Crafting complexity into a compelling bid

Oxford Diocese

“Andrew had an amazing ability to get his head around the complexity of the programme. We were in touch on an almost daily basis and he always seemed glad to hear from me. It was a huge, huge effort and a great piece of teamwork.”

Will Donaldson, Director of New Congregations, Oxford Diocese

Oxford Diocese has an ambitious strategy to develop 750 new congregations over 10 years, led by Director of New Congregations Will Donaldson, who came into post in October 2019. The strategy is divided into two parts: one being the creation of resource hubs in Milton Keynes, Slough, Reading and High Wycombe, the other being the hands-on generating of new congregations “of all shapes and sizes”.

In order to support this strategy and add value, Oxford Diocese was investing £2million from diocesan funds and bidding for a further £2million from the Church of England Strategic Development Fund. The Stage 1 application had been submitted and approved when Will approached Action Planning.

An attempt to recruit a project manager over Christmas had been unsuccessful and Will found himself going into the new year with a complex programme ahead of him and no project management experience.

Action Planning was asked to help compile the bid for Stage 2, paying particular attention to the specifics of writing the bid, developing the Theory of Change, drawing up schedules and checking for inconsistencies.

We assigned Andrew Barton to lead on this. It was a serendipitous choice, as it turned out. The SDF allocates a consultant to guide applicants through the bid process and when the SDF consultant in this case heard that Andrew had been appointed, he announced that he was the very person he would have recommended.

Importantly, Andrew already had experience of SDF bids and was familiar with the complexity involved and the rigour with which applications are processed. Will provided him with a skeleton of the case and all the documents from Stage 1, from which he quickly developed a complete understanding of the bid. He then began to probe, asking lots of questions in order to unpack the details and work out a Theory of Change. In doing so, he discovered that Oxford Diocese was not as far on as they needed to be - for example, in the level of interaction with the resource hubs.

Having prompted and gathered all the thinking required, Andrew was able to apply his bid writing skills to reframe the whole bid and to make sure there was a coherent narrative around the criteria the Church Commissioners had set.

The bid was duly completed by 1st May and in June the good news came through that the £2m grant had been awarded.

Consultant’s insight:
Preparing a complex bid takes more work than you think! This was especially true in our case, where there were multiple contributors to the bid, most of whom were very unfamiliar with what was needed.

Getting real clarity about our underlying Theory of Change was critical whilst demystifying the concept. Building a common framework to describe the different approaches being taken in each of the resource hubs was also important.

Joining a project half-way through is always a challenge but the team in Oxford were a delight to work with and always very appreciative of the work.

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