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Participants from Brum City Drive 2017 Hack, held at Impact Hub Birmingham 
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Hackathons, or to use the more well-known abbreviation, ‘Hacks’, are a fairly new concept to most people in the UK third sector. Originating in the software development industry, hacks are events where people from different backgrounds and sectors choose to get together with others, or are encouraged to come together, to work intensively in teams to develop solutions to problems. One goal has been to make useful software which has the possibility of being commercialised.

  1. Why have a hack?

“Starting in the mid to late 2000s, hackathons became significantly more widespread, and began to be increasingly viewed by companies and venture capitalists as a way to quickly develop new software technologies, and to locate new areas for innovation and funding … Hackathons aimed at improvements to city local services are increasing, with one of the London Councils (Hackney) creating a number of successful local solutions on a 2 Day Hackney-thon. There have also been a number of hackathons devoted to improving education…” – from buy generic xenical no prescription, Wikipedia

  1. Our involvement in hacks

RnR Organisation has been participating as subject matter experts in hacks and similar exploratory events like sprints, unconferences and data dives for the past several years, in Birmingham and elsewhere in the UK. We find that working on challenging issues in teams with a combination of people with technical skills, people who are knowledgeable about the issue, researchers etc, brings a different and new dynamic to approaching and identifying possible solutions to the kind of social issues with which we in the sector are familiar. You can read more about the kind of events in which we’ve taken part in this area in orlistat oral tablet no prescription discount

  1. Differences between hacks and more traditional events

The main differences between hacks and other issue-based events are its length, the opportunity to meet other participants before the main event, lack of agenda, lack of keynotes, lack of fixed mealtimes, giving/getting feedback.

Unlike more traditional conferences and similar events, Hacks are usually held over 24-48 hours, sometimes even going on for a week, and they assume active participation by all attendees. The main event is often preceded by a get together where potential attendees spend a few hours meeting each other with a view to finding out what knowledge, skills and interests they each have which could contribute to a diverse team at a hack.

At the hack itself there are no keynote speakers; instead, people ‘pitch’ the issue they want to work on and then other attendees decide, having heard the pitches, which of those teams they want to join. There are no fixed meal breaks so the creative flow isn’t interrupted – instead, refreshments are made available during the hack so people can take breaks when they feel the need. However, opportunities are provided during the event, not just at the end, for teams to check-in/feedback to the whole event,  sometimes verbally, sometimes using graphics, and respond to questions and comments on their progress.

  1. Things to bring to a hack

  • Wifi-enabled devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones) as well as extension cables and memory sticks
  • Your experience
  • An open mind
  • Design thinking and other information research skills
  • Creativity

 

  1. Participating remotely

Through the use of social media and other collaborative technology, you can be part of a hack even if you’re not physically in the room. Most hacks have a hashtag e.g. #HackMentalHealth, and people elsewhere in the world can join in the event remotely, using the hashtag to ask questions, make comments, share documents etc as well as responding to people tweeting from the hack.

  1. Typical hack schedule

  • Night before hack (or a few days before): Pre-meeting of potential participants
  • Start of event: Participants arrive at venue and register, introductions, pitches, teams form, hacking begins
  • Mid-event: Check-in/Feedback session
  • End of event: Teams present/demonstrate their work/findings

 

  1. After the hack

There may be follow-up events, more hacks and opportunities for hack participants to keep working on the issues. Many people go to hacks on a regular basis, sharing their skills and knowledge with others.

  1. Want to get involved?

Over the next 12 months we’re planning to do more hacks in the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector, particularly with smaller organisations in the West Midlands.

We’re collating a list of interested parties – get in touch with us if you’d like to be part of one, whether you’re in the sector as a chief officer/worker/volunteer/trustee, or in other sectors as a developer, designer, data analyst, researcher, subject expert, entrepreneur, academic or student and we’ll keep you up to date with developments.

All events will be announced via our monthly newsletter orlistat generic.

 

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Pauline with her award – Outstanding Contribution to technology 2016; photo credit: Cheryl Garvey

We are celebrating!

Our Managing Director, Pauline Roche, won the award for Outstanding Contribution to technology at the order orlistat overnight held on Friday November 11th at the Novotel Birmingham on Broad St.

