Between 2015 – 2019 Ufi awarded over £14 million in grant funding to 117 projects which reached more than 2.6million adult learners.
As part of the external evaluation of our grant funding, York Consulting asked grant recipients to reflect on Ufi's grant funding strategy. The responses are explored below.
We believe we are a different type of grant funder. Our model is based on flexibility, openness and the art of the possible. We know that innovation and change involve risk and there are often unexpected outcomes – there is learning in all innovation. Imagination is key, but central to all conversations is the question: ‘What are you trying to achieve?’.
In light of this ethos, we were pleased that the evaluation report concluded that the overall views towards Ufi, our approach to grant funding, project management and delivery are extremely positive. Grant recipients praised the uniqueness of Ufi, its commitment to vocational technology and its willingness to take risks and encourage experimentation. Grant recipients also praised the range of grants offered at different stages along the technological development spectrum.
Projects reported having good relationships with their Ufi Project Account Managers who were described as being open, honest, flexible and approachable. In addition, their desire to challenge and support projects to push themselves to achieve the best chance of success within the parameters of the delivery period and budget was also celebrated.
Common themes when exploring perceived difference between Ufi and other grant funders included:
- Focus on VocTech
Ufi is seen to be uniquely focussed on the value of technology in supporting education, vocational skills development and lifelong learning whereas other funders are said to have more generic strategies.
- Innovative, brave and encouraging experimentation
Ufi is generally praised for its willingness to fund projects in the very early stages of experimentation and for its test and trial approach to reach innovative solutions. Grantees reported feeling confident working with Ufi and were bolstered by the general sentiment embedded in its approach that, “There are no mistakes. Only lessons.”
For most projects, funding has been a major catalyst in the development of their products and a significant part of their journey. They would not have gone ahead without the Ufi grant or, where funding may have been available elsewhere, it would have changed the shape or approach to the end project or goal.
- Technical expertise and market knowledge
Grantees were positive about the level of technical support, guidance and advice from either Ufi project account managers themselves or the connections they helped them make. Several reported an improvement in their own technical skills and knowledge as a result. Furthermore, Ufi project account managers often provided valuable advice about attitudes, behaviours and needs of learners and target audiences which in some cases resulted in a refocus of the project or it changing direction.
- Connector, networker and influencer
There was a definite view that Ufi fosters a sense of community amongst its funded projects. If faced with a particular project challenge, project managers would often signpost to other projects or wider parts of the community.
- Collaborator, partner and friendly funder
There was a general consensus that Ufi’s funding and approach “feels different”, predominately because they were working in a true partnership with organisations. Throughout the funding journey, there is perceived to be a focus on developing the grantee and their organisation as well as the product.
- Additional, wraparound support
Enrichment support, and the way it is provided, is seen as an extremely valuable and unique aspect of Ufi grant funding and further highlights Ufi’s desire to support projects to succeed and achieve impact. Examples were provided of enrichment increasing organisational knowledge around copyright and patenting, marketing approaches and preparing for investment.
- Focus on evidencing need and well-structured approach to project management
On balance, projects generally felt that the work up-front getting the project plan right was extremely valuable in keeping the project on track.
“Working with Ufi has taught us that funders can be flexible, understanding, supportive and helpful within a grant giving context where trust between funder and grantee can allow projects to fly, while still being accountable, cost effective and produce added value. We have worked with numerous funders for over 30 years and there are many others who might benefit from the Ufi model.”