Data we don’t know we don’t know

This was a topic Ted talked about at our annual Open Data Day event in 2017 at Innovation Birmingham. We know that public policy is being made about resource allocation which excludes data from front-line organisations in our sector

Matthew Ryder speaking at NAVCA Future Forward

We were therefore delighted to hear our thinking reinforced by London Deputy Lord Mayor Matthew Ryder in a speech in December to gathered VCS infrastructure organisations at the NAVCA Future Forward conference in a speech, the significance of which has yet to be felt, where he said “data (and understanding data) is the key to ensuring that we have a voluntary sector that is skilled up for the future …… data increasingly informs public policy…you have data…that is going to be vital for how resources are going to be allocated towards your work; you will need to understand how to collect that data, and how to share that data, and we at City Hall…want to make sure we are giving you the skills…to be able to work with data more efficiently…you must pay attention to the data that you have – some of you will have data about your users that no government agency is aware of…you have that data, you can index those communities, you can put them on the map…we want you to understand the data you have, how that data is used …and we want, most of all, for you to help us shape the way data will be used in the future…giving those numbers out is going to make a difference to your stakeholders in your communities, not simply telling anecdotes…prepare ourselves for a future where that data will determine how resources are allocated” – full speech on YouTube here

We look forward to developing work on this topic this year, including at future Net Squared Midlands meetups and VCSSCamp, and we want to work with anyone else who’s interested in developing the data literacy of people in the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector. Please get in touch.

Digital skills: looking at the data – Part Two

The first of these two posts was originally published in Sept 2016; both posts 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 Two of two posts:

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


Part Two looks 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.


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. This second post looks 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 in SMEs by region












Barriers to doing more online for SMEs by region

Basic digital skills in charities by region




Talking Women in tech at 2017 Silicon Canal Awards

…along with Anna Walters, Head of GRC at Zenzero Support and Victoria Masso. We had been invited to prepare responses to the questions “Do we have an inclusive Tech Community in Greater Birmingham?  If you think we do, could you explain how/why we do? If you don’t, can you think of a way we can be more inclusive?”

At the event, we didn’t have enough time to get into the whole subject due to time constraints so here’s the full text what I would have said – I’d love to hear what you would have said in response!

Tech community in Greater Birmingham and inclusion

The tech community in Greater Birmingham, as well as the award organisers Silicon Canal, includes Innovation Birmingham,, parts of the Custard Factory, Fazeley Studios, Longbridge Technology Park, Google Digital Garage, Birmingham Science City, School of Code, Tech Wednesday, Canvas conference, Venturefest West Midlands, incubators, accelerators and multiple other tech meetups including the monthly one I run, Net Squared Midlands: tech for social good

Yes, I think parts of the community are inclusive in that it includes the Silicon Canal working groups Diversity in Tech and Women in Tech, and the 200 Silicon Canal Ambassadors. Many of the physical locations are quite accessible and some of the events include a variety of speakers, not just the usual suspects.

But no, I think other and more parts of the community are not inclusive in that the community and our events does not reflect the diverse demography of the communities in the Greater Birmingham area, and some events and meetups are held in inaccessible venues.

How can we be more inclusive?

So, in and around a smart city like Birmingham, how can we be more inclusive? I have some suggestions:

For under-represented people in tech and our allies:

Join relevant meetings and networks to gain and give peer support e.g. Ada’s List, a global community for women* in tech (“*by women we mean all women (trans, intersex and cis), all those who experience oppression as women (including non-binary and gender non-conforming people) and all those who identify as women”), based on principles of inclusion, empowerment and diversity.

For tech groups and organisations:

  • Recognise that not everyone can afford to pay to attend events, so, unless the event is free and in an accessible, welcoming venue anyway, offer a sliding scale for tickets according to what people can afford, from free to top whack, trusting people to pay as appropriate; and if you’re providing free refreshments, beer and pizza appeal to some demographics, but why not try offering prosecco and cake instead – and monitor what happens?

