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The Henry Smith Charity is a grant giving organisation that works to use resources to help people and communities bring about positive change. They achieve this by funding organisations that work with people to reduce social and economic disadvantage.

Use this Guide if you’re thinking about how to make sure staff across your organisation can easily share knowledge. Great when you are trying to make information that would usually be stored in files easier to find and view. The example focuses on improving grant-making through sharing knowledge.

Steps to sharing learning across your organisation using Notion

Why do you want to share learning digitally? What type of learning and insights do you want to make available. Who do you want to be able to add and view the information? How do they like to process information? How often is the information you hold likely to change?

The answers to these types of questions will help you work out what type of knowledge sharing tool you need.

The Henry Smith Charity wanted to maximise the impact of their grant making by:

  • understanding the needs and activities of organisations in the sectors where they provide grants
  • implementing and developing best practices and approaches
  • influencing external policy decisions relating to these sectors
  • gathering learning to improve operational effectiveness

Their learning log on Notion is designed to meet all these objectives.

Introducing a new way of sharing knowledge is a project. You need to work out who will lead it, and who else you need to involve. You’ll also need to think about how that team will make sure everyone else’s needs are understood and valued.

The Henry Smith Charity created a learning and evaluation team to head up the project. This group:

  • set out the requirements for the project

  • decided what information to gather

  • planned how things should be be classified and measured.

They also thought about strategies to make sure key staff took responsibility for different aspects.

Think about things like:

  • When will people need to look things up and where will they be?

  • What will they be doing with the information? Will they need to share it or present it to others?

  • How will you organise information so people can find it?

  • How often will you need to update the information? Who will be responsible for that and how comfortable are they with using technology?

This will help you work out what technology will work best for your organisation.

If you’d like more help on gathering needs before choosing software, use NCVO’s guide.

The Henry Smith Charity set out a number of user needs. These focused on specific examples to help them consider the different ways people would use the information. They added ideas that might help.

User needs included:

  • As a member of staff assessing a grant application to fund care for people with a learning disability, I need to know how much this support usually costs so that I can evaluate their funding request

  • As a volunteer preparing to visit an organisation that provides a mentoring service for children and young people, I need to know what constitutes best practice in mentoring so I can carry out a considered assessment of their activities

  • As a member of staff, I need to share details of learnings from formal reviews, workshops, internal grant assessments, internal learning projects and evaluations, and external sources so that I can improve our grant making and operational effectiveness (a database?)

  • As a member of staff assessing a grant application for a women’s refuge, I want a quick way of searching for information I can’t find through menus about a good staff-to-service user ratio (keyword search tags?)

  • As a member of staff, I want to access internal and external sources of information so that I can make considered policy and strategic decisions on grant needs for different sectors

  • As a project team member, I want a simple off-the-shelf solution so I can set it up myself without a developer or technical expert.

Notion describes itself as “a single space where you can think, write and plan”. You can choose Notion or share your knowledge using other tools. You might consider:

  • Microsoft solutions - linking Sharepoint and Teams

  • Using an online learning platform or discussion forum system with file storage

  • Using other productivity or team management tools

To help you decide you could use NCVO's tool choosing guide.

The Henry Smith charity chose Notion because:

  • It has various components to help it meet everyone's needs. This includes databases, word processing, calendar, and project management tools

  • It is affordable. Most staff have free guest accounts. They can view everything and have some limited permissions to edit in certain places.

  • People found it easy to use. They can enter, store, search for and present information better than their old systems.

They use their Notion site as an editable internal website for knowledge and learning. Their aim is that every grant assessor will use it when they review applications. They also add learning from meetings, reports and applications on an ongoing basis.

One downside of Notion is that it doesn’t offer 1-1 support to implement it. The team had to spend time reading guides and watching videos to learn how to do things.

This is much simpler than trying to change everything all at once. It also helps you pick quieter times for each team so they have capacity to try out new processes and give feedback.

The homepage of Henry Smith's learning log in Notion

The Henry Smith Charity introduced their new system to one  of grant making team at a time. One individual in each team became the main contact for planning how the new system would work for that area. Once they felt confident the team was asked to try it.

The learning and evaluation presented the system to each new team. They explained the different areas  and how to upload things. Afterwards they arranged catch ups with each team contact to see how things were progressing.

Maintaining learning logs and knowledge management systems can be challenging. Common problems include:

  • They’re not intuitive enough and fall out of use

  • Only some information is put in them, so people go back to old systems

  • People use them lots, but all in different ways so it becomes very hard to find things

The Henry Smith Charity overcame some challenges.

They had to get used to some of Notion's terminology

When teams didn’t migrate all their earlier knowledge onto Notion then they were less likely to use it.

They needed clear plans of when and how to add or upload insights and learning.

The database needed work to keep up to date.

Some teams found it easier to add and use information on a daily basis than others.

Further information