Smart Cities: smarter VCSE

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.

Work smarter

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.

Data

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.

Digital 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.

Allies

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.

Resource-saving tools

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”.

Future articles

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.

Events

Some events relevant to this topic:

What next?

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.

 

OTHER ARTICLES IN SERIES:

Digital governance

How do you review your digital footprint?

How do you review your digital footprint?

post revised and updated Mar 2018

TWEAKING SOME PRACTICES: IT’S NOT ALL OR NOTHING

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.

MODIFICATIONS

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

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?

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

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?

Have you:
• Discussed with your board how technology might help with your work?
• Identified staff processes and progress?
• Identified any time constraints?

DIGITAL FOOTPRINT

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

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?

FLUID

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.

EVENTS

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

Tech for Good Near You – online real time searchable map of tech for good events in the UK and Ireland

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

MANAGING DATA

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:

and

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.

WHAT NEXT?

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.

READING

OTHER ARTICLES IN SERIES:

Smart Cities: smarter VCSE

Digital governance

Regional data on charities

The Lloyds Bank Business Digital Index 2017 measures the digital capability of 2,000 small businesses and charities across the UK

The report concentrates on small businesses but it does have a very useful section on charities, especially useful for us being the data about charities in the regions – the two digital demographics diagrams for small businesses and charities are below

(1) Small businesses

(2) Charities

NCVO Almanac

The other key source of regional data about charities/voluntary organisations is the NCVO Almanac 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asset-based transformation: an introduction

Fig 1 is our first design of such a model. We will, in the coming months, develop this design and model. This will be done through discussion with commissioners and community activists to enable a robust, fundable and sustainable model to be designed that recognises the importance of all participants within the process.

31i-three-field-model

Fig 1 ASSET BASED COMMUNITY HEALTH OPERATIONAL MODEL – 1ST DRAFT

The development of this process is only part of our thinking.

For this model to be implemented systemically, ensuring success and sustainability, we would argue that there is a need for true transformation of the public realm funding processes, to review its attitude and opinion of VCSE / community groups, and their role in service provision.

Figs 2-4 outline our thinking about changes to the public realm funding decision making process.

We promote the use of data from wider sources than those currently used. We outline an asset based approach that should be adopted to support services, not because utilising community assets is a cheaper option in time of public realm budget cuts, but because community assets are an essential and skilful resource than can optimise the impact of projects.

In the coming months we will expand on these designs exploring current process, Fig 2 Traditional (Established) Model (yellow section on left), and the ‘market’ development of a supply chain. This diagram also explores the Product Development Process, (brown section on right), which is supposedly assimilated into the supply chain process.

40-transformation-1

Fig 2 TRADITIONAL (ESTABLISHED) MODEL, PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT PROCESS

Fig 3 Current Ecosystem, Design Process, Wider Data Proposal explores what impact the term ‘transformation’ has had on the ecosystem, with the yellow and blue sections identifying a “delivery disconnect” in the sustainability of income from any ‘product’ developed within the supply chain.

This figure also provides an outline of the ‘Design Process’(grey section), as well as outlining a Wider Data Proposal (green section).

These last two sections form part of ‘absolute’ processes, processes that, together with the Product Development Process, are external to the system but should be incorporated within it, if true transformation is to take place.

40-transformation-2

Fig 3 CURRENT ECOSYSTEM, DESIGN PROCESS, WIDER DATA PROPOSAL

The last sheet, Fig 4, incorporates elements of our previous work, Three Field Asset Based Community Development (green section), together with structures developed by Poc Zero with whom we are working to develop transformational proposals. Poc Zero’s Ring Of Confidence, is augmented by Boxes Of Support (orange section). The final section Developing The Dojos (purple), begins the exploration of how community organisations can be engaged as ‘peers’ within the delivery and process, designed or developed through public realm funding.

40-transformation-3

Fig 4 RING OF CONFIDENCE, BOXES OF SUPPORT, THREE FIELD ACTIVITY

The Operational Model, Fig 1, and subsequent transformational designs, Figs 2-4, place asset engagement and development at the core of the activity.

We believe that communities, assets, volunteers, whatever label is used, should not be seen as an aid to public realm funding cuts.

Communities and individuals, irrespective of their issues, can be assets to a programme but, generally, projects/programmes are developed within a deficiency model, activities to rectify deficiencies.

