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Please note that the deadline for submitting expressions of interest has now passed.

1. What is the Connected Communities Innovation Fund?

The Connected Communities Innovation Fund will support the best innovations that mobilise the time and talents of people throughout the life course, to support people and places to thrive, alongside public services.  We have selected four priorities for our open call (which has now closed), where we think there is a clear case for the difference social action can make, alongside public services.  We are seeking innovations that focus on creating impact in one of four priority themes:

  • Community connections and thriving places: innovations that mobilise the time and talents of people within local communities to share resources, create reciprocal models of support and enable people to help each other in key priorities within communities.   

  • Community resilience in emergencies: innovations that mobilise the time and talents of people to enable communities to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies.

  • Digital Social Action: innovations that harness the opportunities of digital technologies to help mobilise the time and talents of people in new ways that suit 21st century lifestyles and needs.

  • Improving our environment: innovations that mobilise the time and talents of people to create better responses to reducing waste and pollution.

More information about these priority areas can be found on our Connected Communities Innovation Fund priority theme page.

This fund is particularly interested in supporting great innovations that enable a wider group of volunteers to give their time and skills, and we will work with projects to develop their plans to consider how they will mobilise:

  • People aged 50+ - we want to back social action innovations that mobilise the time and talents of people aged 50+ in new ways, especially those who may not have previously volunteered.  

  • People who want to give less intensively - we want to back social action initiatives that offer a variety of opportunities from high commitment to smaller commitment, sharing time and resources in new ways, and enabling a variety of people to give their time and talents.

  • People who want to connect online - we want to back social action initiatives that make the most of technology to connect with and engage volunteers, and perhaps even allows them to give their time online.

2. What do you mean by social action?

Whether we call it formal or informal volunteering, giving, social action or simply ‘people helping people’, spending some of your time in the service of others is a deeply ingrained part of our culture. Social action is about people coming together to help improve their lives and solve the problems that are important to their communities.

It can broadly be defined as practical action in the service of others, which is; carried out by individuals or groups of people working together; not mandated and not for profit; done for the good of others, whether individuals, communities or society; and bringing about social change or value.

We think social action has a key role to play in augmenting public services; from community networks supporting older people to live well and peer networks for people living with long term health conditions, to young people helping their peers navigate job and training opportunities.

Specifically for this fund we have identified a number of priority areas based on our assessment of big social challenges where there is a plausible account of how mobilising the time and talents of people, through social action, can make a difference and is under-utilised by the existing approach of public services.

3. What types of social action projects will the Connected Communities Innovation Fund support?

We are seeking innovations that focus on creating impact in one of four priority themes:

  • Community connections and thriving places: innovations that mobilise the time and talents of people within local communities to share resources, create reciprocal models of support and enable people to help each other in key priorities within communities.   

  • Community resilience in emergencies: innovations that mobilise the time and talents of people to enable communities to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies.

  • Digital Social Action: innovations that harness the opportunities of digital technologies to help mobilise the time and talents of people in new ways that suit 21st century lifestyles and needs.

  • Improving our environment: innovations that mobilise the time and talents of people to create better responses to reducing waste and pollution.

More information about these priority areas can be found on our Connected Communities Innovation Fund priority theme page.

4. What stage innovations are you looking to work with?

We are interested in supporting ideas at two stages of maturity. Both awards are available for innovations in all four priority areas.

  • Early stage ideas:  We will provide grants of £50-75k and significant non-financial support over 12 - 18 months for innovative social action approaches. Applicants must be able to demonstrate the high potential for impact on public service outcomes in the thematic areas; the innovation must also offer something different and needed in the field. However, you might still need to do some testing or prototyping to evidence impact, or you may need to work on your scaling plans.

  • Growing great ideas: We will provide grants of £100-250k and significant non-financial support over 2 years for innovations ready to sustainably grow their existing social action project or programme to reach and benefit many more people in new locations.

Projects should apply for a specific track of the fund, based on their own assessment of the maturity of their work.

