Outstanding Contribution to Technology award winner

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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 2016 West Midlands Women of the Year Awards 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 Net Squared Midlands: tech for social good meetup series and VCSSCamp.

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.

Read the event story here

Digital skills: looking at the data – Part One

Originally published in Sept 2016, this post has been updated to reflect the latest data in various reports, including the second annual Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index 2017: Benchmarking the digital and financial capability of consumers in the UK, and the fourth annual UK Business Digital Index 2017: Benchmarking the digital maturity of small businesses and charities in the UK

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.

In 2016 the UK Basic Online Skills framework was refreshed and updated to become Basic Digital Skills. In order to have full Basic Digital Skills, an organisation must be able to undertake at least one task within each of the five categories outlined below.

“21% (11.5m) of the UK are classified as not having Basic Digital Skills, which represents a 9% improvement and a reduction of 1.1m people since 2015, when the last Skills report was published. Furthermore, 6% report having four of the five skills, suggesting many are close to achieving all five. 9% of people (1% decrease from 2015) have no Basic Digital Skills. This aligns with the results from the Lloyds Bank Consumer Digital Index, finding 9% are not using the internet

Nearly all adults have managing information, communication and transacting skills. The skills acquired by the fewest people are ‘Creating’ (86%) and ‘Problem Solving’ (82%)”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regional differences

 

This year [2017], Yorkshire & Humberside and the South East both report that 86% have the required skills – the highest amongst all regions. This is really encouraging and is also reflected in Ipsos MORI’s Tech Tracker for the use of online banking.

There has been a significant improvement in the West Midlands and Northern Ireland (both reporting a 13% increase), and Wales and Yorkshire & Humberside have also shown a 9% improvement.

Despite a significant improvement since 2015, Wales remains the region with the lowest skills level overall at 71%.
The North West and North East have seen little or no change since 2015. This could suggest there is a need for continued commitment at a local level to drive digital skills training, following on from initiatives such as Go ON North East.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basic Digital Skills and 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 in 2015 – Basic Digital Skills UK report 2015: Report prepared by Ipsos MORI for Go ON UK, in association with Lloyds Banking Group

 

 

 

 

Tech companies and VCS organisations making social impact together

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 Impact Hub Birmingham.  We also do project work around open data at the incubation centre of the Birmingham tech community Innovation Birmingham. 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, plus our wide social media networks, makes us ideally placed to bring together people from both the voluntary sector and tech companies under the tech for good/social impact banner.

Tech for good meetups and other initiatives

In 2015 we co-founded Net Squared Midlands (@Net2Midlands), a local branch of the global Net Squared 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 interested in digital transformation, VCSSCamp, hosted annually since 2013 at Innovation Birmingham. We work on a number of other related initiatives including the UK Open Data Camp and the West Midlands Open Data Forum

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.

MORE RESOURCES

How charities can work with tech companies by Sam Applebee, 3 Aug 2017

Starting your nonprofit:digital partner relationship on the right footing [Conversation Menu], CAST – Centre for the Acceleration of Social Technology, 2017   

Tech for good near you [growing list]

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

UKDigiStrategy consultation 2016: Response from Net Squared Midlands

It’s a very open call for ideas, although there are four suggested themes.

Introduction

A group from the public sector and voluntary sector with an interest in digital transformation and digital growth in the charitable sector discussed this at our Net Squared Midlands: Tech for good event in Birmingham in January 2016 and responded with the bullet points below:

1)         Unlocking digital growth

Every business and every charity can benefit from using digital technology, but for many of the smaller charities and micro community groups that we work with there are huge leaps needed to make digital transformation happen.

  • Corporate Social Responsibly – could larger businesses provide digital employee volunteering and mentoring services, brokered through the national network of well established local Volunteer Centres and Councils for Voluntary Service?

  • See volunteer centres https://www.ncvo.org.uk/ncvo-volunteering/find-a-volunteer-centre

2)         Transforming government

Whilst many staff in charities may be comfortable with using their smart phone to go on-line or conduct on-line transactions, the organisations they work for often aren’t at the same level, or don’t have the same infrastructure to make access to government services easy. Many charity websites are not responsive or mobile friendly and others are out of date, poorly designed or non-existent.

Simple transactions Government procurement is seen as being very bureaucratic and a barrier that small charities often with limited digital skills and capacity struggle to engage with. There is a need for more information sharing and awareness raising of what the third sector can (and can’t do) digitally as part of a strategic relationship with government.

