Future News Pilot Fund

Flip Finance struck a balance between working with Future News Pilot Fund grantees to build their own understanding, and ensuring accountability on impact reporting

https://www.nesta.org.uk/report/future-news-pilot-fund-end-programme-report/

The focus of Flip Finance’s work on the Future News Pilot Fund was to provide impact measurement expertise and support. This translated into two related tasks:

  1. Capacity building: working with each of the grantees to support them in measuring the impact of their work.
  2. Reporting: ensuring that impact data was collected from each grantee to inform analysis of the overall impact of the programme

The combination of these tasks marks a shift in the role of impact measurement in grant giving. It has long been the case that grant givers bring in third party evaluators to assess aspects of programme delivery, including the impact of the work. This assumes the grantees provide the information requested, without getting involved in the process of analysing or interpreting the data. Over the past 10 years, there has been growing emphasis on grant recipients taking ownership of understanding their own impact, and generating information that they can share with grant givers but that is also useful for them in understanding their own work.

About the Fund

In 2018, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) commissioned Dame Frances Cairncross to provide “an overview of challenges facing high quality journalism in the UK” and make recommendations “to help secure its future”. One of the nine recommendations of The Cairncross Review was the creation of a new innovation fund. with a focus on key areas including business models for local news, use of data to improve publishers’ understanding of readers and new approaches to bring new audiences to public-interest news. In February 2020 funding was provided by DCMS for an initial Future News Pilot Fund of £2 million for five months; the fund itself was designed and delivered by Nesta in conjunction with Bethnal Green Ventures.

Impact measurement and the news

Until recently there have not been any drivers for expanding impact measurement in the news industry, at least not in the form familiar to the social sector in the UK. Nobody has been demanding evidence of impact. But this may be changing with the growth in the idea of ‘public interest’ news, insofar as the idea flags a shift towards news organisations seeking grant funding.

If grant funding is part of the future of news, then the news industry needs to work out how the principles of impact measurement apply to its activities. It needs to work out where it should adopt the same practices as the broader social sector, and where the specific characteristics of news imply different kinds of practices. It needs to be on the front foot in opening up conversations with grant funders, so that it doesn’t end up agreeing to use frameworks that are inappropriate and unhelpful.