“Our Pathways interns have contributed greatly to our ability to conduct research.”
Devon Community Foundation is a charitable foundation, making grants to community organisations across Devon, as well as engaging in other community development partnerships. We are a small team, with limited resources, and have recruited interns from the Professional Pathways programme for the last three years. We are always limited in our activities by our capacity, and our Pathways interns have contributed greatly to our ability to conduct research. This was especially true this year, as our team has been flat out since April, processing emergency funding to organisations responding to the pandemic across the county. We had planned to spend some time over the summer reviewing the way in which we ask funded organisations to report back to us on the difference in the money made to the communities they work in. However, given the changed circumstances it was looking as if we’d have to put the bulk of that long-awaited work on hold.
Fortunately, we were able to reconfigure one important piece of pilot work as a project suitable for remote working and offered it as a placement through the scheme. We wanted an intern who could pilot telephone calls with grant holders as an alternative to them completing evaluation forms. We wanted to know whether this was feasible in terms of workload, whether it yielded useful feedback for us, whether grant holders would appreciate this opportunity to chat with someone about their work in the community, rather than write about it on a form, and if they would, what questions were the best to ask them. We knew we’d need an intern who was confident talking on the phone to people, especially as they’d have to do this work from home rather than from the office.
Luckily for us, our intern was more than capable of taking this on. She worked very effectively remotely, and was able to speak to a whole range of grant holders about their funding and the difference it had made to their work. The response was overwhelmingly that grant holders enjoyed the opportunity to chat with someone about their work, and how Devon Community Foundation’s grant had helped it move forward. For the Foundation, we got far more frank and detailed feedback than is usually evident on a form. and people were more prepared to talk through any challenges or unanticipated outcomes they experienced, as they were less worried that any admission of problems would lead to them being ‘marked down’. We learned a lot of valuable information that will help inform our grantmaking in the future, and the conversation was an important opportunity for the grant holders to reflect on what they had learned, and what they might do differently next time around.
Our intern also trialled and refined our list of topics to cover during these conversations, and her experience allowed us to judge what level of resource would be required to conduct these conversations in future and whether the role was suitable for a trained volunteer. As a result, with robust evidence that this is both feasible and effective, we’re planning to integrate telephone evaluation conversations into our new grant-making processes. Given the Covid situation, we’d never have been in a position to do that from an informed standpoint without the work of our intern.
While our intern was working with us, she wrote a short blog on her experience, and a longer piece reflecting on what she had learned from the conversations.