Pauline is an information science professional specialising in community building, outreach and developing better processes for the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector to use technology and data. She is passionate about increasing the digital skills and data literacy of people in charities. She co-founded the generic 60mg orlistat online meetup series and orlistat online without prescription.

Pauline is a tech connector, do-er and fosterer of skills and knowledge in the West Midlands and beyond. She bring charities, funders and community groups together to address social issues by organising events, blogging and tweeting through her business RnR Organisation, a social enterprise supporting data informed programmes focussing on asset-based community development and tech for good. She aims to be an example to women striving to improve life in their community.

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This post is Part One of two posts:

Part One looks at some data on online and digital skills in the UK population as a whole

and

Part Two will look specifically, at 2 regions of England (West Midlands and East Midlands) where we are working with some people in smaller charities and some people in the tech communities.

PART ONE

We at RnR Organisation are working to increase and improve basic digital skills and use of technology in smaller charities in order for them to achieve their aims more effectively so the second post will look at digital skills in UK SMEs and charities, including in the West Midlands and East Midlands.

Basic Digital Skills

Basic digital skills are defined as:

1.      Managing information

2.      Communicating

3.      Transacting

4.      Creating

5.      Problem solving

Basic Digital Skills and Basic Online Skills

Having skills 1-4 means a person has Basic Online Skills, while having 1-5 means a person has Basic Digital Skills.

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Classification of digital tasks and digital skills

“77% of the UK adult population [40.5m people] have Basic Digital Skills with 81% having the Basic Online Skills level…[so]…23%, or an estimated 12.6 million adults in the UK…don’t have the required level of Basic Digital Skills…”

Regional differences

“Greater London (84%), Scotland (81%), the South East and South West (both 81%) register the highest Basic Digital Skills levels, but Wales –where internet access is lowest –displays the lowest levels (62%)”. In the West Midlands the Basic Digital Skills level is second lowest in the UK at 63%, and this means it is at the lowest level in the nine regions of England.

Basic Online Skills level in the West Midlands is the lowest in the UK at 68%. By comparison, levels in the East Midlands are higher at 75% for Basic Digital Skills and 80% for Basic Online Skills. This means that approximately 1.5m people aged 15+ in the West Midlands lack Basic Online Skills and 1.75m lack Basic Digital Skills. In the East Midlands the figures are 0.75m and 0.95m respectively.

Internet access

Internet access is a factor which influences levels of digital skills. “In general [Northern Ireland is an exception], the areas with the highest internet access (by any means) also show the highest levels of Basic Digital Skills.” 81% of people in the West Midlands and 85% in the East Midlands have internet access

UK maps showing lack of internet access and lack of digital skills
UK maps showing lack of internet access and lack of digital skills

 

 

 

All quotes, data and illustrations taken from: Basic Digital Skills UK report 2015: Report prepared by Ipsos MORI for Go ON UK, in association with Lloyds Banking Group

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Tech companies and Corporate social responsibility

All people in tech companies want to improve the lives of their stakeholders, and this can include helping organisations in the charitable or voluntary and community sector (VCS) low or pro bono, an activity usually known in business as Corporate social responsibility (CSR) or Corporate responsibility (CR).

This can include giving the VCS organisation support to use technology better, and more, possibly to automate some of the more repetitive and time-consuming processes in the organisation.

It might also mean joining the Board of a VCS organisation as an unpaid Trustee or Director in order to assist with good governance.

We want to support tech companies and VCS organisations in the Midlands to grow and develop those kind of relationships. We can see there are mutual benefits to be had.

Benefits for the tech companies

Benefits for the tech company can include that the company can offer development opportunities to their staff to increase their employability and retain their talent. They can learn more about and engage better with their local area and community. They can develop new products and services, or improve existing ones. They can gain satisfaction from helping and reinvesting some of their profits and resources in the local community.

Individual staff members can get satisfaction from helping a VCS organisation which helps people in their local area and community.

Benefits for the VCS Organisation

Benefits for the staff of the VCS organisation can include that they can improve their technical and digital skills, thus increasing their employability.