  • When recruiting to tech roles, use inclusive recruitment practices – this post and this one provides some pointers if you’re not sure what that looks like

  • Diversity data – start gathering data on diversity in your group or organisation to help you measure the impact of diversity, and then talk about it internally and externally, and share it widely amongst your networks

  • Sign up to the Tech Talent Charter – this employer-led initiative brings together industries and organisations to drive diversity and address gender imbalance in technology roles.

For everyone in tech

Rather than sticking to your tech comfort zone with people like yourself, places you know well, and things you can already do well, seek out unfamiliar people, places and experiences, in order to learn, share and grow, and make the Greater Birmingham tech community a better place to be, for all of us. And when you do this, please tweet or blog about it!

More resources

Here are 345 women in the UK who could speak at your tech event by Charlotte Jee, Techworld, Dec 15, 2017

#ITWomen – Lists of women speakers and presenters & Resources for planning gender-inclusive tech conferences Crowdsourced list, started 2012 by Catherine Cronin









How not to run an event

Rows of chairs in a large auditorium

I’ve attended several hundred events and organised loads too.

Here’s a few tips about how not to do it:

Don’t create a hashtag for the event 

If someone in your audience starts one for you when they ask if you have one and you say “no, but feel free to create one”, don’t tell anyone else at the event that one has been started and what it is

Ensure that all your speakers are male, and white

Don’t arrange for wifi to be available – after all, everyone has 4G on their smartphones and they want to pay to use it up at your event

If there is a microphone, don’t pass it around the audience when they are introducing themselves until half-way through the event,

If someone then says they don’t need it because they’re loud enough, don’t worry about anyone who uses hearing aids and can hear better when people use a microphone




9 things you need to know about Hacks

Participants from Brum City Drive 2017 Hack, which we ran at Impact Hub Birmingham 

  1. What is a hack/hackathon?

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 Hackathon, Wikipedia

  1. Our involvement in hacks

Pauline Roche and Ted Ryan of RnR Organisation have been participating as voluntary sector subject matter experts in hacks and similar exploratory events like design 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 this blogpost”

  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 country (or 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. Attending the pre-meeting doesn’t mean you have to come to the hack – it’s a chance to see what it’s about, meet people, share ideas.

  • 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. One place where developers find out about upcoming hacks is here

  1. Want to get involved with hacks in the voluntary sector?

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 Digital WM News.

More reading and a podcast

Hack weekends: 5 tips on keeping the momentum going, (Sept 2012)

Because not all the smart people work for you… (Dec 2012)

Not a coder? How to do well at hackathons (Oct 2013)

Charity Hack brings tech innovation to Scotland’s third sector (Sept 2015)

‘Sheffugees’ hack helps asylum-seekers and refugees (Feb 2016)

How to survive a hackday (Mar 2016)

Planning Your Own Tech Event [podcast](Aug 2017)

Blog: Wider Engagement and Fresh Ideas Needed in Your City? A City Data Hack is a Great Place Start (May 2018)

Kerslake is wrong

This is the first in a series of blogposts concerning the reframing of Local Authorities and the impact it will have on Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) ecosystem.

Subsequent posts will address the history of local governance and our potential ‘romantic view’ of Councils capability to deliver local services as well as exploring the future of the VCS within combined authorities.

In this post I explore why I believe Sir Bob Kerslake is wrong in his recommendations concerning Birmingham City Council. While he may have addressed some fundamental issues of service failure, identifying capacity and operational issues for members and officers, I believe that his inappropriate use of the term ‘community leader’ as well as mixing the terminology ‘civic / community / resident’ has the potential to undermine the importance of VCS organisations in the future.

The Kerslake report is having a fundamental impact on local governance and democracy in Birmingham. Whilst having to deliver some of the most ruthless public sector cuts, the City has to deal with national government insisting that how Councillors represent and make decisions concerning services is not working and that it needs a significant overhaul.