  • Simpler commissioning models are needed, maybe with a group of third sector organisations collaborating on contract submission to “Government As A Platform”. ”; info sharing with public sector – lack of knowledge;

  • See the model working in Mansfield http://www.tea-m.org.uk/

3)         Transforming everyday life

Relevant activities that promote digital inclusion should be available at the point of need for individuals who use the services of charities, (e.g. Rough sleepers, single parents etc). Taking time out of running a small community group to assist a user undertake “computer classes” is not sufficient and can be off putting when the environment used is a school or classroom which may have unpleasant memories.

Help citizens to understand what their devices can actually do.

Will e-learning and MOOCs ever really catch on in the third sector?

  • Unlike public or health sectors where training is compulsory and e-learning has been found to be a very cost effective way to deliver this information, no such requirement exists for many tasks in voluntary organisation.

  • See Run A Club platform for skills development & administration of small community sports groups Run a Club packages

For some people leading chaotic personal lives there is a need for “pre basic digital skills”, mentors who can explain the reasons why being a part of the digital society is important. Vitally they also need to mentor and ensure that those farthest from being digitally active retain their connection, remember their e-mail address or government portal passwords.

4)         Building the foundations

Of the 160,045 voluntary organisations in England, 83.1% are small or micro organisations with less than £100,000 income per year. It is these organisations that are most at risk of being left behind digitally and which this strategy needs to accommodate.

The digital framework and basic digital skills developed by Go On UK [now doteveryone] goes part way to helping organisations, but needs to cover the strategic digital transformation issues an organisation has to consider in order to build strong foundations.

Organisations prioritise service delivery over technology, which for a small charity is often the best use of limited resources and capacity, but basic ‘good practice’ cannot be ignored. Digital Fundamentals which must be embedded in the way organisations work, employ staff with digital skills and recruit volunteers to help their cause include:

  • Demystifying ‘the cloud’ and the efficiency saving that this form of working can bring to an organisation, its staff and trustee boards.

  • Being more aware of the many social media tools that help a charity raise its game, increase fundraising and promote its message to a wider audience.

  • Charities need to be directly aware of the National Cyber Security Programme as many don’t adequately protect their data files, use paper based filing systems or fail to back-up databases and don’t use anti-virus and other basic tools which could keep their digital assets safe.

  • Access to impartial advice about the best digital tools and products, not those linked to a particular supplier or solution e.g. http://www.connectingcare.org.uk

  • See Charity IT Association – https://www.charityitassociation.org.uk/about for Tech Surgeries and a Virtual IT Director for small charities who don’t have the resources to employ their own.

These statistics are a concern:

There are some worrying statistics from the 2015 Lloyds Bank UK Business Digital Index  [updated annually]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.[i]

And this list of technical equipment and events is exactly what is needed by many smaller organisations:

A national charitable funder ran a pilot programme recently 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.[ii]

Summary

In summary it is vital to see increased opportunities for face to face networking with other Digital Leaders in the charity sector where exchange of information is possible and all share a common understanding. We have found it possible to gain knowledge of how to build a strong digital foundation by learning from one another in familiar surroundings and from people they trust in similar situations to them.

©         Pauline Roche & Paul Webster – January 2016

[i] http://www.rnrorganisation.co.uk/blogs/smart-cities-smarter-vcse/
[ii] Do.

Digital governance

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 DataKind UK work 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 Pro Bono OR 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 Go ON UK, 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.*

*From What are basic digital skills?, Go-ON UK

What next?

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

OTHER ARTICLES IN SERIES:

Smart Cities, Smarter VCSE

How do you review your digital footprint?

Smart Cities: smarter VCSE

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 get used to using 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 datadive 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 Datakind UK.

In the West Midlands region there is a group called Net Squared Midlands, 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 Lloyds Bank UK Business Digital Index 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 VCSSCamp, 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 Datakind UK 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 blogpost written by us in September 2012, when Birmingham was establishing its Smart City Commission, 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 Government Digital Service], 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 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.

 

OTHER ARTICLES IN SERIES:

Digital governance

How do you review your digital footprint?

Digital by distraction?

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.

 

[1] “All existing and future [government] services to be designed first and foremost for digital delivery” from ‘Digital Strategy, Delivering digital by default’, Felicity Shaw, Head of Policy, Digital Delivery, Government Digital Service, 2011

[2] http://www.clicky.co.uk/2012/02/uk-facebook-statistics-february-2012/

[3] Facebook stat tracker

[4] http://media.ofcom.org.uk/facts/

[5] “ ‘Open by Default; Digital by Design’. …we should take a more thoughtful approach to technology, using it as a means to an end – to help us be open, transparent, accountable and human”, Carrie Bishop, FutureGov, 2012 http://wearefuturegov.com/2012/09/what-i-did-this-summer/

[6] “…the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyrightpatents or other mechanisms of control”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_data

[7] “… a depository institution that is typically locally owned and operated” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_bank