5. What do you mean by growth for this fund?

The Growing Great Ideas track of this fund will back projects that can grow - for example to new geographies, or through new partnerships etc - and reach many more people. We are flexible on your route to scale and this may include a range of strategies from organic growth, to using digital solutions, to franchising.

If you require more information about growing ideas, you may find our publications ‘What does it take to go big’ and ‘Making it big’  are useful starting points.  

If you are looking for support to maintain your existing initiative in a single location, or reaching a similar number of people, then this fund is unlikely to be the right source of support for you.  

6. What types of volunteers do projects need to work with?

In recent years there has been a huge and exciting focus on youth social action. However, we want to ensure that people across the lifecourse have social action opportunities that suit their needs and interests. As such, we will be supporting great innovations that enable a wider group of volunteers to give their time and skills, working with projects to develop their plans to consider how they will mobilise:

  • People aged 50+ - we want to back social action innovations that mobilise the time and talents of people aged 50+ in new ways, especially those who may not have previously volunteered.  

  • People who want to give less intensively - we want to back social action initiatives that offer a variety of opportunities from high commitment to smaller commitment, sharing time and resources in new ways, and enabling a variety of people to give their time and talents.

  • People who want to connect online - we want to back social action initiatives  that make the most of technology to connect with and engage volunteers, and perhaps even allows them to give their time online.

We do not expect each project to fulfill all of these elements, or work exclusively with these audiences.  We expect to work with projects to particularly develop their plans and thinking for their volunteers.

7. Is there a minimum number of beneficiaries our innovation will need to have?

We appreciate that social action innovations will all be different in terms of intensity. For very intensive interventions we would expect projects to engage a minimum of 300 volunteers. Less intensive interventions would need to engage many more people.

8. How should we factor evaluation into our fund application? What kind of evidence do you require us to have for our expression of interest (EOI)?

We have found that innovations which understand if their work is making a positive difference in the world, and can demonstrate this, are more likely to grow and be commissioned or purchased by others. As innovations grow and reach more people it is important that you have increased confidence to be able to determine what difference the innovation is making and how it is making this difference.  

The Connected Communities Innovation Fund has adopted Nesta's Standards of Evidence as the basis for understanding and assessing the evidence of impact for a specific intervention or service. The standards of evidence are on a one to five scale with level 1 being the starting point where a project or service has a clear account of how it intends to achieve impact but no evidence, moving up to level 5 where the innovation has very strong evidence of effectiveness.

For organisations submitting EOIs to the Early Stage ideas track of the fund we do not expect you to be able to evidence your impact yet, but be willing to take the next steps in developing the evidence base for your work.

For organisations submitting EOIs to the Growing Great Ideas track we want to know what current tools and processes you have in place or have carried out in the development of your innovation, and ask you to share this as part of the EOI. We want you to be honest and open about what you currently have in place, but we are not looking for you to have everything in place already. In the EOI, there is a checklist of types of evidence, simply tick which apply for your innovation. 

All programmes that are selected to develop a full proposal will be supported to develop a theory of change for their work and the Nesta team will work with the programme to develop an appropriate evaluation plan. Please include a rough evaluation budget in your Expression of Interest, but on the assumption that we will work with you further on this if selected.

Please note that the deadline for submitting expressions of interest has now passed.

9. How does Nesta give successful applicants the requested funds? Is the funding front-loaded? What are milestones and how does payment work through milestones?

For this fund, Nesta pays grants in installments - milestones. These are based on clear milestones (with targets) developed in the proposal stage. We design milestones dependent on risk and a Nesta programme manager will work with you in the proposal development stage to set appropriate milestones. Grant payments are made on the completion of these milestones, to help manage the risk.  Where cash flow is a concern, particularly for early stage ideas, we consider this in the design of the milestones to ensure that projects can work effectively. They are not designed to be payment by results where projects are having to pay the upfront costs, as we don’t think this will support innovation.

10. What restrictions exist on costs that can be applied for under the fund, including capital costs, core costs, salary costs, marketing/advertising costs, etc?

Reasonable core costs, salaries etc can be included in the budget for the fund.  Nesta will work closely with shortlisted projects to develop their budget, and we often find these amounts change between expression of interest and full proposal.   