The proposal to reduce the Council from 120 to 100 Councillors will, Kerslake argues, enable Councillors to provide greater representation to those they serve. (ref1)

Kerslake makes a number of references to engaging and representing communities. He argues that Wards are too big (15 of them being the largest in the country (ref2)). Increasing the number of wards and decreasing the number of Councillors would increase representation from 13,413 to 10,730 per Councillor. This he argues will enable Councillors to concentrate on regular, direct engagement with the people and organisations in their wards and role as community leaders (ref3)

Kerslake believes that this change will enable the council to fulfil one of its principal functions, “to represent the views of citizens and enable them to participate in the decisions that affect them and their local communities. Their democratic mandate gives councillors and councils the opportunity to act as community leaders.” (ref4).

Additionally, Kerslake questions the format of devolution in Birmingham, stating it doesn’t work, and that “It urgently needs a new model of devolution that enables services to be delivered within the resources available and provides more powerful community engagement.”(ref5)

While I may agree with some of Kerslake’s arguments, especially the part about the Council believing that if something should be done, it (the Council), should do it. I’m not too sure that his belief that the changes and the ‘shake up’ of devolution will enable councillors and the Council to represent the views of citizens and enable them to participate in the decisions that affect them and their local communities. I believe that Kerslake’s belief that “their [Councillors] democratic mandate gives councillors and councils the opportunity to act as community leaders” to be wrong and seriously flawed.

Councillors are civically elected leaders of Birmingham. The mandate that the democratic process gives them is to make decisions on how to run, and deliver, services that legislation requires and expects, and services that are devolved to a Local Authority. This mandate and the legislative role do not make them Community Leaders.

The terms ‘civic’ and ‘community’ accompanied by the term ‘leadership’, together with the terms ‘resident’,’ VCS’ and ‘communities’ seem to used as interchangeable terms, with no accompanying glossary of definitions by Kerslake, within the document.

I would question the use of the term ‘community leader’, used to describe the relationship between councillor and ‘constituent’ / ward residents, and how a councillor represents those needs within a democratic structure – this is not community / civic leadership.

There is however a significant difference between Councillors as democratically mandated representatives, and as community leaders. Councillors represent ALL people within a geographic area, a ward. Community leaders represent groups that have a common bond – of geography, interest, culture (including in this definition, ethnicity, disability, gender etc. ) and/or of faith. Such groups make up communities within and across wards, and will have leaders who speak for them and their needs.

These community leaders may have a different mandate and a different remit to Councillors. Community needs are fluid, and representation will respond to that fluidity. Communities within a geographic area change, and therefore the leadership may change. A Councillor’s duty of representation, together with their duty of governance, is different to community representation.

Duty of governance is a responsibility, dictated by legislation and enacted by national government. Community leader are not restrained by such legislation – the restrictions outlined through charity and company legislation only relates to operational activity. Therefore, community leaders can represent their constituents / members in any way they feel appropriate, something not available to Councillors.

Clarity is required as to what Kerslake means by Councillors being ‘community leaders’ as well as his use of the terms ‘civic leadership’ and ‘community representatives’. Where, in the whole process of partnership, leadership and delivery does he see the role for the rag bag of groups that form the Civic, Community, Voluntary and Third Sector?

The wide range of VCS organisations within the City represents their ‘constituent communities’. Surely it is the role of Councillors not to act as ‘leaders’ of these communities, but to corporately represent their voice to develop and deliver services appropriate to need, advised and supported by officers, within budget and legislative governance?

Much of the document focuses on the Council’s inability to act strategically, manage its structures of delivery and work in partnership. Kerslake criticises the council for its belief that “if it’s worth doing, the Council should do it.” (ref6) While he offers guidance on how the relationship between officers and members should be developed, he restricts the development of how strategic decisions are taken with partners to the public realm. Having promoted Councillors to ‘Community Leaders’, he makes passing reference to ‘residents’ and ‘communities’ as an interchangeable concept.