The organisation can learn about opportunities to change some of its processes, possibly freeing up valuable time to spend it with users of their services. They can offer opportunities to local tech companies who want to fulfil their CSR.

How we can help 

We are members of the collaborative workspace and community of changemakers orlistat buy online no prescription and we also do project work around open data at the incubation centre of the Birmingham tech community order orlistat online We have built excellent relationships with colleagues and companies based in each of these spaces.

This, and our many years of senior level experience and networks in the wider voluntary and public sectors, and our wide social media networks, makes us ideally placed to bring people from both the voluntary sector and tech companies together under the tech for good banner or, as we call it, tech for impact.

Tech for good meetups and other initiatives

In 2015 we co-founded how to order orlistat (@Net2Midlands), a local branch of the global orlistat prescription online next day delivery network of tech for good groups. We run regular Net Squared Midlands sessions at Impact Hub Birmingham. Every month or so we run a session to bring tech companies and not-for-profits together to address topics of mutual interest e.g. agile processes, using video better.

We also co-founded the unconference for voluntary sector infrastructure organisations orlistat with no prescription, hosted annually since 2013 at Innovation Birmingham. We work on a number of other related initiatives including the UK generic orlistat canada and the orlistat no prescription needed

Want to know more?

We are taking these ideas further. If you’re from a tech company or a VCS organisation, or a strategic body which supports these organisations, and this post has sparked your interest, please get in touch with us to find out more and to start a conversation.

Thanks to Joel Blake OBE, Social Innovation Consultant, for some of his expert insights in this field

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TWEAKING SOME PRACTICES: IT’S NOT ALL OR NOTHING

Having discussed wider and strategic issues in the previous two articles in this series we thought it necessary in this article to provide some practical guidance for organisations about how to incorporate such activities into their operational activities. This is a process of making modifications and not necessarily making wholesale changes within your organisations or practice.

All organisations use some form of IT and therefore have an existing digital footprint. Organisations use technology to monitor activity and therefore have access to specific and bespoke data.

Websites are commonplace for most organisations and provide an excellent shop window for services and activities but do we make the best use of them, including to meet and collaborate with others?

As a sector we are now hearing a great deal about digital transformation – there are individuals and organisations that would advise us as to how to maximise our digital presence and data footprint but, unless organisations understand and own their own journey, they will not get the full benefit of the activity. This article therefore provides some guidance as to how to review your activity

We therefore pose a number of questions and observations for you/your organisation:

DO YOU KNOW WHAT DATA YOU KEEP?

Do you believe that you could improve how you manage your digital footprint?

Have you:
• Discussed with your board how technology might help with your work?
• Identified staff processes and progress?
• Identified any time constraints?

DIGITAL FOOTPRINT

Does your digital footprint tell your story, celebrate your successes, and promote the numbers (people, events, networks, outcomes) you achieve, the issues you address, the impact you make?
How do you market or promote your organisation?
Leaflets, networking, blog, social media – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, website.

DIGITAL BY DESIGN

• What data do you keep about your activities, your users, your funding sources, other?
• How do you present your data? In annual reports, in funding applications, in other publications?

EXPLORING YOUR DIGITAL PRESENCE

We have divided an organisational digital presence into two distinct categories: fixed and fluid. Fixed digital includes websites and other IT processes. While the organisation has input into such activity, such resources can be inflexible, often purchased and maintained externally, used to promote and record organisational activity.

Web presence (fixed): What does it say about you, what information do you share, who is/are your target audience(s)? Develop a digital presence that tells your story, using narrative and data to represent impact and outcomes that are being achieved, and not just the information that represents how you fulfil contract obligations. What does your website say about your organisation?

Social Media (fluid/flexible): Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp. What does your use of social media say about your organisation? With social media, often controlled and administered in-house, you have more flexibility over your digital presence and can use this media to portray more intimate insights into the organisation.
Who manages your Facebook page, LinkedIn organisation page, Twitter account, website content? You, your staff and board can decide what stories get told using as many or as few of these platforms as make sense for your organisation – go where your users are.
Do you measure the impact of your marketing? Blogpost reads, e-bulletin circulation, Facebook followers, leaflet distribution, LinkedIn connections, Twitter followers and re-tweets, website use – create a baseline using analytics and monitor changes so you can stay in the loop.
You can interact with peers in this area. Peer to peer learning with other non-profits about using technology to achieve outcomes.