The two primary restrictions for the fund are on capital and marketing costs. This fund is primarily for revenue costs. Capital costs must not exceed £5,000. Advertising and marketing costs must be proportionate and reasonable and no more than 10 per cent of the budget.

The funds can be used to pay staff. There is no maximum or minimum percentage of funds that can go towards salaries. We would look at the business model to understand how this capacity can be sustained beyond the lifetime of the fund, or whether the additional capacity would no longer be required for a clear reason.

11. Will there be future rounds of this fund?

At the moment we only have one open call planned, and do not anticipate running further rounds of this fund.  

12. Can Early Stage Ideas graduate to a Growing Great Ideas fund at a later date?

We have no plans to award any further funding for Early Stage ideas. However, we would work with projects to identify and develop plans for new funding streams.

13. Do the funds have to be used to recruit new volunteers, or can they be applied to enhance the activities of existing volunteers? What do you mean by “intensive volunteering”?

Projects must mobilise people to give their time and talents through social action (volunteering), rather than simply improve volunteer recruitment pathways for a range of organisations. We require projects to clearly articulate how they will (or currently do) deliver the outcomes, as outlined in our priority themes.

We would want you to explain in the Expression of Interest what the people are doing with their time and talents that is enabling them to support others in line with the priority themes. Whilst we recognise that volunteers who play back-office roles make an enormous contribution, this fund is not aimed to support or grow these kinds of roles.

We are open to the exact role that individuals play as volunteers, as long as it clearly demonstrates how it meets the outcomes outlined in the priority themes for the fund.  

We expect the funding to be used to mobilise new volunteers. As the fund, aims to enable you to reach many more people, we would expect your existing volunteers to continue to be involved. We would expect any volunteers to be active and delivering/or have delivered the service or work, within the lifetime of the fund. Registration of the volunteer will be insufficient for our aims.

We appreciate that social action innovations will all be different in terms of intensity. For very intensive interventions we would expect projects to engage a minimum of 300 volunteers. Less intensive interventions would need to engage many more people.

If you will be working directly (face-to-face) with community members or other beneficiaries, this is usually higher  intensity – requiring someone to be in a particular place at a particular time. Volunteering that can be done flexibly, remotely, or in smaller chunks (for example, giving 30 minutes rather than half a day) is considered less intensive.

14. Can I apply to more than one priority area? Can my application cover more than one priority area? Can one organisation make more than one bid?

An organisation or geographic area can have more than one submission through the Expression of Interest process. Both tracks of the fund can be applied for with different ideas. However, we would want to explore the organisational capacity to develop and deliver more than one funded programme, and are very unlikely to fund one organisation for more than one project.

We would suggest projects select a priority area. Whilst ideas may span multiple priority areas, we also want to ensure impactful ideas that make a difference in an area. You can note that other priorities are relevant. There is no bias of favour given to projects that span multiple priorities.

15. Are you looking for brand new ideas or will ideas that have been tried elsewhere but are new to our area be considered?

The Growing Great Ideas fund aims to have a catalytic effect on the growth of an innovation.  But, we do not have any set geographic boundaries for the work, except that it must be delivered in England (as the DCMS portion of the funds are part of devolved spending). The most appropriate level of scaling and ambition for scaling will be assessed for each project. This will be assessed based on an understanding of the level of need or opportunity that the innovation is seeking to address.  

Projects can be local; however, we expect projects through both tracks of the fund to reach many more people. We do not have a specific bias for geographies or locations. Where projects are geographically or locally tied, we may work with projects to consider how learning or practice can be shared with others, to enable ‘scaling’ and sharing of the idea.

Projects can be based on existing interventions happening elsewhere that are new to your area. Projects can also be interventions already being tested/delivered that you will scale to new areas. Both approaches would be eligible to apply for this track of the fund. However, where the approach is a replication, we would consider how innovative it is and what the possibility is for it to continue to grow to reach many more people beyond the lifetime of the fund. For further information take a look at the eligibility criteria.

16. What types of organisation can apply?

The Connected Communities Innovation Fund is able to support public services, charities, social enterprises, or partnerships led by these organisations. For-profit organisations may apply if there is a strong argument for public benefit, if they can demonstrate that they require public funds to scale, or if they do so as a partnership with a not-for-profit organisation as the lead applicant.

