Head in the sand about Cyber Security? Don’t go it alone….

With the impending implementation date of GDPR, barely a day goes by without a handy checklist or blog post landing in my inbox.  However, close on its heels seems to be Cyber Security or perhaps more accurately, stories of breaches and where it all goes wrong.

It would be difficult to claim complete ignorance that these are important subjects, but the volume of available information can seem quite overwhelming and there’s no shortage of scaremongering stories to make a “head in the sand” approach seem rather appealing.  As in most areas, I know that’s rarely a helpful strategy.

So, I was pleased last week to attend a Cyber Security-focused Net Squared London meetup.  (This  never fails to be a useful meetup to attend – check it out if you haven’t been).  My interest on this occasion was on two fronts, both in terms of the implications for my own sole trader business and in order that I can be better informed about a topic that I know is a concern for the organisations I work with.

Some really helpful technical content and top tips were shared by Phil Anthony of Coop Sys and Nick Denning of Cysure with the overarching and reassuring message that taking a proportionate, risk based approach and using simple tools such as those available on the Cyber Essentials site are a great start, that make a significant difference.

I’m assured that a full rundown of the content and resources shared is to follow in Charity Digital News, so I won’t pre-empt that as I’m sure it will be more complete than my scribbled notes.  However, for me, beyond the undoubtedly helpful curation of resources, events such as this  reinforce my enthusiasm for peer learning, even for topics that can at first appear complex and a bit daunting.

Attending an informal session such as a meetup not only provides a “safe” forum to ask questions and share experiences, good and bad, but also offers a feeling of support, particularly important when working alone or in small teams.  More than this, I can safely say that I would have found a list of other things to do in preference to spending 2-3 hours at home reading about Cyber Security online on a Wednesday evening.  Adding a social element made even this topic an enjoyable one to explore.

An added bonus was learning about host airbnb’s growing opportunities for Social Impact Experiences so I left with some holiday planning ideas too!

Clearly, developing knowledge and implementing measures relating to GDPR are not one-off exercises and I can see a clear benefit in continuing peer support around these subjects and many others so I’ll be exploring further what this might mean in practice.

How about you?  If it’s time to get your head out of the sand regarding Cyber Security or GDPR, could connecting with peers be a way to make it seem more manageable?  Are you signed up to an event that you could share with others?  Or are you looking for one in your area, or on a particular topic?  Let’s start a conversation – there’s no need to go it alone!

If you’re keen to find a safe space to learn and test tools and techniques for working with groups, you might be interested in Together Tools meetup– I’d love you to join us.

Top 5 Festivals and Events of 2017

In my past 2 blog posts I’ve been reflecting on my favourite “firsts” of 2017 and the things I most enjoyed learning about.  Both feature experiences that I gained through five great festivals.  While one off events can be stimulating, I find there’s always a different energy around festivals, and I enjoy the fact that around a broad theme, they allow a range of perspectives to be explored.

1) Hay Festival

This was my first visit to the Hay Festival although it was one I’ve wanted to attend for several years. Not only was it special to me for that reason but it was the Festival’s 30th Anniversary.  I’m not sure if this meant the event was at a different scale to other years, but all I can say is that it far exceeded expectations.

As a lifelong book-lover, the pure fact of being in a place where all around were people taking time out to sit and read was a marvel and a welcome opportunity to take a bit of a slower pace.  On top of this, the speeches that I listened to were thought-provoking and caused me to resolve to take more “learning weekends” (which I have so far failed to do…).  A particular recommendation, still on the “Hay Player” is Mark Richardson’s “We Do Things Differently” , tackling some pretty awe inspiring likely future developments in an entertaining and accessible way.

This was a true highlight of the year for me.  Sub-titled “Unusual Connections for Social Change”, it’s clear where the hook was for me.  The theme for the year was “belonging” but the events were broad and varied.  I took part in events across 3 days and wrote a series of blogs so won’t recap here.

Now, several months on, on the shortest day of the year, the positive feelings that the Festival imbued are further cemented in my mind by the fact that it took part across probably the warmest, sunniest days of the summer and culminated in an uplifting garden party at the Calthorpe Project which seems a World away from the winter drizzle.

