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Learn what to audit, review, map and risk assess, and who to interview, to improve your application and get your organisation ready for funding.

This resource is for anyone responsible for making any grant application that includes digital costs.

It covers:

  1. What discovery is
  2. Why you need to do it
  3. How to do it

Discovery is a process

Discovery is a preliminary phase in any good design process. You can do it when designing a service, a funding application or even choosing new software at work.

Discovery is a structured process. It involves learning about what’s already happening in a defined area of concern or interest (for example, people you want to support or your staff's digital skills). It seeks to understand problems, challenges and common themes. It does this by exploring people’s wants, needs, behaviours and habits. Discovery requires you to have a clear objective or research questions, though you can iterate these as you learn more.  

You could apply the process to core, internal infrastructure situations at work, for example:

  • the CRM needs of your organisation, so you can find a CRM solution that suits people’s biggest needs
  • exploring the digital skills of your staff team, so you can commission a training provider that will meet their needs for knowledge and their learning styles.

You can also apply the process to service delivery situations at work, for example:

  • exploring the needs of the people you support, so you might deliver a hybrid digital service to them
  • exploring people's experience of interacting with your services through digital technology, so you can iterate and improve.

Discovery is an attitude

As an attitude, discovery is about:

  • being curious and open-minded
  • checking your assumptions - being ready to have them challenged
  • holding hypotheses rather than fixed ideas
  • giving people a chance to share their experience and show you have their needs in mind
  • trusting that understanding is an emergent process.

Discovery is also the start of a journey. It is not a standalone event you do only to get funding. 

Why do discovery before making a funding application?

Running a discovery process before writing any funding proposal for digital costs is good because it:

  • Surfaces people’s needs, resources, challenges and behaviours - helping you build excellent knowledge of the problem area
  • Helps you see how digital fits into your theory of change - helping you tell the story of how spending on digital will impact on the people you support
  • Brings your bid up to date with latest digital needs and opportunities - so you’re not only relying on your digital strategy to inform the proposal
  • Helps your application’s assessor trust your approach - showing you've considered multiple stakeholder perspectives reassures them
  • Mitigates the possibility that you make the wrong decision in your technology choices
  • Gives you confidence in spending the money wisely. 

Running a discovery process for applications that include core digital costs

Internal discovery activities for core funding bids. 

1. Carry out an internal tech audit

Make sense of your existing digital infrastructure. Run an audit of what tools you use and who you pay digital costs to. Look for gaps and duplication too. Use Dot Project’s tech audit tool.

Start by talking to whoever manages your finances and software licences. Then think about any other tools that your people enter data into. 

You might feel relieved to see all the digital tools you use written down in one place. Even if it looks complicated, you are now more aware of your priorities. 

2. Assess current risks

Digital isn’t only about opportunities. Not using digital tools or processes can create organisational risks, for example:

  • Not having a good CRM leads to lost or inaccurate data, that makes reporting more difficult and less reliable
  • Not reviewing your digital governance policy (or not having one) leaves your data at risk of breach or mismanagement
  • Relying excessively on volunteers for IT support can make progress slower and reduce your control

Framing the risks of not spending on digital is a way of showing how digital supports good governance.

"Understanding risk is important. Compliance and governance are key for funders" - Annie Legge, Dot Project

3. Review external partnerships and internal skills

List your relationships with external parties who provide digital support. For each one ask:

  • What are we paying for?
  • How much are we paying?
  • How much do we rely on them?
  • Have we any of their skills internally?
  • Could we invest internally in staff skills as a way to reduce reliance?

Use the tech audit tool to help you.

4. Interview your staff as technology users

Your staff use digital tools so you should find out about their experience. Interview them and ask about the challenges they experience and the work arounds they use. Find out where they are both innovating and resisting using tools.

This will help you build a picture of their pain points - things they struggle with. This could be due to skill deficits, poor software or other factors. Only they can tell you about these things.

When you talk to them it's best to do it 1-to-1 to reduce the bias that focus groups create. Running interviews with your staff as users of technology is the same as running user interviews with the people you support.

Running a discovery process for applications that include digital service costs

Internal and external discovery activities for hybrid and digital-first services.

1. Interview the people you support

Your proposal needs to show that you understand who will use your service, and why they need to use it digitally. The best way to do this is to run 1-1 user interviews with those people. 

Interviews will help you:

  1. Understand the problem you are investigating and how people experience it 
  2. Understand how people behave, what they need and why

Learn how to run user interviews.

If you can’t get support to run interviews, or have to use a more traditional approach, then it is still possible to get insights from focus groups.

2. Map people's service journeys

Once you've completed your interviews you can create a journey map for an existing journey or a potential future journey. These help you understand the flow of a whole service, including how digital and human interactions work together or crossover, from the person using the service’s perspective. 

Making a journey map is useful for many situations, for example:

  • where your service might meet in person but include a lot of digital contact and support in between sessions.
  • how people get started with using your service, for example moving from online to phone to 1-to-1 Zoom sessions.

A journey map helps you see the different channels they might use. 

Read our guides to journey mapping or start with a group of post-its. Involve the people you support in a journey map workshop if you can. You might also involve frontline staff who can offer insight into where a journey needs improving, but lack the technical knowledge of how. You can even make a journey map of their experience, if useful.

3. Interview staff

You should interview staff who run the service too. Use the same approach as when interviewing the people you support. 

Find out what they need to deliver the service. Examples of needs include:

  • shared access to incoming messages from people using the service
  • advice on how to post content onto a platform
  • to learn how to report on their work in a way that helps the service manager report to funders. 

Again, talk to them 1-to-1 to reduce group bias. 

4. Be strategic - identify who is excluded

If your service is digital-first, or even hybrid it's likely that some people will be excluded from using it. Map these potential consequences and consider how you might make it work for them too. You can do this by doing more discovery and risk analysis. 

If you don’t do this then you could end up with a badly designed service that makes something harder for people or reduces their trust. 

It's also good to identify which groups you are comfortable to exclude. This may seem counter to the concept of inclusive design, however it helps to set the scope. For example, some digital services are comfortable excluding toddlers and young children due to cognitive barriers like reading.  However, they don't wish to accidentally exclude users who face similar barriers due to English being a second language

Further information

Before you apply this article’s advice, get clear on the 3 types of funding for digital costs.

You might also want to use some of these 9 tips on how to make your organisation more attractive for digital funding.

Get more help with our latest resources on applying for funding for digital costs. 

Thanks to Annie Legge of Dot Project for their big contribution to this article.


Image credit: Todd Chandler. Used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.

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