17. Do you back individuals?

We can support incorporated entities and unincorporated associations with formal membership structures, but not individuals.

18. Are faith based organisations eligible to apply?

We welcome applications from faith based organisations, but we cannot fund activity that is inherently religious, such as religious worship, instruction or proselytising.

19. Are there any other restrictions?

As the Connected Communities Innovation Fund is part financed by Nesta, we can only fund projects which advance our charitable objects for public benefit. We cannot fund projects which are party political, or which support or promote religious activity, and can only fund limited paid for marketing or advertising.

As the fund is part financed by the Office for Civil Society at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, grants will come from public funds and must not be used in a way that constitutes unapprovable state aid.

20. Can organisations apply in partnership or consortia?

Yes, but one partner must act as lead and take responsibility for the others. As part of the EOI, we explicitly require that all partners are aware of the partnership and have agreed to the EOI, even where a formal partnership arrangement is not suitable or not yet in place. We may check in with partners as part of our assessment process.

21. How many innovations are you looking to work with?

We are looking to work with approximately 15-20 organisations or partnerships.

22. Can my organisation submit more than one EOI?

Yes. Organisations can submit EOIs for different ventures or programmes. However, we will assess organisational capacity to carry out multiple streams of work when selecting organisations to progress to the next stage.

23. If my EOI is not successful can I get feedback?

We anticipate a high volume of applications and so will not be issuing individual feedback. We will publish some summary feedback in the round though.

24. Why is the Connected Communities Innovation Fund restricted to England?

While Nesta works across the UK, the Connected Communities Innovation Fund is a partnership with the Office for Civil Society at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which has responsibility for social action in England only. While applicants can be established in any part of the UK, the benefits from the proposals should be in England only.

25. When is the deadline for completing the EOI form?

The deadline for the EOI was midday Monday 30 October 2017.

26. Do we need to have match funding secured in order to submit an EOI?

The Connected Communities Innovation Fund will support projects and organisations that have an ambitious and financially sustainable strategy for growth beyond the lifetime of the Fund. We will assess all organisations to understand your business model for the work. However, based on the maturity of the idea, we will have different requirements for match funding.

For organisations on the Growing Great Ideas track of the fund, we require organisations/partnerships to provide at least 33 per cent match funding. While you do not need to show this funding has been secured at the EOI stage, you should have a clear sense of what match funding or in-kind funding (such as staffing or systems) you could contribute.

For organisations on the Early Stage Ideas track of the fund, we have not specific match funding requirements, but will assess you business models, and plans to sustain and continue to grow.

27. What are the timescales for the fund?

  • Friday 15 September 2017 - Expression of interest open

  • Midday Monday 30 October 2017 - Expressions of interest close

  • Shortlisted EOI’s will be invited to attend and applicants workshop on one of two days:

    • Monday 27 November 2017 - Shortlisted Applicants Workshop for Community Connections and thriving places and Community Resilience in Emergency priorities.

    • Wednesday 29 November 2017- Shortlisted Applicants Workshop for Digital Social Action and Improving our environment priorities.

  • Following the applicant workshop the best ideas will be asked to develop a full application for the Fund with a view to awarding grants by the end of March 2018.

  • The grant period for each track of the Fund will be

    • Early Stage Ideas Track: Grants will be awarded for 12-18months

    • Growing Great Ideas Track: Grants will be awarded for up to 24 months.

We hope this project will have a catalysing impact on your future growth and so would want to be assured at full proposal stage that it is part of your longer term growth strategy to grow your work to reach many more people. .

28. If our EOI and full application is successful how long do we have to spend the funding?

The grant period for each track of the Fund will be

  • Early Stage Ideas Track: Grants will be awarded for 12-18months.  We expect these Funds to end by September 2019 at the latest and all payments would be scheduled within this period.

  • Growing Great Ideas Track: Grants will be awarded for up to 24 months.  We expect these Funds to end by March 2020 at the latest and all payments would be scheduled within this period.