While I have enjoyed Open House London as a visitor in several previous years, this year I took it up a level and volunteered as a steward.  I knew there would be a list of buildings I would be happy to play my role in supporting, but I was especially pleased to find that one of the organisations looking for volunteers was Nordoff Robbins, a charity with whose work I was already slightly familiar.

Their building has recently undergone a complete, bespoke refurbishment allowing them to provide their life-changing music therapy services even better than before.  The small group of us who volunteered were given an almost personal tour of the building, noting the special features and offering a great opportunity to ask questions about the charity’s work.  My connection with the charity has continued since and I hope will do for some time to come.

4)  Service Design Fringe Festival

In my last post, I highlighted Service Design as one of the things I’d most enjoyed learning about in 2017.  As well as the events and course I mentioned, another great opportunity to delve into the subject came with the Service Design Fringe Festival.  As a Festival founded and delivered by people truly passionate about the industry and its potential, the range of events was impressive.  I was unfortunately not able to attend as many as I would have liked but  a definite highlight was the “Designing on the Inside” event with a panel covering a range of organisational perspectives I would have chosen myself as they cover several of my key work areas – charity, social investment and housing.

5) Art of the Possible

Last, but by no means least was the fabulous Art of the Possible Festival “celebrating the best of Essex”.  One of the most thought-provoking discussions during the Unusual Suspects Festival was around the theme of what it means to belong.  It really reinforced a feeling I’ve had for a long time of disconnection with my own local community.

In the main, I prefer to use a broad definition of community, being a sense of connection with others through a shared experience or interest.  However, as I mentioned in my previous post, given that Essex has been my home for longer than I can remember, I feel I want to re-establish my awareness of the many great things that are happening locally.  The Art of the Possible Festival provided a rare and perfect opportunity to do just that.

Among others, 2 of my “Top 5 firsts”TEDx Chelmsford and RSA Ideas Chelmsford came as part of this Festival.  Two months on, and I feel that there is a risk that some of the momentum and energy built during the Festival could wane but was last week really excited to learn that plans are afoot to create a Chelmsford Cultural Festival to rival Edinburgh in 2018.  I’m looking forward to developments with this and also seeking other ways to build on some of the experiences from Art of the Possible as next year progresses.

So, in all, it’s been a positive and stimulating year, albeit that having packed so much in, I’m now more than ready for my Christmas break.  A rare time when I am committed to indulging in some down time, to re-energise ready for what already looks to be an interesting 2018.

Top 5 Learning Experiences of 2017

In Tuesday’s blog post, I reflected on several “firsts” for 2017.  In a similar vein, I always enjoy opportunities to learn about new things and this year has been no exception.  There have been a huge number of such experiences but here a few of my highlights:

1) Systems Change

I’ve been fortunate to have had two chances to act as a Mentor for Ashoka UK supporting two of their inspiring change-makers to accelerate systems-change ideas.  While I know of systems change as a concept, this highlighted what building a strategy with it in mind means in practice and allowed showed a framework to achieve this.  It demonstrated how having the discipline of truly focusing on the long-term vision can refine thinking about the essential activities to achieve it, and potentially to take a different approach altogether.

2) Human Centred Design/ Service Design

In something of a contrast, I also undertook a Plus Acumen course “Introduction to Human Centred Design”.  While again, this requires a focus on the end goal and could be a route to systems change, in this process, along with my fabulous team I was guided to look at the needs and context of individuals and generate ideas for basic prototypes that could be used to test products or services that could serve them.

I took the course as, becoming more aware of Service Design as a defined discipline it seemed to be a “sweet spot” in many of the elements I am most interested in bringing to my work.  Alongside the course, there were other opportunities to learn about Service Design including attending a Service Design Lab meetup “Transitions into Service Design” where I was heartened to discover there is no “classic” path and in fact having an eclectic range of past experience seems to be a bonus.

3) Approaches to sustainability

My largest project during 2017 was continuing as an Associate with Eastside Primetimers, acting as  Programme Manager for 30 projects being delivered under the Local Sustainability Fund.   This fund allowed recipients to shape their project designs around identified priorities with a view to creating the changes needed to secure the organisations’ futures.  Throughout the programme, my role allowed me to gather insights into the diverse approaches to achieving this aim. This culminated in performing an evaluation across all 30 projects, bringing together the key lessons.