While I may agree with him that the Council should produce, with their partners, a clear statement of partnership values, such as openness, transparency, learning and collaborating (ref7), the creation of an environment for safe and constructive challenges will not be brought about if Councillors see themselves as ‘Community Leaders’ in the way Kerslake seems to be advocating.

VCS organisations should be able to lobby and argue for services within a ‘safe and constructive’ environment, engaging Councillors, and subsequently officers, in developing projects, programmes and services to address identified and agreed needs. Parameters for discussion and lobbying need to be clear from the start. Single community groups need to be aware of the strategic picture as much as they are aware of their own needs.

These discussions can be undertaken at a variety of levels – community, interest, cultural and/or faith and can be developed within a ‘whole city’ strategic framework. Councillors can make their decisions, as Civic Leaders, within legislative boundaries, based on this consultation.
While Kerslake is intent on restructuring the Council, he is too vague in how residents, communities and civic leaders will participate in this change, aside from voting for a whole council every four years. He acknowledges that the Council, officers and members, need to recognise that there may be other ways of delivering activities other than the Council ‘doing everything’, but at that point he stops.

I would support Kerslake in his assertion that “the Council need to clarify its roles (ref8), responsibilities, behaviours and ways of working of the Leader, Cabinet, councillors, Chief Executive and officers” but I would add that VCS organisations need to play a full and active role in that clarification.

In developing a new structure and clarity, the Council needs to recognise the breadth of representation for civic/voluntary /community organisations, and identify ordered and appropriate methods for engaging and harnessing such enthusiasm. From a VCS perspective, the Council cannot adopt a whole city approach and focus partnership development on one single organisation which, in a city the size of Birmingham, cannot hope to fully represent the diverse breadth of organisations.

So, is Kerslake wrong?

Yes, in two aspects and omissions:

  • identifying Councillors as ‘Community leaders’ without fully clarifying the definition of those terms
  • not being specific about VCS consultation as a partner in developing services

These two omissions can, and probably will, cause hours of debate and discussion which could have been avoided had Bob Kerslake been a little more precise in his submission and recommendations.

1 The way forward: an independent review of the governance and organisational capabilities of Birmingham City Council, Sir Bob Kerslake, 2014, page 15
2 Ibid. Page 26
3 Ibid. Recommendation (7e) Page 12
4 Ibid. Page 16
5 Ibid. Page 15
6 Ibid. Recommendation (8), page 12
7 Ibid. Recommendation (9), page 12
8 Ibid. Point 15, page 35

Leverage – one of my favourite words

I believe in people, and I believe we can do great things on our own, but joining together with others, with single individuals, in organisations, in groups and in communities, that’s when we can start to see the potential for real and lasting change – in ourselves, in groups we care about (families, friends, organisations, businesses, societies). Joining together gives us ‘leverage’. We start to see strengths in ourselves and in others, and in the possibility to put those strengths together to make small and big changes to make our world a much better place in which we can all live, work, relax and enjoy.

That’s one of the main reasons I use social media. In the past 12 months I have made some new friends, and strengthened some existing ties, and part of this has been through regularly updating my LinkedIn page and through tweeting (@paulineroche and @RnRworks). I also encourage and support others to use social media.

There are powerful messages in these streams, and it’s important to hear many voices from a diverse range of backgrounds. My work gives me access to people from all walks of life and I want to hear more of those voices in social media. The ones I hear already are great – that’s why I connect to them on LinkedIn and follow them on Twitter – but I know there could be more.

This brings me back to ‘leverage’. Once more of those voices are out there on LinkedIn and Twitter, we can start to see who knows who, and who would like to know who else so we can ‘use’ each other (in the best sense) to improve the world for all of us. I look forward to hearing more from new people in 2013 and beyond, and helping as many as I can to gain the leverage we can all use to help each other.