Created in 2016, the Digital Xtra Fund is a Scottish charity that is on a mission to support opportunities across the country that engage young people in digital education with a focus on exciting them about the subject and developing digital skills for their future. It is part of a wider aim to support the pipeline of talent in Scotland of young people who go on to study and work in tech related industries. It does this through raising funds that can then be distributed to organisations who then develop and deliver opportunities in digital education for young people.
Since 2016, the fund has supported just over 100 different projects, all with a focus on engaging and exciting digital education opportunities that are available to a wide range of young people!
The fund have opened up to new applications again this year and it is the perfect opportunity to bring that passion project to life that you think could really show young people the exciting world of technology. 💻 🤖
I have been a massive fan of the work that Digital Xtra Fund does for a while now, usually cheering from the sidelines as I've loved hearing about some of the exciting projects that are being run across the country. I have even been lucky enough to be part of a team to successfully receive grant funding twice during my time at Heart of Midlothian FC through our Innovation Centre.
The Innovation Centre has received funding for the past 2 years from Digital Xtra Fund to run two different clubs, both based on tech for good. Create an App to Save the World was run in 2020/21 (I know, perfect timing to talk about using tech for good!) and Games for Good started in 2021.
Now, I'm not really supposed to have favourites but the Create an App to Save the World club is up there in my top 3 clubs that we have run at the Innovation Centre. Based on the brilliant material created by the Apps for Good team that was adapted slightly for an after school setting, young people came together to work in teams to design and start to build a mobile app that helps to raise awareness about a problem in the world or local community and encourage people to make positive changes! It was our first time writing a funding application like this before but we were so excited about being able to run a brand new club at the Innovation Centre that allowed us to branch out a little in terms of the age groups that we were engaged with. Even though it was a particularly tough year to run the club in (we had to adapt to running online two weeks into the first phase of the club), I loved seeing the young people come together and get so excited about how they could use technology for good as they did so much research outside of the club and couldn't wait to join the next Teams call to update everyone on what they found!
The second club that we managed to get funding for was Games for Good which has also been such a blast to run. Focused on building video games with the twist of the game highlighting a problem or issue in the world or local community, the creativity that young people came along to the club with was contagious. We had learned a lot from applying to the fund previously so we were able to use that as a foundation to build on for our second application which really helped the process feel a lot smoother. It has been bitter-sweet as although I started running with the Games for Good programme, I started teacher training halfway through the programme so handed over the torch to our new Digital Education Programme Manager, Dr Kelly Gardner. But it does mean that I get to play all the amazing games that the young people build with none of the work 😉
The deadline for this year's applications is quickly approaching so I thought I would spend some time reflecting on my own applications and think about some top tips for anyone who may be applying for the first time this year...
Tip #1 - Tell your Story
We know that Digital Xtra Fund exists to support groups with creating and running digital education opportunities for young people to empower young people with digital skills for the future. Naturally, quite a chunky part of the application form is around asking you to explain what it is that you are planning on delivering along with who it involves and why.
Sounds straightforward enough?
The tricky part is once you start writing, you might realise that you are so involved in the aim of your organisation that it can be super easy to leave out small details that seem so obvious to you but to someone who maybe hasn't heard of your group or attended one of your workshops, those details are important!
So, my first tip is to tell your story and not make any assumptions about what the reader knows. The applications are reviewed and evaluated by a panel of industry professionals so when you tell your story you want anyone to be able to pick it up and have a good grasp of what it is you do and what you are planning on delivering with the support of Digital Xtra Fund.
I found this so difficult to begin with because I can very easily get caught up in my wee bubble of the Innovation Centre. But take a step back and take some time to go back to basics!
One of the things that I have found really helpful is asking other people to read my answers to these kind of questions and explain back to me what project I want to deliver with support from the fund. I do this at a few different levels - someone within the same organisation as me who knows a little about what we do, someone outside the organisation who has a rough idea of what I do (usually my partner gets this role) but also someone outside the organisation who isn't overly sure what I do (probably my dad for that one!).
Tip #2 - Think about Sustainability
Another section of the application focuses on sustainability of your project including checking that you have thought about back up plans if something doesn't go to plan! It can always feel a little tricky to think about what could go wrong but it will make your life so much easier in the future if something does go wrong because you have already got a back up plan that you can roll out into action!
