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 of a charity. Boards 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. It should also aim to decrease the time spent on repetitive routine tasks which could be automated.
Our data – owning, showing and sharing
Civil society organisations gather lots of data, usually at the behest of funders. Boards need to appreciate what data the organisation is collecting. They should encourage management to use, share and combine it with other data so the acquired knowledge can be used to make better decisions.
Organisations like the charity DataKind UK works with data scientists (people who examine and analyse data). These data scientists volunteer their time with Datakind to help other 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 using data. A similar organisation, Pro Bono Economics, helps charities understand and improve their impact and value, also using data.
Strategic digital footprint
But strategic digital footprint isn’t only about data. It’s also about raising your digital profile through accessible social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
In RnR Organisation we are constantly encouraging VCS CEOs, Trustees and others working in the sector to be more active online. Using platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook make such activity more accessible and cost effective.
Supporting trustees on social media
Organisations and their management need to explore how they can support trustees to use these digital platforms.
Are trustees on LinkedIn? If they are, are they leveraging their contacts to support the organisation? This includes not just financially but also by opening doors, by creating or supporting partnerships, by communicating about the brilliant work done by the organisation and its staff?
Are trustees in groups that are relevant to the organisation where they could lead or contribute to discussions? Do they reblog posts from the organisation’s website? Do they keep an eye out for 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 the charity’s beneficiaries?
On Facebook, where many voluntary organisations and community groups find a natural home, trustees could be equally active. They can post event photos, spread organisational news amongst their networks, publicly respond to organisation invitations and invite others to get involved.
Facebook is a great place for new people to find out about your organisation, and trustees could 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 very common, but the public sector live streams some of its meetings so our sector must consider this as an option. It can help us 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 Zoom, Skype or Google Meet Hangouts to enable people to participate in everything, maybe excepting the most sensitive matters?
It’s Spring 2020 and people’s lives in all parts of the world are being affected by the Covid 19 Pandemic.
The short and medium term effects, including changes in how we use technology, are likely to go on for some months.
The long term effects will go on for years.
Video conferencing using Zoom
In our sector, people who never used video conferencing before this pandemic are having to suddenly get their heads around the various platforms in order to have meetings, deliver services, keep helping their beneficiaries.
Zoom, a platform developed for business purposes, for big organisations with IT departments, seems to have become the goto platform. At the end of April 2020 more than 300m people were logging on to use it every day.
Internet evangelist and social videographer John Popham observed about the Zoom phenomenon:
And this is where we come in with some more information about alternatives to Zoom.
Most people will have heard of these others of course, but it might be a good reminder of what they can do, and a chance to reconsider which platform is most suited to our needs.
No IT department?
If you’re not a big organisation with an IT department, other video calling options as alternatives to Zoom are available:
Google Hangouts Meet – free group video call with up to 10 people, group chats (typing text) for up to 150 people – here’s a good article about how to use hangouts including how it works if you don’t have a Google account
We held our first ever Digital WM News online meetup, a Brum digital meetup, on 15th April 2020, organised by Pauline Roche from RnR Organisation.
The meetup was for Digital WM News subscribers and others in Birmingham and the wider West Midlands, to allow social changemakers to check in with each other and share information during the Covid19 lockdown.
Online webinars attended include Donor engagement and Improving membership organisations as well as Net Squared London’s excellent and timely ‘Human connection in a time of social distancing‘ with Deepr colleagues. Another useful webinar was Cybersecurity and WFH. She also found time to pitch and run a ThingsCamp session on Social data.
Vicky shared that she is launching the Birmingham Charity Meetup on 28th Apr at 2pm. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for information. Speakers are TBC but topics will include wellbeing and working from home.
Vicky is also organising the next Midlands Charity Comms meeting on 11th June. Topic is ‘comms on a shoestring’ but this may change or become adapted to be more relevant in the coming weeks. Any suggestions for speakers from charities or NFPs who do an excellent job of communicating with stakeholders on little/no budget would be appreciated.
For Sandwell, Stuart says COVID-19 support information is available at www.scvo.info – you just follow the link from front page. Some is Sandwell specific, some more general. A new befriending scheme gas been created – Sandwell Together. General CVS activities are continuing using remote technologies, but also support with things like furlough etc.
John has continued to work with Dev Society’s normal partners, helped coordinate response from social tech orgs, as well as working with CAST, Social Tech Trust and other funders to help connect charities with support.
Edward continues to offer service design and digital skills consultancy to community businesses and other charitable organisations across England.
Technology and the understanding and usage of data can help us in the VCSE sectors. Digital tools and approaches can help us work better, sometimes freeing us up to spend more of our valuable time helping our beneficiaries, sometimes allowing us to make better decisions and work smarter.
The concepts we need to get more familiar with in the sector include 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, there are other organisations, without our understanding of local community needs, who 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.
We are constantly having to rely on data produced by the statutory sector. We work to encourage the VCSE sector to understand, value, use and share our own data, amongst ourselves and with trusted allies.
We attended a datadive run by the charity Datakind UK in June 2014 where data scientists gave up a weekend to examine the data of 4 separate charities, eventually producing dashboards or data visualisations which helped each charity show its impact.
Net Squared Midlands, a tech for good group, part of a global network of people interested in using web or mobile technology for social good, organises meetups where VCSE organisations can meet and get support from digital advocates who want to support work in the sector by sharing their technical skills.
103,000 (52%) charities have all five skills (up 4% since 2017).
2.4 million (58%) SMEs have all five skills (down 1% since 2017).
