A version of this article was first published in bvsc Update Dec 2015-Jan 2016 as the second in a series of three articles on the role of digital technology and data in the transformation of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE) in Birmingham and beyond; article links updated for accuracy Nov 2018
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 the charity DataKind UK work with data scientists (people who examine and analyse data). These data scientists volunteer their time to help charities understand and use their data better. There are also schemes like Pro Bono OR whose members, 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 organisational and topical 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 essential digital skills, as outlined in the Department for Education’s Essential digital skills framework, should be a given. Trustees should be able to:
Handle: 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
Be safe and legal online: authenticate online accounts and email, set secure passwords and privacy settings, identify secure websites, recognise suspicious links
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.