Of course, there are some things you just can't plan for - when we were writing the application for our Create an App to Save the World club that would run in 2020/21, we couldn't have guessed that there would be a worldwide pandemic that meant we couldn't meet in person anymore... 😳
You don't have to think about all the possible problems you could run into but focus on the ones that are most likely to happen such as not enough young people signing up to attend your club or if you rely on volunteer mentors to support the initiative think about how you will make sure you have enough volunteers or what will happen if some of them are off ill one day so can't support that workshop.
Another thread related to these kinds of questions is looking at what will the funding give you so that you could potentially keep this project running after the funding period. For example, if you are running a code club focused on the micro:bit maybe part of your funding will go towards training staff and volunteers with the micro:bit so you could talk about how that training can be passed on to other staff that will keep your club running even amongst staff/volunteer changes.
Now I'm not saying for a second that if something goes wrong you will lose all of your funding, the team at Digital Xtra are some of the most supportive folk that I know. When we had to think about adapting to online learning when we were no longer allowed to meet in person, Kraig at Digital Xtra was super calm and supported us the whole way without adding any extra pressures. These kind of questions are just to make sure that you've really thought through your plan and you are committed to the project if you do get the funding! It also helps the evaluation panel to get further insights into how you operate and do things which brings the whole picture together for them when they could be reading multiple applications at a time.
Tip #3 - Plan your Budgets
Ah the dreaded budget question. Thinking about budgets always makes me feel a little nervous and for me is one of the sections that takes the longest for me to complete and fully get my head around.
In reality though, this section really isn't that bad. All you're asked to do is show where and how you are planning on spending the grant funding if it does get awarded to you. My advice for this section would be to really break things down as much as you can, again to make things simple for whoever is reading your application to work through and easily see what you are planning on doing.
Always make sure that whatever you are suggesting you use the money for can be backed up elsewhere in your application. When we were writing our Digital Xtra applications for the first time we included a section of funding to go towards buying in snacks and juice for the young people because we were running straight after school and we found from experience of other clubs that everyone was arriving hungry. So we added a section in the budget question to include some money for snacks and juice.
Seems logical enough?
The only thing was, we hadn't mentioned anything about snacks and juice anywhere else in our application or why we wanted to spend money on that so the panel were a little confused when they spotted that in our budget section. Now if we had mentioned in an earlier section about the project that we would have food at our workshops explaining the reasons behind it, that would have been absolutely fine. Again, it all comes back to giving the full story. This is also where asking a friend or family member to read through parts of your application could be useful!
Since it was quite a small thing, we were just asked a few follow on questions to check what we meant before we could get everything confirmed but save yourself the hassle and make sure anything listed in your budget makes sense based on what you have told the judges already.
Tip #4 - Thinking Big Picture
This next tip isn't directly related to any specific question you are asked in the application but is something to keep in mind throughout the whole application. Yes, you are asking for funding to run something like a code club with the micro:bit but what does that mean in terms of the bigger picture for your organisation, your volunteers, the young people and families that you work with?
Maybe your focus is on challenging young people to develop digital skills and think about when and where they will use these. Maybe you are really excited to introduce young people to some rockstar role models to highlight the diversity of working in tech. Maybe you are looking at building confidence of young people and showing them that this is a subject/area that they can be interested in despite some of the stereotypes that they have.
If you're not sure where to start with that, check the main aims and principles of the Digital Xtra Fund and see which of those you really resonate with and which you think your project will really support with, how and why.
Throughout your answers to the questions, take a few moments to think big picture and explain some of the skills or changes to attitudes that you think your project will influence and how.
Tip #5 - Back yourself!!
Last one but one of the most important things to say - back yourself! Someone's excitement and enthusiasm comes through in their writing which really shows you are ready to take on this project.
Don't be afraid to let your excitement show in your writing and really let the judges see why your project is the one they should fund!
✨ Key Takeaways ✨
When describing your project, take a step back and tell your story keeping in mind that whoever is reading your application may not know your organisation or the kind of work that you do
Be mindful that things might not always go to plan, discuss in your application any back up plans you have and show that you have thought everything through and are ready to take on this commitment
Check that anything listed in your budget isn't new to the reader and that it has been mentioned before
Think big picture and mention any links to skills for the workplace or how your project will influence attitudes of the tech sector
Let your excitement come through in your writing and let the panel see why they should be funding your project!