My reflections on the Third Sector Resilience Fund evaluation report

The recent publication of the Third Sector Resilience Fund (TSRF) evaluation, conducted by the Scottish Government, has given me food for thought, says Gael Drummond, Firstport Group CEO

I’m not going to navel gaze; it was an impossibly hard time for everyone, for reasons well documented and better articulated than I could do here. But I want to point to the time, effort, and commitment those working on the fund at Corra, Firstport and Social Investment Scotland put in during that impossibly challenging time. To imagine, plan and develop a fund that could respond to the unknown, get it up and running within a matter of days, and sustain that pace of work for seven months was nothing short of impressive.

Reading the evaluation and understanding that we got it (largely) right in the eyes of the Scottish Government and the sector is satisfying. Vitally, to know the process was clear and straightforward at a time when organisations were struggling to stay afloat; decisions were made, and funds were distributed quickly; and funds reached those organisations most in need operating in communities most in need, saving organisations and jobs, points to the strength of the partnership between the Corra and Firstport grant teams.  

This collaborative approach, bringing together different people, skills, experiences, and perspectives, created something that met the need. The success of this approach, whereby we recognised what we were good at and worked closely with excellent partners whose strengths complemented ours instead of trying to do it all, was a key learning from the Third Sector Resilience Fund (TSRF) and has become a critical strategic priority for us moving forward. 

Delivering the TSRF had a profound impact on what we do at Firstport today:

  • It accelerated our move towards agile and digital ways of working. In 2019, we started to dip our toes into using agile methodologies: having daily stand-ups, iterating and learning, and reflecting after delivering a project. The lockdown, and specifically having to get the TRSF up and running quickly, upped the pace of this transition, aided by tools such as Trello and Miro. While we are not a fully agile organisation, working in sprints and holding retros at the end of a project are now commonplace at Firstport.
  • It made us think about how, why, and when to share our data. Working with and learning from our partners helped us identify ways in which we could (and should) share data about the grant programmes we manage. Being open and transparent doesn’t mean sharing only the good bits but the ‘room for improvement’ ones too.
  • It made us get strategic about data. While becoming more data-driven has been one of our strategic principles since 2019, turning that ambition into practice takes time and needs a clear end goal. You need to think about culture, systems, tools, and leadership. We are now embarking on developing a data strategy to support our ambitions of becoming a transparent organisation that regularly uses data to make decisions.

We’re all aligned in the hope that there will never be a similar set of circumstances requiring something like the TSRF again. However, it would have been foolish for us to ignore the hard and fast learnings along the way and not use them to improve our ‘business as usual’ operations.  

I’m not sure we’ve fully recovered from delivering TSRF, and I see that as a positive. It wasn’t just a moment in time – it’s continued to shape how we think, behave and operate as a business. Considering how grim a time it was, that’s a legacy I can be happy with.

You can read the full report on the Scottish Government’s website.