Primary among these was the fact that while the term sustainability is often associated with a focus on diversifying income streams and establishing trading activities, many of the organisations recognised the need to delve into the underlying structures as the most important factor.

This programme also truly demonstrated the value of flexible funding allowing organisations that rarely have the available reserves to do so, to truly invest in taking a strategic focus and access the support they need to allow them to implement measures to secure their impact longer term.

4) Grassroots networks in London and Essex

In January I received an e mail about an event that piqued my interest – an exploration of Social Action in the Digital Age and on the development of London as a Networked City.    While I had expected nothing more than a thought provoking evening, this has since become an ongoing thread throughout the year, as the project has evolved into the “Connecting Londoners” and “Our Way Ahead” initiatives.

While I don’t have a defined role in these projects, they tie closely to my interests in fostering collaboration, connection and peer support to strengthen and maximise the impact of the people, projects and organisations working tirelessly for social change.

This stream of activity has also opened my eyes to the huge number of active networks across London which are already allowing grassroots social action projects to combine forces, share knowledge and boost each other.

While much of my work continues to be in London, I’ve lived in Essex since I was under a year old so it is a little ironic that I feel less aware of the change-making activities happening on my doorstep.  Towards the end of the year, I’ve therefore endeavoured to begin redressing the balance (more in the next blog), including joining a group considering how we might develop an Essex Social Enterprise Network and also attending the relaunch of the Essex Voluntary Sector Alliance which showcased some of the collaborative projects happening locally.   I now have some clear touchpoints from which to begin to learn more about local projects and ideally to share learning across the London and Essex contexts.

5) Sketch-noting

The final structured gathering of my Together Tools meetup  (described in my last post), was an introduction to Sketch-noting.  As someone who has both feet in the “I like words and I don’t draw” camp, I recognise that as a facilitator, I need to begin to develop my visual skills to accommodate the preferences of all of those I work with.   I was, however, a little sceptical about how well I’d be able to engage with the session.

I needn’t have worried… I’m so please that Makayla and Nidhi from Sketchnote London were willing to run the session and couldn’t have done so in a more accessible and enthusing way.  Messages such as “no such thing as can’t draw” and it just takes the discipline to do a small amount of practice each day, very much hit the mark for me.  Taking these thoughts to heart, the start of advent presented the perfect opportunity to use the Christmas theme to generate ideas for a daily #sketchnoteadvent doodle.  As I haven’t yet reached day 24, it’s too early to review them all together but I’ve been persuaded that I’ll see the progress over that time if I do so… Watch this space.

So, my Open Ears have come into their own this year – how about yours?  What learning experiences have resonated with you in 2017?

2017 – Top 5 “Firsts” of 2017

Attending last week’s RSA Panel “That Was the Year that Was” was aptly timed having been reflecting the previous afternoon on my year and some of the great experiences and opportunities I’ve had.  I started noting down a few to share over this and the next couple of days.  I’d really love to hear about others’ too and to thank all of those who were part of my highlights for making them what them the positive experiences they were.

To start, for me 2017 has been a year of firsts.  Here are just a few of them:

1) Starting a meetup

Having spent ages deliberating over this, I came to the conclusion that the time had come to act so in January 2017, I hosted the first meetup of “Together Tools” .  The aim is to provide a safe space to learn, test out and develop skills and tools for working with groups.  Among other things we’ve practised listening, doodle, constellated and described ourselves in Clean Language and alongside it, had some great conversations.

It’s been fun and I’ve had some great support and encouragement so while building momentum and finding a space has been tougher than I thought I’ve definitely resolved to keep going in 2018 .

2) Pitching

No, not that kind…

Having watched and at times even critiqued a host of pitches in recent years, I confess I hadn’t really ever done one myself until a couple of months ago.  I’ve been really pleased to discover Breadfunds UK this year and have an opportunity to join the team in trying to get some pilots up and running so this, combined with the first ever RSA Ideas in Essex was an opportunity not to be missed.

Once I’d said yes, I’ll admit I started to feel a little less sure of the idea but when the time came, it was over in a flash and was really quite enjoyable.  So, my advice is, if you have an idea you’re enthusiastic about, bite the bullet and have a go, ideally starting with a friendly crowd as I did rather than going straight for Dragon’s Den.