Less than half (49%) of SMEs in the West Midlands have all five Basic Digital Skills – the lowest of any region.
In the third sector, charities from the South West and Wales have the lowest Basic Digital Skill levels (45%) – this is flat year-on-year.
60,000 (30%) charities and 655,000 (16%) SMEs have low digital capability.
only 18% of SMEs and 8% of charities have taken the step to optimise their services for mobile use.
Since 2014, charities’ growth in digital usage has surpassed that of SMEs. Some of the largest changes include:
Nearly one-third (29%) of charities now use Cloud-based IT systems, this is 15 times more than in 2014.
Two-thirds (65%) of charities are now accessing Government Digital Services, more than seven times as many as in 2014.
There are now nearly one million SMEs and charities on ‘the cusp’, with four of the five Basic Digital Skills, up 34% in one year.
Tools and resources
There are many 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 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 those organised by Net Squared local organisers attract ‘techies’ who are civic-minded and want to work with us to help us find solutions.
What technology many charities need
As far back as 2015 a national charitable funder ran a pilot programme which was to help charities use technology to create change in the lives of certain groups in society.
The funder was clear that there were a number of things 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’
We think this is a handy list of work which does need to be funded by some funder(s) and we continue to work to identify and seek dialogue with, and share information about, funders who will fund these areas.
What are the tasks you need to do? Of these, 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 can save us time and money in times like these and we should be using them more. Links to these and other tools can be found in Charity Catalogue, a curated list of useful resources for UK charities brought to you by a committed group of volunteers and the SCVO Digital Team
“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 other articles in this series we 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.
We aim to develop and support a more creative and collaborative mindset amongst people working in and governing the VCSE sector so that they know how to use the internet and digital technology more efficiently in order to help their beneficiaries. This should also increase their efficiency and productivity e.g. automating repetitive tasks. We are also hoping that by the end of the project they will be more able and willing to use freely available digital tools and software.
We are exploring essential issues and activities not currently supported by the major tech for good project funders.
We envisage that the objectives will impact on the VCSE Sector in the following ways:
Developing capacity to ensure an organisation becomes ‘digital ready’ or digitally improved
Providing or developing appropriate staff/volunteer training
Exploring and increasing organisations’ digital footprint to include updating individual websites and engaging in routine social media campaigns
Organising and running Exploration events or Hack Days to aid development and delivery of activity
Reinforcing/increasing capacity/usage of current system.
Exploring need for upgrading of internal IT systems
Developing project / economic reasoning for (large scale) capital investment in IT
We will achieve the delivery of the Project 2020 objectives through these three themed areas:
Nissa and I explored the most effective use cases for the Yoti app (which verifies legal identities or key personal details, like age) among UK charities.
We also explored the use cases for Yoti Keys, Yoti’s offline solution, which is a product in development that enables charities to register and subsequently identify people accessing their services without needing a smartphone, documentation or connectivity.
You can find more information about Yoti’s social purpose here.
How charities got involved
We told people who worked for charities based and working in the UK that we’d love to hear from them.
We were particularly interested in hearing from them if they had a need to legally identify people.
We also wanted to hear from people who could potentially use the offline Key to help prevent people from having to tell their story every time they access a service, or to help their organisation better manage and monitor people’s interactions with their service .
What happened next
The research ended in late September 2018, with a first look at our findings coming out later that year.
Nissa’s insights from the research were published here.
Yoti continues to work towards delivering the best possible products and services for UK charities. More about their social purpose here
Net Squared Midlands is relaunching on September 20th 2018 with a new development plan for bi-monthly meetups.
Net Squared Midlands, organised by Pauline Roche and Ted Ryan from RnR Organisation, is a tech for social good group with regular free events for people interested in using the web or mobile technology for social good. It’s part of a global NetSquared movement of innovators in more than 70 cities around the world, including Birmingham.
Ted said: “In developing Net Squared Midlands, we aim to build a sector that knows how to use technology more efficiently in order to help their beneficiaries, explore the specific issues and activities not financed through many tech for good funding streams, increase the efficiency and productivity of our sector e.g. automate repetitive tasks, and to build a creative and collaborative digital mindset in the sector”
Sam Reader, of new tech startup Wondr, who has recently become a member of Net Squared Midlands, said: “I think what RnR Organisation is doing, to help charities and non-profits is a great approach and very meaningful. Our team are also passionate about connecting people with others, to share useful information for positive action so I look forward to being involved with Net Squared Midlands.”
Net Squared Midlands is one of 4 themed areas of work undertaken by RnR Organisation, under the Tech for Good and Data for Good banners. They also publish a free monthly e-bulletin (Digital WM News), organise the unconference for voluntary sector infrastructure organisations (VCSSCamp), and Pauline chairs the regional funders network (WM Funders Network).
Digital Leaders Week is a national celebration of opportunities, challenges and support for the digital transformation of Britain’s businesses, public services and society. Listing over 120 events (77% outside London) with 10,000 free places RnR was happy to help share, inspire, inform and build the UK’s Digital Confidence.
We were delighted to be in Sandwell in June during 2018 national Digital Leaders week to facilitate the second iSandwell Camp, this one focussing on Digital Champions.
With over 30 participants from the public and voluntary sectors we looked at how we use our digital skills at work and at home, the need for digital in the region, where we get our digital skills and information from and perception of the issues in Sandwell in regards to digital exclusion.
We then set the scene to where we are currently are with the Sandwell Digital Champions network, seeing the iSandwell Camp event as a chance to put the brakes on and engage with the community to ensure we are on point, welcoming feedback on the existing role description.
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.