Having discussed wider and strategic issues in the previous two articles in this series (Smart Cities: smarter VCSE and Digital governance) 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 (“one’s unique set of traceable digital activities, actions, contributions and communications that are manifested on the Internet or on digital devices” – Wikipedia).
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
DO YOU KNOW WHAT DATA YOU KEEP?
Do you believe that you could improve how you manage your digital footprint?
• Discussed with your board how technology might help with your work?
• Identified staff processes and progress?
• Identified any time constraints?
• 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?
Do you use leaflets, networking, blog, social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter), your 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.
PEER TO PEER LEARNING
You can interact with peers from your sector in this area at various events and meetup groups. Peer to peer learning with other non-profits about using technology to achieve outcomes is a great way to learn and practice new ideas in a safe and supportive environment.
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, in London
Net Squared Midlands: tech for social good is a West Midlands-based tech for good group, part of Net Squared a global network, with regular free events for people interested in using web or mobile technology for social good. “NetSquared brings together nonprofits and activists, tech leaders and funders, and everyone who’s interested in using technology for social change”.
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, in London
VCSSCamp (Voluntary and Community Sector Support) 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; annually in Birmingham, other places by arrangement with the organisers
Data management tools (some are open source software) 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 to find, manage and visualise data such as:
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 increasing your digital and data literacy.
It is more about doing things differently, adjusting how you work, making more efficient use of IT and digital.
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 help you progress.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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”.
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.
This blog was inspired by a post (‘Steps on the road’) from Jo Ivens, CEO of Brighton & Hove Impetus who, in a previous role, worked on a project called Databridge, which aimed to empower the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors to use Open Data
Hi Jo, Always good to read what you have to say so thanks for posting ‘Steps on the road’. In the post you say “Sad to say that not much seems to have changed [around the VCS and data/open data] in the last 3 years” but I feel a bit more hopeful.
Some of the reasons for this: I’ve been to my first CommsCamp (“unconference for communicators”) and first UKGovCamp (“for people interested in how the public sector does digital stuff”) in the last 12 months, and I led sessions at both on the public sector and voluntary sector working together.
I’m not saying the sessions were packed out, but some people from each sector came, and we communicated about commissioning, procurement, asset transfer and data, and I think that’s where some of the hope is – with the people from both sectors who are willing to build relationships and who have access to contacts, tools, data and information which we can share and make changes with. I’ve also attended my first BrewCamp and SocialCareCurry – again places where people from both sectors are meeting to talk and to listen, and hopefully, maybe sooner, maybe later, to collaborate to make the kind of changes we talk about.
Locally and in my region (West Midlands), there’s Open Mercia (@OpenMercia), a group of developers, data analysts and policy advisors interested in encouraging the release and use of open data for social, economic and environmental benefit. Our members come from the public sector, voluntary sector, academia and technology SMEs. With Open Mercia colleagues I organised an Open Knowledge Foundation Open Data event last year where some local developers, VCS colleagues and a few other interested people (about 20 people) came together to share and learn from each other, and make a case for opening up Charity Commission data. We’re now organising another event for Open Data Day 2014 (Feb 22nd) and hope to attract more of the same people, and some new people have also said they want to be involved – small acorns, but I think we will grow.
Elsewhere in the sector, 4 of us from the voluntary sector in the Midlands organised the first VCSSCamp (unconference for people connected with (staff, volunteers, trustees) voluntary and community sector infrastructure organisations) last June, attracting about 40 colleagues from the sector, interested in using digital tools (and data) more and better. We’re now starting to plan the second one, and VCS colleagues in the North have said they want to organise their own VCSS Camp.
In September 2013 I delivered a presentation on the VCS and Open data at Birmingham Science City Digital Working Group, a cross-sector group organised by Aston University, where I quoted from your Databridge final report. The VCS perspective was news to most of the attendees, but it was not unwelcome.
A well-attended ‘Data and charities’ roundtable for members of Charitable Trusts West Midlands (which I co-Chair) in September, with Nick Booth, founder of Podnosh (business which understands and helps people use social media for social good), and Andrew Mackenzie, a member of the Cabinet’s Open Data User Group 2012-13, as speakers. Members lapped up the information, and we are now looking at the possibility of doing some simple visualisations of members data.
You probably know that Datakind UK (“community of data scientists and non-profits working together to better collect, analyze, and visualize data in the service of humanity”) organised their first UK datadive (“weekend events that bring the data science community together with the non-profit community to tackle tough data problems”) in September 2013. This event looked at the data of some of the larger UK charities, which is fine, but I believe this model could also be scaled down.
I hope you (and anyone else who reads this) will find it hopeful, in that this kind of work is happening around the country. Once I started to understand your work on open data and the voluntary sector (although I’ve worked in the sector since 1990s and I’m a qualified librarian/community worker, it took me a while), I thought your Databridge UK work was ground-breaking and inspirational, and yes, I think it’s time has come!