Oh and I’m looking forward to sharing more about the RSA in Essex next year…




3) Participating in a live Google Hangout

My connection to Breadfunds UK also afforded me the opportunity to take part in a live Google hangout as part of the Disruptive Innovation Festival.  Strangely, while I couldn’t see any of the viewers and had no real idea whether anyone at all was watching apart from a few questions, I found this an altogether much more intimidating experience than the live pitch.  I was certainly grateful that the experienced DIF team were there to guide the set up as leaving 45 minutes to sort out the technology in advance was definitely a good idea!

4) Attending a TED x event

I’m by no means a regular TED watcher but of the talks I’ve seen online, I’ve rarely been disappointed but have felt the experience could be enhanced by being there in person.  So again, when an opportunity arose to attend TEDx in my local town of Chelmsford, I jumped at it. 

The event was great on many levels and I enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on the talks with others, almost as much as listening to them (which is a complement to the speakers and the organisers combined).  I liked it so much that I’ve already bought my ticket for June 2018’s event.

5) Visiting Berlin

Unlike the general theme of connections and collaboration in my highlights, this was a trip that I took completely alone as I like to do at least once a year.  I’d wanted to go to Berlin for a long time and some time off in August, combined with a good offer on flights (luckily only weeks before Ryanair had a meltdown), presented the perfect chance to do so.

I set out with a clear objective that this wouldn’t be a trip purely focused on the holocaust and a divided Berlin.  While those aspects featured, I also took a trip out west to leafy suburbia and in complete contrast, joined an Alternative Berlin Tour (which I couldn’t recommend highly enough) including intriguing, eccentric Yaam .  Definitely a city that made me smile, cry and most of all reflect deeply on how easy it is to forget things in our recent past.  Many of the horrors of division are well within my lifetime but it took this trip to really bring it to my attention.

I’m looking forward to bringing together a couple more Top 5s for the year but now, over to you.  What firsts have you achieved in 2017?



Meetup logo: Wikimedia commons  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Meetup_Logo.png

Pitcher: Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/baseball-pitcher-ball-throw-629267/

Speaker: Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/53801255@N07/8736820287

£2.9 billion cash injection from Foundations but availability of funding is still seen as a challenge- why?

I recently attended the launch of the Association of Charitable Foundations’ “Foundation Giving Trends 2017” Report – a review of key facts and trends from the top 300 Charitable Foundations.  The report authors introduced some of the highlights and the floor was then opened to a variety of questions from the audience, the majority of whom were, as I was, representing ACF members.

The headline finding is that giving from the Top 300 Foundations hit a record high at £2.9 billion last year.  This suggests a strong sector with growing capacity to distribute funds for social and environmental change and seems somewhat at odds with the struggle that many charities and social enterprises say they face when seeking funds for their activities.

Reading the detail of the report itself demonstrates a number of potential reasons why this apparent bounty is not being felt by those on the ground, without even considering trends in government funding (covered in more depth elsewhere, for example NCVO’s Almanac) or whether increasing levels of need are a factor.

For a start the top 300 Foundations make up 90% of total foundation giving.  Assuming that few of these foundations make thousands of grants a year, one might conclude that a significant proportion of the giving is made up of (very) large grants. Case studies in the report include seven new entrants to the Top 300 who between them made multiple grants exceeding £1 million each, often to some of the largest UK charities or institutions.  When one considers that there are over 160,000 charities in England and Wales alone, 13,000 CICs registered and many thousands more voluntary and community groups, many of which place significant reliance on grants, the pool of key funding sources and the likely availability of grants that would be of a size they can access begins to look a lot smaller.

In addition, reviewing the case studies and scanning the list of the largest givers demonstrates that a significant proportion of these tend to fund their own initiatives or those in collaboration with selected partners and/ or do not hold open grants rounds or accept unsolicited applications.  (Although this is not to say that there are no such funders listed – the top 300 also includes key providers of a range of smaller grants).  Without taking away from the huge contribution that the “closed” funders make, this is of little benefit to the many organisations working hand to mouth and seeking funds to support their work.