We at RnR put communities at the core of activities and model how both public organisations, Fig 1 and public realm funding can be transformed to accommodate their resources and assets, Figs 2-4.

This is what we believe to be true transformation.

If you are interested in discussing our designs or activities, please contact us to discuss how we can work together for you to achieve your outcomes and demonstrate your impact.

 

Pauline Roche

Ted Ryan

September 2016 

All images © copyright RnR Organisation except for Ring of Confidence © copyright Poc Zero

Tech companies and VCS organisations making social impact together

All people in tech companies want to improve the lives of their stakeholders, and this can include helping organisations in the charitable or voluntary and community sector (VCS) low or pro bono, an activity usually known in business as Corporate social responsibility (CSR) or Corporate responsibility (CR).

This can include giving the VCS organisation support to use technology better, and more, possibly to automate some of the more repetitive and time-consuming processes in the organisation.

It might also mean joining the Board of a VCS organisation as an unpaid Trustee or Director in order to assist with good governance.

We want to support tech companies and VCS organisations in the Midlands to grow and develop those kind of relationships. We can see there are mutual benefits to be had.

Benefits for the tech companies

Benefits for the tech company can include that the company can offer development opportunities to their staff to increase their employability and retain their talent. They can learn more about and engage better with their local area and community. They can develop new products and services, or improve existing ones. They can gain satisfaction from helping and reinvesting some of their profits and resources in the local community.

Individual staff members can get satisfaction from helping a VCS organisation which helps people in their local area and community.

Benefits for the VCS Organisation

Benefits for the staff of the VCS organisation can include that they can improve their technical and digital skills, thus increasing their employability.

The organisation can learn about opportunities to change some of its processes, possibly freeing up valuable time to spend it with users of their services. They can offer opportunities to local tech companies who want to fulfil their CSR.

How we can help 

We are members of the collaborative workspace and community of changemakers Impact Hub Birmingham.  We also do project work around open data at the incubation centre of the Birmingham tech community Innovation Birmingham. We have built excellent relationships with colleagues and companies based in each of these spaces.

This, and our many years of senior level experience and networks in the wider voluntary and public sectors, plus our wide social media networks, makes us ideally placed to bring together people from both the voluntary sector and tech companies under the tech for good/social impact banner.

Tech for good meetups and other initiatives

In 2015 we co-founded Net Squared Midlands (@Net2Midlands), a local branch of the global Net Squared network of tech for good groups. We run regular Net Squared Midlands sessions at Impact Hub Birmingham. Every month or so we run a session to bring tech companies and not-for-profits together to address topics of mutual interest e.g. agile processes, using video better.

We also co-founded the unconference for voluntary sector infrastructure organisations interested in digital transformation, VCSSCamp, hosted annually since 2013 at Innovation Birmingham. We work on a number of other related initiatives including the UK Open Data Camp and the West Midlands Open Data Forum

Want to know more?

We are taking these ideas further. If you’re from a tech company or a VCS organisation, or a strategic body which supports these organisations, and this post has sparked your interest, please get in touch with us to find out more and to start a conversation.

MORE RESOURCES

How charities can work with tech companies by Sam Applebee, 3 Aug 2017

Starting your nonprofit:digital partner relationship on the right footing [Conversation Menu], CAST – Centre for the Acceleration of Social Technology, 2017   

Tech for good near you [growing list]

Thanks to Joel Blake OBE, Social Innovation Consultant, for some of his expert insights in this field

Henry Ford, Top Gear and Robert Kennedy, and my thinking on innovation and transformation in the voluntary sector

A strange trinity of influence and, while the first two have something in common, they have little to do with the Voluntary Sector. Sometimes, while accumulating information from a variety of sources, something happens. This was one such time for me – a quotation, a television programme and a speech. Suddenly the answers to a conundrum, issues of transformation within the voluntary sector, became slightly clearer

The Quotation

“If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said they wanted faster horses”  – a statement attributed to Henry Ford. The statement could be seen as a total disregard for customer feedback, or it could be an expression of his own self belief, a self belief that transformed car production which may have been his ‘transformational’ gift to market forces.

The Model T is acknowledged as the motor car that transformed the way people perceived motor cars, and perhaps the motor industry, how they travelled and how they perceived the new mode of transport. But was it the car that was revolutionary, or was it the production of the vehicle that was transformational?