EVENTS

BarCamp Non Profits unconference brings together people from tech and digital with people from non-profits (charity, academic, government, arts and culture, etc) to exchange ideas and learning: xenical rx cheap

Net Squared Midlands is a tech for good group, with regular free events for people interested in using web or mobile technology for social good: buying orlistat online

NFP tweetup – informal evenings of thought-provoking sessions, sharing and discussion focused on how not-for-profit organisations can make the best use digital media and technology: buy orlistat with no prescription

VCSSCamp is an unconference for people from VCS local infrastructure organisations to meet and talk about the ways they use digital tools and technology in their work: cheapest online indian pharmacy for orlistat or generic

MANAGING DATA

Data management tools (some are open source) allow you to have more control over data about your organisation, your area and your issues. Your organisation could make use of free online tools such as Open Street Map (maps and mapping tools), Tableau Public (data visualisation tools), Trello (project management tool), Wikimedia (graphics), Wikipedia (encyclopaedia).

This is a process of making modifications and not necessarily making wholesale changes within your organisations or practice.

TIMELINE AND ACTIVITY

Engaging in the above activity may look like a great deal of commitment – it isn’t. We would estimate a maximum commitment of 20-30 minutes per day. Make it a part of your weekly timetable and activities and develop an organisational ‘cultural’ commitment to digital activity.

It is more about doing things differently, adjusting how you work, making more efficient use of IT and digital

WHAT NEXT?

If you or your organisation wants some strategic help to take any of these ideas forward, please contact us for a discussion about how we might work together.

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Strategic processes

In this article we will concentrate on the strategic processes which are needed to help us in the VCSE sector to begin the transformation which will benefit our beneficiaries and our organisations.

Establishing, developing and overseeing strategy is the remit of the board. They need to be supported in identifying the strategy to drive their mission, develop it during the different stages of the organisation and oversee its management by those to whom they delegate that responsibility. That strategy should include the use and regular review of technology to make the delivery of services and activities more efficient and to decrease the time spent on repetitive routine tasks which could be automated.

Our data – owning, showing and sharing

Our organisations gather lots of data, usually at the behest of funders. Boards need to appreciate what data the organisation is collecting and encourage management to start using, sharing and combining it with other data so together they can use the acquired knowledge to make better decisions. Organisations like orlistat cheap onlinework with data scientists (people who examine and analyse data) who volunteer their time to help charities understand and use their data better, and schemes exist like buy generic orlistat online no prescription quick delivery whose operational researchers volunteer to help organisations to make operational improvements.

Strategic digital footprint

But strategic digital footprint isn’t only about data. It’s also about raising your digital profile through accessible platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. We are constantly encouraging VCS CEOs, Trustees and others working in the sector to become more digitally active. Using LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook make these activities more accessible and cost effective.

Supporting trustees on social media

Organisations and management need to explore how they can support trustees through these digital processes. Are trustees on LinkedIn? If they are, are they leveraging their contacts to support the organisation, not just financially but also opening doors, creating or supporting partnerships, communicating about the brilliant work done by the organisations and its staff? Are they in groups which are relevant to the organisation where they lead or contribute to discussions? Do they reblog posts from the organisation’s website? Do they spot opportunities and send them on to the management?

Are trustees on Twitter? If they are, are they retweeting the organisation’s tweets to their contacts, thereby increasing the reach of the organisation? Are they sharing news, making new contacts, raising awareness of the issues faced by your beneficiaries?

On Facebook, where many voluntary organisations and community groups find a natural home, trustees could be posting event photos, spreading organisational news amongst their networks, publicly responding to organisation invitations and inviting others. It is a great place for new people to find out about your organisation and trustees can and should be involved in this.

Using technology to develop a framework for a strategic process

And what about the governance meetings themselves? Are they just events where decisions are already made and trustees just go along and sign where they’re told to? Or are they events where participation, including by those not in the room, is encouraged, including through using social media? Live tweeting VCS meetings is not common, but the public sector live streams some of its meetings so our sector must consider this as an option if we want to recruit new members, volunteers and trustees who are growing up in an age where this is the norm. How many boards use video conferencing such as Skype or Hangouts to enable people to participate in everything, maybe excepting the most sensitive matters?

