Tech and data for good
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.
The annual Lloyds Bank UK Business Digital Index tracks digital adoption among small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) and charities.
From the 2018 report:
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
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”.
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.
Some events relevant to this topic:
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.