Ford made cars cheaper due to his assembly line and efficient fabrication, instead of the then standard hand-crafted vehicles. This made cars affordable, vehicles functional and easy to maintain and, thereby, not just the preserve of the rich or eccentric but affordable by the middle classes.

But, can the development and improving of the assembly line and fabrication process be seen as THE ‘transformational’ act within the development of the motor car? Of course it can’t!

It was important, but other aspects of transport infrastructure – roads, petrol stations, mechanics, etc. – needed to be developed, in parallel with vehicle design and production, for cars to be a reliable and efficient form of transport.

Roads (1) are essential for cars. They need to be flatter and smoother than the ‘tracks’ required for horses, faster or otherwise. John McAdam’s aggregate solution was robust for horse drawn vehicles, not so for people who were becoming more mobile through mechanical devices – cars and bicycles. People started advocating for improved roads through activities such as the ‘Good Road Movement’ in America.

Modern Tarmac (2), a 1901 patent by Edgar Hooley (a Welshman born in Swansea), who added tar to the aggregate, flattened the surface with steamrollers, providing a smooth surface on which to drive or ride. Modern roads, and therefore more comfortable rides, were born.

Access to petrol is another essential component for ‘extensive’ travel in motor cars. Gasoline was originally sold by pharmacies (3). The pharmacy in Wiesloch, Germany, was used to refuel Betha Benz in 1888, and, by the early years of the 20th Century, there was an increase demand for fuel, due to increased car ownership influenced by Henry Ford’s transformations.

The world’s first purpose-built gas station was constructed in St. Louis, Missouri, followed by ‘stations’ in Seattle, Washington and Altoona, Pennsylvania. Early on, they were known to motorists as “filling stations”, and were usually attached to hardware shops. The first bespoke station, opened in 1913 in Pittsburgh, was still open in 2013 as Walter’s Automotive Shop. Not only had filling stations arrived but so also had mechanics.

The Television Programme

In 2007, during an episode of Top Gear (4), Jeremy Clarkson and James May studied a number of early car designs, exploring the root of the modern car design: 3 pedals, one gear stick, a hand brake and an ignition key.

While having an ‘interesting’ time driving classic cars, including the Model T Ford (which wasn’t that easy to drive) and the De Dion-Bouton (Model Q), they concluded that the Cadillac Type 53 (5) was the first car to use the same control layout as modern automobiles. They finished the item by pointing out that the Herbert Austin took that design and put it in the Austin 7 (6) – this became the first mass-market car to be fitted with the layout.

The Cadillac Type 53 remained in production for one year only, 1916. The Austin 7, produced from 1922, created an affordable car for the British public, and is said to have had the same effect on that market as the Model T had in America. Austin licensed the design and it was copied, and manufactured, all over the world – in Germany by BMW, the Dixi, their first car; in France as the Rosengarts; in America, until 1934, as the American Austins, and in Japan, although not under licence, Nissan based the design for their first cars on the Austin 7.

While production of the Austin 7, and other cars grew, so did road building, the proliferation of ‘filling stations’ and the rise of the mechanic. These were individual actions of transformation that collectively transformed the automotive industry, the way we travel and perceive travel on a worldwide basis.

The Speech

So what has all this got to do with voluntary sector innovation and transformation?

For that I turn to Robert Kennedy’s speech at the University of Kansas, March 18, 1968 (7). As part of his campaign for the presidency, he talked of a deep malaise of spirit in America, of Native Americans [so-called ‘Indians’] “living on their bare and meagre reservations, with no jobs, with an unemployment rate of 80 percent” and people living in “black ghetto, listening to ever greater promises of equality and of justice, as they sit in the same decaying schools and huddled in the same filthy rooms”

He believed that “the unselfish spirit that exists in the United States of America” meant that things can be better.

Then came the part that made me sit up, the part that challenges some current views, that VCS organisations, and the sector in general, needs to be transformed, become innovative and more business like

Kennedy stated that “…even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – purpose and dignity – that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.

Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.

It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.

It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.

It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armoured cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.

It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.

It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans”.

The Sector

Robert Kennedy was talking about different issues, different measurements.

We cannot value the impact of the VCS on our GDP in the same way as manufacturers. We cannot believe that innovation just happens in service delivery of VCS organisations. We cannot compare our care processes, the looking after of the most vulnerable people, our education system and schools, our green and open spaces to a production line. Yet we do. We are currently exploring how VCS activity becomes more business-like, responding to a ‘new market’, being innovative and borrowing from ‘social sources’ to initiate projects.

