Education New Zealand Manapou ki te Ao: taking an innovative approach to fund applications

We worked with Education New Zealand to rethink their application process for the ENZ Product Innovation Fund.

Kid attending a virtual class on laptop
Who we worked with

Education New Zealand

What we did together

Co-designed a new approach to fund applications

The 2018 New Zealand International Education Strategy called for a diversification of international education products linked to areas of New Zealand strengths. When Covid-19 hit in 2020 it became even more important to reach international markets in ways other than relying on students coming to New Zealand. Education New Zealand Manapou ki te Ao received $10m in funding as part of the recovery plan with the goal of supporting new international education products. Three streams of work were initiated: the development of an online platform for easy access to NZ educational products, offshore study pathways and a product innovation fund for the development of new products to reach new audiences in new ways, delivering New Zealand education offerings to the world.

ENZ approached us to help them rethink their application process for the ENZ Product Innovation Fund. They wanted to develop an open to all process that would enable a broad variety of education providers to apply.

Often government funding processes are perceived as hard, slow and time consuming. Information and guidance on the application process is not always easy to access, and the level of effort involved in writing lengthy application documents can be high. This can discourage small organisation and individuals within larger organisations who have limited time and budget from applying. 

The goal was to attract a diverse range of applicants, proposing transformational product opportunities, while making the process to apply as easy as possible, without sacrificing the required level of rigour and detail to make decisions.

The whole funnel process, going from 151 to just 7 applicants, was pretty painless and yet I felt it was also rigorous. We had really positive feedback from applicants – those that were eventually successful and also those who weren’t. I felt we didn’t waste valuable time by tying people up on paperwork and we were instead able to get to the essentials quickly. A slick and highly effective process

Tim Brown, Senior Advisor Innovation

Education New Zealand Manapou ki te Ao

How we did it

We were lucky to have a solid strategic and rigorous approach led by ENZ, to build on.  The goals were clear and the entire process was underpinned by a kaupapa Māori vision of partnership. We were fortunate to be invited to partner on this project!

We developed an ‘innovation funnel’ approach designed to attract initial interest from a wide range of education organisations and then narrow the applications down to the ones that aligned with ENZ’s funding goals. The process was based on a lean approach to be efficient and accessible, requiring the least possible effort from applicants while also being rigorous.

From the beginning, the success criteria for the fund were made clear to all applicants and drew direct links to the strategic goals and the educational shifts ENZ had established for the fund.

How did the innovation funnel work?

The ‘innovation funnel’ had multiple phases:

1. Expression of interest

ENZ and Creative HQ leveraged their networks to inform the education community about the exciting opportunity to apply for funding to support their innovative international education offerings. 151 expressions of interest were completed via a short form with the number of expressions exceeding more than 3 times the expected number.

2. Alignment with the fund

Expressions of interest were reviewed by ENZ to check that the applicant’s idea was grounded in international education and had potential to scale globally.  From an initial 151 expressions of interest 63 were invited to apply to the product innovation fund.

3. Lean canvas

The process was designed to focus on the transformational opportunity from applicants, their capability to implement their idea and the strategic alignment to the funds goals. We created a one-page Lean Canvas which was designed to efficiently focus applicants on the most important parts of their idea. This created a process that was easy to engage with and which supported the 63 applicants to be succinct with their application. The Lean Canvas was supported with an example of the degree of detail we were looking for and innovation tools to complete each of the sections.

4. Online workshops

All participants were invited to online workshops to cover the goals of the Innovation Fund, success criteria, and completion of the Lean Canvas with the supporting tools. Participants were also informed that approximately 18 applicants would go forward to the next stage with the eventual goal of 6-9 funded projects.

5. Review of Lean Canvas

Once all Lean Canvas applications were received, a group of seven assessors from within ENZ individually assessed the applications against the published application criteria using a scoring guide. Each application was reviewed by at least three assessors  and then the group agreed on 18 to go through to the final stage.

6. Panel interviews

In the final stage all 18 applicants had interviews with a panel of education and innovation experts who then made the final recommendation on which projects to fund. These recommendations were then ratified by the steering group with seven chosen for funding. 

7. Partnership

The funded organisations have become part of a cohort who will be supported by ENZ and Creative HQ until June 2023. The cohort have agreed to provide regular reporting which will contribute to a final report written by ENZ which will look to examine the five key questions set out to guide the product innovation fund.

The result

ENZ’s willingness to try a different approach, helped us develop an application process for government funds based around innovation methodologies. The process was more accessible and efficient than some other traditional funding applications. 

The Fund received 151 initial expressions of interest, which speaks to the accessibility of the applications. Drop off rates were also very low across the whole process. Of the 63 nominated to progress, only 5 withdrew from the process. We received very positive feedback from the applicants highlighting the ease of the process, with some expressing that they found focussing their ideas into the Lean Canvas to be a valuable exercise in its own right.

We kept the assessment rigorous, having at least 3 ENZ people review every application independently and at least 7 people make the decision on which of the 58 applications would progress to the final interview stage. Finally, the opportunity to present to a panel of experts, who made the final recommendation, provided for an additional level of understanding to inform the  assessment that would not have been apparent just from the written application.

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