What skills are we expecting of trustees?

We would suggest that basic digital skills, as outlined by digital skills charity orlistat purchase without prescription, should be a given. Trustees should be able to:

  • Manage: Find, manage and store digital information and content
  • Communicate: Communicate, interact, collaborate, share and connect with others
  • Transact: Purchase and sell goods and services; organise your finances; register for and use digital government services
  • Problem-solve: Increase independence and confidence by solving problems using digital tools and finding solutions
  • Create: Engage with communities and create basic digital content.*

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What next?

If you or your organisation wants some strategic help to take any of these ideas forward, please contact us for a discussion about how we might work together.

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Tech and data for good

We believe technology and the understanding and usage of data can help us do our important work better, sometimes using it to free us up to spend more of our valuable time helping our beneficiaries, sometimes using it to make better decisions and work smarter. The terminology we need to use more in the sector includes digital, data, transformation, ownership, impact, collaboration and sharing.

Work smarter

We all need to work smarter – digital technology and data will help us to do that. We need to increase the digital and data literacy of everyone but especially those in our sector. We are not the only ones in society doing the work that we do but there is no shortage of need and time is not on our side. If we do not transform our organisations, other organisations, without our understanding of local community needs, will come into the ‘market’ and say they can do the job better than us. We need to reclaim our mission and prove the need we serve, using technology and data, including our own, to improve our processes and prove our impact. Transformation using technology is in the best interests of our beneficiaries and our organisations.

Data

In terms of data, we are constantly having to rely on data produced by the statutory sector. We want to encourage the VCSE sector to understand, value, use and share our own data, amongst ourselves and with trusted allies. As RnR Organisation we attended a xenical buy online in June 2014 where data scientists gave up a weekend to examine the data of 4 separate charities, eventually producing dashboards (CAB) or data visualisations which helped each charity show its impact. It was run by the UK chapter of a US organisation called orlistat (Xenical) 120 mg without a prescription.  In the West Midlands region there is a group called orlistat 120 mg without prescription, part of a global network of people interested in using web or mobile technology for social good, where VCSE organisations can meet and get support from digital advocates who want to support work in the sector by sharing their technical skills.

Digital skills

There are some worrying statistics from the 2015 cheap prices on orlistat which tracks digital adoption among small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) and charities:

  • 58% of charities lack basic digital skills (23% of SMEs), up from 55% last year
  • 28% of charities think that they’re doing all they can online
  • Over 50% of charities do not believe that having a website would help increase their funding and nearly 70% say the same about social media
  • 55% of charities think that the knowledge level at board level is lacking.
  • One-quarter (25%) of all organisations surveyed (SMEs and charities) believe digital is ‘irrelevant’ to them.

In the course of this series of articles we will refer to tools, resources, organisations and events to do with technology for non-profits, many of them available to us in the VCSE sector at low or no cost. Many of the tools and resources are designed and maintained by people who believe in tech for good, including volunteers. We will also recommend organisations and events like orlistat online without prescription, the unconference for voluntary sector infrastructure organisations (CVSs and Volunteer Centres etc) at which you can network with and get support from other organisations in the sector who are also engaged on this same transformation journey.

Allies

We have allies in this work, people who work in the public or private sectors but who also want to ‘give something back’. Organisations like orlistat (Xenical) 120 mg without a prescription bring together charities and data scientists to enable the data scientists to examine the charities’ data and help them understand the patterns in the data which will help them do a better job. Meetups like Net Squared attract ‘techies’ who are civic-minded and want to help us find solutions.

What technology many charities need

A national charitable funder recently ran a pilot programme which was to help charities use technology to create change in the lives of certain groups in society. There were a number of things which the funder said this programme would not cover and these were:

  • Upgrading of internal IT systems
  • Large-scale capital costs
  • Updating of websites and routine social media campaigns
  • Exploration events or hack days
  • Staff or volunteer training
  • Capacity-building to make an organisation more ‘digital ready’

As an organisation which believes in the need for the digital transformation of civic society, we think this is a handy list of work which does need to be funded by some funder(s) and we aim to identify and seek dialogue with funders who will fund these areas.