The transformation of the voluntary sector is currently being discussed within the same economic rules in which Ford and Austin, McAdam and Hooley operated. We cannot impose or replicate the actions that transformed the economic environment they operated in. They were not alone in their transformation, and undertook development with an awareness of potential impact. They understood their market – they knew the potential for investment and return on that investment.

My questions are:

How do we measure our return on investment, how many people we care for in a day, how many we wash, dress, feed, teach, enable to play, plant flowers etc.?

Do we spend time developing programmes that insist on innovative ways of counting and delivering outputs, or do we spend time exploring other ways of measuring involvement in the delivery and the impact of activity?

 

References

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_road_transport

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarmac

3  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filling_station#History

4 Series 10 Episode 8 2nd December 2007

5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadillac_Type_53

6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austin_7

7 http://images2.americanprogress.org/campus/email/RobertFKennedyUniversityofKansas.pdf

Digital governance

Strategic processes

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

What next?

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.

OTHER ARTICLES IN SERIES:

Smart Cities, Smarter VCSE

How do you review your digital footprint?

Why the VCS should use Twitter more

 

Keep Calm and Tweet sloganI’m constantly encouraging VCS CEOs, Trustees and others working in the sector to use social media, particularly LinkedIn and Twitter, and here are 10 interesting things I tweeted about in the week just gone,which I hope helps to show why I think they should:

  • Aug 27: I passed on info about a project focused on researching the impact of openness in education to an academic colleague  in Ireland (someone I met on Twitter and now see in real life)

  • Aug 27: I mentioned that I had become one of 121 Net Squared local organisers around the world, along with my pal Paul Webster

  • Aug 27: I mentioned I’m running a social media workshop at a Disability & Mental Health Jobs Fair Sept 11

  • Aug 28: I asked if email spam is getting worse for everyone working everywhere as spammers take advantage of fewer and busier staff? Is it a security risk?

  • Aug 28: I asked a travel blogger friend who works in a foodbank what she thought about a story saying 10.5% of working parents in England skip meals to pay rent

  • Aug 28: I mentioned an upcoming conference call for women in the not for profit tech Sept 25 to a new CVS contact in Cumbria

  • Aug 28: I passed on a link on a beginners guide on how to make infographics

  • Aug 29: I said that The Digital Roadmap which helps libraries identify new technologies to implement could help the VCS too

  • Aug 30: I recommended a Model funders site to the regional funders network

  • Aug 30: I passed on a link about how to articulate a CRM Strategy

I also tweeted some greetings to friends so I did do some of the more ‘social’ side of social media but in the main, I tweeted about things which I think might improve our experiences of working in the VCS.

Maybe VCS colleagues pick up this sort of info elsewhere, maybe they think it’s not relevant to their work, maybe they’re already overloaded with information – I’d love to hear from some of you in response to this post and start a dialogue about it.

Good things come…

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Photo from NG Events Ltd

Ever since I was the CEO of The Digbeth Trust, meeting with the then-head of Digital Birmingham to discuss the ICT needs of voluntary organisations in Birmingham, I’ve been clear that many voluntary organisations, especially the smaller ones, really need financial and other support to get the ICT equipment to help them do their work better, and thus be able to help their beneficiaries in more efficient and effective ways.

So I am pleased to see that there is an event in Birmingham on April 10 2014 to launch a Connectivity vouchers scheme to help fund a new faster broadband connection for small and medium-sized businesses, charities, social enterprises and other not-for-profit organisations. It’s funded by the Government’s Urban Broadband Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, and managed by Digital Birmingham.

Digital Birmingham will cover up to £3,000 of the connection costs for eligible organisations (that’s usually enough to pay for all the work) and it’s a grant not a loan, so you don’t have to pay it back.

The voucher scheme is also available in Coventry, although there doesn’t seem to be an event, just a page where eligible organisations (SME (small or medium-sized enterprise) or are a third-sector (voluntary) organisation within the Coventry City Council area) can register their interest

So as vouchers are available on a first come, first served basis, I’ll be encouraging all the charities, social enterprises and other not-for-profit organisations that I know in Birmingham and Coventry to be registering their interest asap – and if you work with those organisations, can I ask you to do the same? Being better connected helps us all.

Steps on my road

 Kiental between Herrsching and Andechs, Germany
Kiental between Herrsching and Andechs, Germany Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0

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!