Today, The Ideas Fund has published its first insight report which captures the learnings so far and reflects on the progress that has been made since the grant programme was launched in January 2021.

What is The Ideas Fund?

The Ideas Fund aims to enable the UK public to develop and try out ideas that address problems related to mental wellbeing by working in partnership with researchers.

Run by the British Science Association (BSA) and funded by Wellcome, the grants programme has offered an exciting opportunity to test out a new approach to community-led collaboration with researchers.

Individuals, community groups and charities in four regions of the UK where the programme operates – Hull, Oldham, the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and North West Northern Ireland – were invited to apply for grants to bring their ideas to life, and were offered wraparound support to help build relationships with researchers on their own terms. There has been a particular focus on reaching communities who are traditionally overlooked by this work, such as young people, rural or minoritised ethnic communities.

The Ideas Fund is one of a number of initiatives looking to understand what happens when you shift power to communities in how they engage with research and researchers, enabling them to develop projects and partnerships more equitably, and by starting with what matters to them.

More than £3m has now been awarded in grants to more than 70 projects in the four regions where the Fund operates. This funding focuses on community projects working with researchers to develop and try out ideas that address problems related to mental wellbeing in their communities.

Projects that seek to address the systemic challenges that community groups and researchers can face in working together are also being funded. Funded projects feature a broad range of topics from sport, nature and nutrition to issues faced by disabled, refugee, LGBTQ+ communities, veterans, vulnerable young women, cancer survivors, and those living with experiences of addiction.

Our first insight report

Our insight report shares some of the key lessons that have been learnt so far, including how The Ideas Fund needed to adapt the funding approach to better enable strong, trusting relationships between communities and researchers to develop; the breadth of roles that researchers have taken in projects; and the impact that has been seen for both communities and researchers so far. It also makes recommendations for others who might be looking to take similar approaches.

The Ideas Fund produced this report in partnership with their learning partners, The Social Change Agency and The Liminal Space, who helped capture insights and reflect on progress.

The Ideas Fund would like to thank all the community groups, researchers and projects, as well as the dedicated Development Coordinators, whose contributions have helped to bring this report to life and demonstrate the meaningful difference the Fund has made to community mental wellbeing.

Read The Ideas Fund digital insight report

Please note that the report is best read on a laptop/desktop computer screen.

What we've learnt so far

Use a straightforward, supported, and jargon-free approach for people interested in applying, minimising the amount of work needed by applicants up front. Support community groups that aren’t constituted or don’t have a bank account to still hold the funds, for example through a fiscal hosting platform, which encourages greater diversity of applicants and more grassroots ideas, without compromising on shifting the power to community groups in terms of holding the funds. Design the process so that those typically overlooked can be prioritised, and work with local stakeholders with lived and learned expertise to make decisions on grants, which helps get beyond a focus on the best written applications.

This slide highlights the importance of keeping it simple.

Many community groups initially felt very removed from the world of academia, and vice versa, meaning it takes time to explore what they want from the partnership, as well as understanding the barriers on both sides. This requires a shift in mindsets, and for partnerships to take the time to get to know each other, ‘live a day in each other’s shoes’ and explore roles, responsibilities and a shared agenda for the work before jumping into a project too quickly. Providing small amounts of flexible funding, alongside guided support for matching and relationship building between partners, can create space for co-written project proposals that have strong collaborative foundations.

This slide highlights the importance of creating time and space to innovate.

Insights from community groups

Community groups have reported finding more success in influencing change and mental wellbeing outcomes than through other or more traditional approaches that have not involved a researcher. Enabling community groups to lead the process has helped address traditional power imbalances and been a fundamental ingredient in participants feeling conf ident to join in and contribute fully. Working with a researcher to enable real world impact for their communities was a priority for the majority of applicants. This is an important consideration when trying to reach typically overlooked groups.

This slide highlights the key community group insights.

Our project has allowed us to think bigger when it comes to our outreach and engagement work.

- Community group, Highlands and Islands

 Insights from researchers 

The trust that has been developed is enabling researchers to more deeply understand the changes that are taking place within communities, and leading to new funding bids and the development of new research ideas. Researchers have told us that their confidence in working with communities has grown, with many reporting that they understand more deeply the value and also the opportunity of this approach. Working in this way has led to changes in researcher practice – adapting their teaching approach, enabling greater access for their students, developing wider networks, and often leading to more fulfilment in their roles.

This slide highlights the key insights from researchers.

I find the work to be inspiring and meaningful. I love being so close to actual change in my local community.

Researcher, Northern Ireland

Insights from partnerships

Researchers, community groups and project participants all have competing pressures meaning that a rigid project plan can be difficult to adhere to. There are many unknowns when building new partnerships and testing innovative or iterative ideas, so enabling flexible timescales and adaptable projects is essential. Ensure that momentum can be sustained by offering longer term or follow-on funding to enable greater impact for projects that are showing promise in terms of innovative thinking or enriching relationships.

This slide highlights key insights from the partnerships.

Where next?

The Ideas Fund is still evolving and they’re keen to continue testing new ideas and developing innovative ways of working, and learn from others who are supporting similar approaches.

The team are particularly interested in measuring the longer-term impact of this work on both communities and researchers, and exploring how to support these partnerships to go on to gain further funding. 

Further insights and learnings will be shared over the coming months, a series of events, bringing together partners to discuss different aspects of this report is currently being planned.

At a more strategic level, The Ideas Fund have started to explore how they might support more systemic changes within each of the four areas, looking at how these ways of working might be embedded. To do so, they are now supporting a number of collaborative projects looking at the ‘infrastructure’ that sits around these partnerships, in consideration of, and building on, the indicators listed in this framework.

If you would like to get in touch to discuss any elements of the report or how you might work with The Ideas Fund, please contact [email protected]

Read The Ideas Fund digital insight report

Find out more about The Ideas Fund

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