Resource-saving tools

What are the tasks you need to do? What are the time-consuming ones which could be automated? How much time do you spend answering the same queries over and over, organising events, arranging meetings, travelling to meetings, keeping up to date, managing projects, updating documents, finding out what your members think? How much money do we pay for simple website maintenance and updates? Tools like Eventbrite, Doodle, Skype/Hangouts, Google alerts, Trello, Google Drive and Survey Monkey are our friends in these scenarios and we should be using them more.

Voluntary sector and smart cities

In a orlistat with no rx written by us in September 2012, when Birmingham was establishing its canadian pharmacy no prescription orlistat, we said:

“The voluntary and community sector (VCS) has accommodated the move from early computers to flat screens, to laptops, blackberries, smartphones, iPads etc etc. We have accommodated changes in programme applications – online, monitoring through prescribed databases and spreadsheets, and reporting on pre-set and template programmes. Smart/digital systems, big/open data, ‘Smart Cities’ programmes are all processes and programmes that will benefit the sector in developing, delivering, monitoring and reporting services.

The question for the VCS is not about whether, or how, we engage in ‘digital by default’ [see orlistat without prescription], but how do we proactively lead/shape our involvement within the ‘technological journey’. While the public sector is planning reforms and changes based on technological developments, there are growing concerns over our sector’s ability to take part in and respond to the continued changes”.

Future articles

In the forthcoming articles in this series we will look at the strategic and operational processes we in the sector need to be aware of and implementing if we want to achieve the transformation to ‘digital by default’ that is so badly needed.

Events

Some upcoming events relevant to this topic:

What next?

If you or your organisation wants some strategic help to take any of these ideas forward, please contact us for a discussion about how we might work together.

 

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When I started work in a Local Authority Housing Department in the early ‘70’s it was my job to collect housing repair requests – duplicate copies were made using carbon paper, and the big technological advancement of carbon strips enabled triplicate forms to be developed. Jobs were only monitored when one of the duplicates was returned to the office and crossed off the initial ledger.

While there are still issues concerning housing repairs, we must admit that the technological advancements made since then enables greater monitoring and reporting of actions to be undertaken. We have made substantial advancement from copying to carbon paper, from self carboning paper to databases and spreadsheets on computers.

Digital and technological ‘progress’ is now a given. ‘Digital by default’[1] is now the leading term that loosely describes current and potential changes in administration using new and ‘innovative’ technology. ‘Digital by default’ is not a new concept or process, it is just an up to date term that describes the journey outlined above, a journey that is not going to stop. If anything, it is going to speed up as technology changes and modifies faster.

The voluntary and community sector (VCS) has accommodated the move from early computers to flat screens, to laptops, blackberries, smartphones, iPads etc etc. We have accommodated changes in programme applications – online, monitoring through prescribed databases and spreadsheets, and reporting on pre-set and template programmes. Smart/digital systems, big/open data, ‘Smart Cities’ programmes are all processes and programmes that will benefit the sector in developing, delivering, monitoring and reporting services.

The question for the VCS is not about whether, or how, we engage in ‘digital by default’, but how do we proactively lead/shape our involvement within the ‘technological journey’. While the public sector is planning reforms and changes based on technological developments, there are growing concerns over our sector’s ability to take part in and respond to the continued changes.

Why is the sector relatively inactive in the proactive implementation of change related to monitoring and data in a digital format? There are at least two very distinct possibilities for this inactivity.

The first is related to the funding and economic structure of the sector. Whilst the sector has modified its services and activities in moving from grant programmes to commissioning, it can be argued that the changes in strategic planning and developing economic business support to the sector has not moved correspondingly.

The process of procurement, commissioning activities with outputs and unit cost analysis, developing application and monitoring processes that reduce staff time, and therefore core costs, does not take full cognisance of the sector’s process of capital investment. Do those who assess the need for, and commission, services appreciate the economic structures necessary for capital investment within our sector?

