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10 key learnings from our collaboration

30 Nov 2022

By Paul Milner, Programmes Director

National Numeracy has enjoyed a fruitful and mutually-beneficial relationship with the Ufi VocTech Trust since we first submitted a bid for project funding in 2014.

We have since collaborated on four major projects, listed below, and learnt a lot along the way!

Ufi VocTech image

‘Star Dash Studios’ (2014) – to create an app to engage 16 to 24-year-olds with their numeracy.  It was launched in October 2016 and has since attracted more than 25,000 downloads. It’s still top of the list if you search for a numeracy app on Google!

‘Digital Solutions to Improving Numeracy in the Workplace’ (2018) – to increase the reach of the ‘National Numeracy Challenge’ learning platform, included the launch of our annual ‘National Numeracy Day’ campaign, and the beginning of our extensive work with NHS health trusts. Over 83,000 UK adults registered on the website as part of this project, making it a huge success.

‘Mobiles, Skills & Confidence with Numbers’ (2020) – to optimise performance of the ‘National Numeracy Challenge’ on mobile phones, provide effective digital support for adults who lack confidence with numbers, and become an enclosed bite-sized learning tool to improve adults’ confidence with basic maths skills. This project allowed us to create an effective 10-minute assessment, ‘questions wrong’ resources to help adults learn, and to launch the site as a web-app. During the project, almost 25,000 adults demonstrated improvements in their maths skills or confidence with numbers.

‘Numeracy Champions in the Workplace’ (2022) – to establish a network of 500 Numeracy Champions in workplaces across the UK who will support others to improve their confidence with numbers. This project is ongoing and will ensure that the Champions’ impact is maximised & measured.

10 key things we've learned from working together

1. Stick to your mission

Securing funding seemed so critical to the early growth of our charity that we were prepared to adjust or broaden our aims to get it. This flexible approach has its benefits, but it risks diverting an organisation from its core mission. Some of our early projects took us on tangents, which we were then unable to fully support going forward. Hence, we now only bid for funding which supports our main activity.

2. Write a good bid!

We learned a lot about the disciplines of writing a successful bid by working with Ufi VocTech Trust, namely:

  • address all the points in the brief
  • be succinct
  • stay on track
  • provide robust evidence

3. Slow down at the planning stage

Ufi’s processes now ensure that each project gives sufficient attention to the research, planning and scoping needed to enable a successful project. Of course, when you start a project, you think that you already know what needs to be done and how to do it, and you’re itching to get on with it. But slowing down enough to allow proper time to plan is critical. Apparently, Einstein already knew this! When asked how he would spend his time if he was given a problem upon which his life depended, with only one hour to solve it, he said that he’d spend 30 minutes analysing, 20 minutes planning, and 10 minutes executing the solution. Wise words!

4. Set realistic targets

There is nothing as demotivating as chasing a target that was never realistic in the first place. ‘Stretching but achievable’ is a cliché but remains the essence of a good target. Some science is needed to ensure that a target for a project is sensible, rather than an optimistic guess. It needs to be based on something concrete and we’ve found it’s better to carry out the testing needed to inform a realistic target, rather than guessing a number at the start. 

5. Make the most of your funder

Ufi VocTech Trust has a wealth of expertise and contacts, and their team has always been keen to support us in different ways. Where we’ve lacked knowledge, Ufi has often been able to help – if not directly then by putting us in touch with someone who could. A successful project is in the best interests of the funder so it’s worth keeping them as involved as possible and getting as much as you can from the relationship.

6. Listen to your target audience

Early on, we thought we already knew what adults in the UK ‘needed’ and that this was more important than what they ‘wanted’. It took us a while to really listen to what adults were telling us about the way they wanted to engage with numeracy. Once we did start listening properly, the quality of our programmes increased significantly, and so did engagement and impact. We learned that there is no second-guessing the behaviour of users: plans should be based on evidence from the target audience.

7. Schedule regular review meetings

We instigated regular sessions where the whole project team would get together, review progress against targets and agree actions for the month ahead. To facilitate understanding of progress, we phased the overall project target by month and broke this down into targets for each individual strand of work. We then reviewed these at the monthly meetings and adjusted our plans accordingly.

8. Adapt to the data

The National Numeracy Challenge website was designed to provide data on registrations, assessments, attainment, learning, confidence & skills improvement, and we set up daily reporting to the whole team to show how we were doing. This led to a much greater sense of ownership for the team members managing each strand of activity and enabled us to adapt approaches according to performance in each setting.

9. Test, test, test!

There is no substitute for checking progress at all stages with your target audience – you always learn something unexpected, and this always improves the impact of the project.

10. 'If you build it, they will come' does not apply to adult learning

To fully engage staff within an organisation, we need buy-in from senior management and at least one ‘champion’ within the organisation to keep things moving. We also need to work closely with the organisation to communicate the value of improved numeracy to their staff. Mere ‘presence’ isn’t enough to get engagement from adults. We’ve found that there are four degrees of communication which employers can use to engage their staff in improving skills online, with embedding the provision into existing processes having he most impact. The most effective approach is to combine all of these:

  • Presence: access to provision featured on the organisation’s website
  • Campaign: an email campaign to staff
  • Support: key staff trained in supporting engagement
  • Embed: provision embedded into existing processes

Ufi VocTech Trust became a grant-funding body following the sale of Learndirect in 2010, with a mission to champion the power of technology, to improve skills for work and deliver better outcomes for all. Ufi acts as a funding partner and essential friend to innovators in skills development, looking to help people progress in the workplace.