To better reflect their experiences a more detailed piece of sub-analysis considering the total amounts distributed in various bandings would potentially be revealing and could provide valuable insights for funders to target their funding in a way that is proportionate to the needs of those they are seeking to support.  The report analyses Foundations by total amounts distributed but I suspect data currently available on the size of individual grants would make this analysis an arduous task.  360 Giving was an initiative cited as a useful information source by authors Cathy Pharoah and Catherine Walker and should allow for this more granular breakdown if the dataset were more complete.

I was really interested that the theme of collaboration was drawn out in this year’s review as it seems to me to be the logical way to fund the broad-based work that is needed to tackle some of our biggest challenges.  There is evidence from the case studies of a variety of models for collaboration which in theory may encourage others to consider working in this way but I wonder if more details on the “nuts and bolts” of this successful joint-working could do more to prompt such a shift.  Who initiates these programmes?  How are partners selected?  How is impact measured?

Discussion at the launch touched on changes in the giving environment with fewer personal and family foundations being formed and a trend for companies to give directly rather than through corporate foundations.  While this may not mark a reduction in the overall amount being distributed, and may in fact mask an increase, this is much more difficult to trace.  It also raises the question as to the impact on those seeking funds – how are funding decisions being made and how can delivery organisations increase their chances of being selected for support?

Overall the report sheds light on the significant contribution that Foundations plough into projects that seek to preserve our culture, further important research and create change at scale but also hints at, but does not fully explore why the impact of an injection of £2.9 billion isn’t always felt by those seeking funding in the multiples of £1,000 or even £100,000 to deliver impact on the ground.

Starting with a clean sheet


Through the “Together Tools” meetup and other learning networks such as “Action Learning for Facilitators”, I love to explore techniques and tools for working with groups.  While some require a degree of preparation or even specialist training, sometimes the simplest options produce powerful results.

I’ve observed over quite some time that a blank sheet of paper coupled with a simpler question or ask, and a few minutes’ individual attention is invariably one of the most effective.  In my experience, depending on the question posed, the empty page can either feel daunting or ripe with possibility.  In either case, once the first words begin to flow, or images are drawn, the pages seem to fill rapidly.

In Action Learning, this method has helped to generate presentation topics or actions and in a “feed forward” exercise.  I also participated in a session on systems change where the opening exercise was “take a sheet of flip chart and draw a system you’re part of that you’d like to change.”  While I initially baulked at the idea I reluctantly mapped out “funding and finance for social change”, a topic that at the time I didn’t feel I had any particular attachment to.  I’ve reflected back on many occasions since, that subjects and ideas related to that particular system feature highly in my thinking.

In the examples above, the scribing was done as an individual exercise and only shared subsequently but in an alternative approach, at a recent … event, after an initial voicing of current thoughts and frustrations, we split into groups.  In only half an hour, the other group had mapped out a full proposal for an event “Our Way Ahead” to take place only 2 weeks later.  While I was disappointed not to be able to attend, I’ve heard that the event was a great success with a huge number of ideas generated- David Wilcox has given a full overview in his Connecting Londoners blog.

A similarly powerful “blank page” moment happened this week in what I hope will be the first of many “Living Change” events that I will attend.  The focus for the evening was “Civil Society is all of us” during which we were all offered a clean sheet and a phrase to complete “I am civil society.  I am…”

After a few minutes putting pen to  paper we were all invited to form a circle and say our phrases out loud.  I was astounded and even quite moved at the depth of content.  What might expect would be a jumble of half formed phrases had an almost poetic quality and clearly reflected some deeply authentic thoughts.

I’ve been reflecting on what might be so effective about a blank page in getting groups to generate ideas, frame personal perspectives to share, or work collaboratively to capture a small group’s collective creative input:

  • Does the act of committing thoughts to paper allow them to be articulated in a more solid fashion?
  • Does the simplicity of the ask and the openness of the page tap our creative potential in a way that just speaking out loud doesn’t?
  • Does the challenge of filling the page allow us to go beyond the reactive into a more exploratory frame of mind?
  • Or perhaps it’s less about the blank page and more about the time for quiet reflection that is the key?

What do you think?  What scenarios have you encountered where  a blank sheet has been used to good effect (or perhaps fallen flat and remained untouched?!)

Unusually positive endings

Unbelievably it’s now a full week since the final day of the Unusual Suspects Festival (my takeaways from earlier in the week are in the previous two blogs) and there’s still much to follow up.