Public sector capital investment is undertaken within specific and planned budgets – VCS capital developments were previously undertaken through specific grants. These have, of course, stopped since the implementation of the commissioning process. Private sector capital investment is undertaken through borrowing and capitalisation of assets, or the leasing of equipment over a given and agreed period.

This process, for a variety of reasons, is not open to most organisations within our sector. As a sector we are therefore doubly disadvantaged – we are unable to borrow and capitalise assets as in the private sector, and we are unable to include capital development costs in commissioned programmes, as they may be ineligible, or they may raise the unit cost prohibitively.

The second is probably less palatable to our sector.

We make excuses, excuses that our clients/users would be disadvantaged if we were too technologically focused, but if we examine the statistics of use of existing technology, we may find this to be not that true.

There are 30 million users of Facebook in the UK – the largest participation in Europe. Over 7 million of this group is aged 40+, and over 15 million of them are aged between 20 and 39[2]. The majority of this internet activity takes place in England, and is split almost equally between men and women, with slightly more women than men being engaged. This, according to socialbreakers[3], provides market penetration to 62% of the on-line population.

Ofcom statistics 2012[4] show that of the UK adult population aged 15-64 (39.9 million), 92% (36.7m) own a mobile phone. 15% have a mobile phone but no land line. 76% of adults have broadband (fixed + mobile), 49% mobiles are postpaid or contract.

39% of people use their mobile handset to access the internet, 50% of adults use social networking sites at home and there are 5.1m mobile broadband subscriptions (Dongles/PC datacard).

These statistics will have changed dramatically in the last five years and will continue to change even more dramatically.

VCS users and clients are using the internet, are competent with the internet (possibly within their limitations), but nevertheless they are using it, and we should not use our perceptions of our clients inadequacies to excuse our own.

The sector, therefore, has to aid and lead this journey, enabling current and future users to benefit from services that will inevitably be developed, delivered, monitored and reported on through smart and enhanced digital technology.

Where does that leave the sector in its involvement in using and developing its proactive involvement in digital by default?

Firstly, the sector should adopt the philosophy of ‘Digital by Design’[5], freely discussing how new technology can drive and monitor services. This will enable the sector to develop not only the delivery programmes, but also be proactive in the development of technology. As businesses, this will rank the sector alongside other SME’s, especially in European Structural Funds, accessing grants to fund the capital development process, developing sustainable business processes that will enable it to refund the process in the future.

Secondly, the sector needs to explore how the concept of using ‘open data’[6] and sharing our data can benefit the VCS and our users. We need to use what we have and what we know to generate interest and belief in what we are and do, not just in words or pictures but in statistics, in numbers, in data – the absolutes of public sector funding.

Lastly, the sector needs to, without prejudice, explore the possibilities afforded by the ‘new thinking’ of community banks[7]. We need to think about how we develop as businesses, enveloping and encompassing the ‘new models’ of community business into our activity, driven by external economic factors but encompassing our belief in social justice and delivery of appropriate services to those that need them.

The sector is on the back foot, caught during a period of change, not yet clearly defining its new economic methodology. Instead of natural adjustment, forced change becomes the order of the day. These banks and processes may have been developed through a political process that argues that we cannot afford services the way we used to, and we all have to accommodate the results of the recession and implementation of budgetary restraint (cuts). We have to do what we, as a sector, have always done – find ways of surviving and continuing to deliver services.

The sector has become defensive and negative. In reality the politicians may, if we aren’t careful, circumvent the current VCS and develop new community processes, a new sector: community learning trusts, community forums, and community planning all loom over the sector, heir apparents of community engagement, developed by a coalition government operating as an oligarchy.

Instead of being on the back foot, we need to come out from the shadows of public sector and politically anodyne statements that, with one breath values us, and with another breath, accompanied by swift actions, changes the ball park, the rules and the funding.

Utilising new technology and open data we can empirically make and argue our case, monitor our activities, improve our services and counter the vision offered by others. We need these processes, not only to win the argument, but also to take part in the argument on equal terms. We will modify and adjust the rules from our own perspective, supported by facts, absolute information, our data and our ‘smart’ activities. This overtly challenges political ideological statements for change based mainly on market economics, and instead presents a well argued, empirically supported, counter-argument, an argument from which we can build/rebuild, develop, engage and progress.

 

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