InternetNZ grant changes
Ciara Arnot Community •
InternetNZ uses the profits from the sale of .nz domain names to distribute funding to the community. We have distributed funding through a range of partnerships and contestable grant rounds, but our approach has gradually shifted over the years.
A big chunk of our annual community funding budget goes to our partners. We rely on them to do valuable work that is beyond our reach. This work ranges across various areas, including digital inclusion, data literacy, and combating misinformation. By supporting our partners, we get to listen, learn and impact the Internet community more widely than we would on our own.
The shift in recent years
In terms of grant making, we have shifted in recent years away from running open rounds based on the kinds of work involved, for example, Internet research, community projects and conference attendance. Given the wide range of issues that face Internet users, and the vast potential for Internet-based projects, we now align grant rounds with our strategic goals. This has meant our larger grant rounds have been open to both researchers and community groups working on the ground. In many cases, it has enabled us to encourage and support partnerships between those working at the grassroots and academics for more significant impact. Our recent work in developing our digital inclusion evaluation toolkit has highlighted the benefits of these communities working together so that learning, measuring and doing goes hand in hand. During the development of this toolkit, our team learnt a lot about the importance of engaging with empathy and meeting community groups where they are at. You can read more about it.
Changes to our assessment process
In the midst of this shift, we’ve made other changes to our assessment process. In 2019, we appointed an external Funding Panel to assess grant applications. The expertise and perspectives offered by this group have helped to ensure a robust decision-making process, which is outside of our governance and operational group.
In 2020, we trialled running 'grant clinics' to give interested people and groups a chance to pick our brains before writing an application. This had such a positive effect, not only for our staff but for the applicants and assessors. We saw an increase in the quality of applications received. It has become part of our standard operating procedure. Our most recent grant round which focused on digital inclusion, saw 56 different groups interested in applying, join us for an online kōrero, prior to typing up applications.
This change has meant our team can offer advice and support to applicants while enriching our understanding of the barriers to digital inclusion that our communities face. For some people, this meant learning early that our funding was unlikely to align with their work — saving valuable time and effort for groups who are not always offered support when navigating similar funding processes. Others were able to ask questions to understand what information to include in their application. We’ve offered to review draft applications or provide ghostwriting support because we don't want a lack of time or writing skills to be a barrier to funding. We were often able to offer valuable connections or introductions during this process to benefit the wider digital inclusion community.
In our more recent grant rounds, applicants have been invited to meet with the Funding Panel for a kōrero, allowing them to bring their words to life. This experience has been meaningful for both sides. In another round, we held a hui with successful grantees to connect and share their work — something that we would love to do again.
Listening to feedback
We’ve worked hard to listen to feedback from both applicants and assessors to improve forms and processes. We do our best to provide feedback so that applicants who miss out on funding can understand why. We work closely with our communications team to get news and information about grants to the right audience. We have toyed with different ideas for providing clear and engaging support for applicants; for example, we have thought about creating video guidelines, running an interactive webinar each round to take questions, sharing a checklist of what to include or graphics to illustrate the process. Once grants are awarded, we continue to offer support beyond funding as these relationships mean so much to us. That can mean ongoing conversations, advice, connections, supporting communications and marketing. We want to celebrate all the hard work of those we support and help to share insights — and we’ve begun to share stories of this impact we have been part of.
There are a variety of approaches that different funders use. We listen and try to learn from other funders and be open to ideas from those we support to continue to iterate. This all contributes to our ongoing efforts to move the needle towards digital equity. We expect this framework will evolve as we move into new strategic focuses and work with more and different communities.
Get in touch
We look forward to sharing news of our latest successful grants. For anyone who missed talking with us while our grant round was open, we always welcome you to get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org, we are happy to arrange an online kōrero.