I went to a morning session held at “Skip Garden” – a sustainable, moveable community garden that represents just the kind of creative, bootstrapped project that I find so representative of what I love about London.  The event was led by London Funders and focused on the evolving model of London Giving schemes.  The examples given suggested these are great models of acting in at a very localised level, bringing in representatives from across sectors and working collaboratively to tackle issues in a specific community.

The well-established Islington Giving project featured as a key sustainable example, but the smaller and newer Camden Giving and Barnet Giving were also represented.  The discussion was wide ranging and showcased examples of some of the projects fostered by these giving schemes, whilst also not shying away from covering some of the challenges of bringing such diverse groups of actors together in a relatively untested way.  Some key success factors that I picked up were:

  • Developing a strong theme of community focused messaging to create a shared sense of purpose and continuity
  • Highlighting the importance of reciprocity – demonstrating that everyone has something to give
  • A shared objective to recognise and bring together community assets across sector boundaries eg in Camden there is a strong SME sector, particularly focused on the creative and digital industries who are seen as a key stakeholder in the scheme there

My brief observations are soon to be superseded by a report on the progress to date of London’s Giving Schemes which is to be launched on 12th July.   I’ve also listed below some of the projects we talked about.

One major factor that I picked up was that the effectiveness of these Giving Schemes seemed founded on the “cheek by jowl” nature of living in an urban environment, particularly one with the extremes evident in London.  While I have worked in London for most of the past 20 years, I’ve lived for most of that time in Essex.  Although this is a large and relatively populous county, there are very clear disparities.   I was curious to know whether others in the room had seen working examples of similar schemes outside London.  A few suggestions came out for some further research (listed below) but it seemed the existence of flagship examples was not well known or connected in any knowledge sharing capacity with the London schemes.

After a few hours’ gap I was also able to attend the final event of the week – a Garden Party in the beautiful Calthorpe Project gardens.  On a glorious June afternoon, this was the perfect location, as a living example of the power of community action.  The party was centred around the question “What does it mean to belong?”.  With the levels of unrest and division becoming ever more evident in London, this was a topic that couldn’t fail to resonate with all who attended and gave scope for some thoughtful conversations.

As I mentioned above, I’m not a Londoner but spend much of my working time in the city and have a strong affection for it.  I found the conversations about belonging quite pertinent as I often have a slight, perhaps unfounded feeling of being an outsider both where I live, in relatively leafy suburbia, and where I spend many of my waking hours in the heart of the capital.

I’ve always considered my own “community” to be something non-geographic and based on relationships with people with a similar set of interests and values.  To a degree this works for me, but many of the examples I saw at the Festival and hear about regularly demonstrate that there are some connections and amazing initiatives that can only work at a hyper-local level.

I’d be interested to hear others views of community and belonging  – what does it mean for you?  Is it rooted in one particular place or wherever you happen to be living?

Overall I found the Unusual Suspects Festival an energising and thought provoking few days.  It showed the value of individuals taking time out from the “day to day” to share thoughts and ideas.  The extent to which those I met could be called “Unusual Suspects” is questionable – they may have been there but I didn’t find many representatives of corporate giants, even if they were workers taking time out to connect with the communities where they live and work.

Nonetheless at a time where London and the UK seem riddled with division, inequality and negative expressions of prejudice and intolerance, taking any opportunity to meet with others willing to commit their time and energy to building a better future seems time well spent.  It certainly helps me to feel a sense of hope and purpose and I’m sure others at the Festival felt the same.

I noted down the following examples in the London Giving session:

Big Alliance – facilitating employee volunteering and business engagement in community, voluntary and not-for-profit organisations, education programmes and employment projects to support the social and economic regeneration of Islington

Help on your doorstep – empowering individuals to overcome the barriers they face, through proactive engagement and provision of advice

Inside Islington Tours – walking tours to visit some of the projects supported by Islington Giving

The Parent House – providing opportunities to parents

Wonderful.org – a fundraising platform where 100% of the benefit goes to charity

Dignity Platform – where individuals can offer their skills with the payment going straight to charity

These were the suggested places for additional research on place based giving schemes (I’m also aware that Collaborate, one of the partner organisations in the Festival has a significant focus on place based initiatives) :

Giving Tuesday– USA Case Studies


100 Who Care