it back into the community.
The whole BLLV operation is slick and professional, with coordinated social media accounts and consistent branding.
The group has produced a YouTube video narrated with a spoken-word poem outlining their concerns. The bonds forged by the group, whose families and friends have also got to know each other, have begun to bridge the neighbourhood divide.
Giving Local Residents Control Over Their Funding
The growth of place-based approaches to community funding correlates with social trends that have been developing over the last decade. They include the rising demand for public services, more and more complex resident needs, acute public financial constraints, and higher expectations for personalised services. By putting financial power in the hands of local people, place-based strategies respond to the growing need for more relevant and localised change.
However, if the benefits of funding communities directly make sense in theory, place-based approaches are not without their challenges in practice. Generally, research has shown that to be successful, such programmes need to be open, flexible, and realistic in their approach. To achieve this at scale is an operational challenge, particularly without the right tools to communicate, reflect, and learn. This is where cloud technology can help: by removing geographical barriers to collaboration and making large volumes of knowledge easy to capture and share across vast networks of people.
The Big Local Little Voices project has been bridging neighbourhood divides to bring communities together.
In September 2021, Salesforce cloud technology became the central hub for Local Trust staff and grantees to manage funding to all 150 Big Local areas. This includes the processing of funding applications, payments, and reporting. The development of the cloud-based system was facilitated by Hyphen8’s experienced Salesforce consultants with the help of the Salesforce Outbound funds module and Experience Cloud.
As well as transforming the Local Trust funding team’s business processes, the introduction of a Salesforce community has given grantees access to the information and tools they need to make the most of their funding. In each area’s Local Trust fund, Big Local works with a local rep and local trusted organisation. It’s now easy for them to view funding information on their area page, apply for further funding, and communicate with Local Trust in real time about their activities and needs for support.
Big Local Programme Administrator Adam Cross says, “It is really important to us as a resident-led funder to know people are much happier with how the system works, and that we can exchange much more timely and accurate information from the communities we work with.”
A User-Led Approach to Grant Management System Design
Three key decisions made Local Trust’s new approach to tech successful:
1. Local Trust decided on a radical shift toward new cloud technology and open communication
Rather than tweak the old system or choose any off-the-shelf grant management solution, Local Trust trusted Hyphen8’s recommendation to invest in a new Salesforce solution. The flexibility of the platform allowed them to design a data model that matched their unique funding model, which relies on dedicated local reps responsible for supporting specific Big Local areas. Using predominantly Salesforce features such as Experience Cloud and Flow, they were able to create an online community for local reps to access live information about their funding, apply for new funding, and interact with the central Local Trust team.
2. Hyphen8 and Local Trust worked as one team to transfer Salesforce and product management expertise.
One of this project’s design principles was for the Local Trust team to grow in self-sufficiency, meaning they wouldn’t need to systematically ask a third-party supplier for help as they scaled up the use of their platform. Working side by side with the Hyphen8 team meant that the Local Trust team could train as they went throughout the project.
3. We designed a solution with and for its day-to-day users (a user-centred design approach).
Hyphen8’s Salesforce consultants and service designers worked closely with Local Trust users every step of the way. Engaging deeply with users meant we were able to build empathy, address assumptions, and focus on building the tools people actually needed.
Our Hyphen8 service design experts engaged with all users from day one, from grant managers and administrators to finance officers and local reps. We ran early discovery sessions including journey mapping, active observations of people’s daily work, visioning sessions, and user interviews. We also developed and played back user stories to express the jobs people needed the system to help with. We ran testing sessions and observed users interacting with the system before it was deployed, so that we could understand the pain points with some of the designs and address them before they became issues. Finally, we co-hosted sessions with external users to let them know about the changes that were coming and ensure that they had the opportunity to be part of the process every step of the way.
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About the Author
Delivery Manager, Hyphen8
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