Posted in Blog News, I'm an IO doing this!

What digital transformation means for a TSI

Our second guest post in advance of VCSSCamp Six is from Karen Herbert, CEO of CVS Falkirk who explains in real terms what digital transformation means for a TSI, the Scottish equivalent of a CVS.  (NOTE – This post wKaren Herbert - CEO CVS Falkirkas first published on the SCVO blog on June 7th 2016).

As leader of a Third Sector Interface, I meet many leaders of other organisations every day. Many charismatic people, very focused and dedicated individuals who are passionate about social justice in its many guises. From small local organisations to large nationals, and discussions cover a wide range of topics.

As you would expect, funding and cuts are often on the agenda, but not in a whiny way, rather as driver and catalyst for system change. But in recent times the severity of cuts and the increases in demand have combined to create a ‘perfect storm’ that is exercising all of us beyond what we ever considered reasonable.

I have no doubt that technology can be harnessed to benefit our organisations, improving service delivery, increasing reach, streamlining back-office, all of the usual suspects.

But underpinning that is our innate focus on social justice, and most particularly the need to keep our attention focused on those ‘hardest to reach’ or ‘furthest from’ or otherwise disadvantaged and excluded.

In my own small team I have employees who do not have a computer at home, whose children are disadvantaged by not being able to get online to do homework. In one local school with a more ‘affluent’ catchment area, all homework is set and completed online. In another just a few miles away which has a catchment area frequently described as ‘disadvantaged’, paper-based homework is the norm. Perhaps the decision is right for each school, but is everybody in each area typical of the whole? We all know people who live in ‘affluent’ areas who, for whatever reason, are actually in poverty; what additional barriers are being put in the way of these children? And childhood poverty is the blight of our time, which we need to address at an individual level.

I do not mean to suggest that education is a poor example, I could equally have picked access to healthcare, or housing, or employment, or a myriad of other areas. Technology can be a great enabler, but we must remain alert to those it does not suit, for whatever reason. There are individuals who cannot or will not access technology. We must be careful not to exclude them by creating yet another barrier.

However, rather than use that as an excuse not to increase our uptake of technology, I suggest that we take a different perspective. If we utilise technology better and harness its divergent features to provide a ‘pull’ service for those savvy and motivated to self-serve, that would free up our scarce and reducing human resources to provide a more individually tailored and supportive service to those who do not. If we get this right, everyone could access what they need in a way that is best suited them. Utopia? Yes. But….CVS Falkirk

I have a vision about how my own organisation could deliver this agenda, but a significant investment in hardware and software to start is required. I have just heard that more than half the PCs in use in our office cannot upgrade to Windows 10, they are that old. Although all of my staff team have received training in the main Microsoft packages that we use daily, and use our Salesforce cloud-based records system daily, we do not have an integrated solution that they can access while with clients, and there is so much more we could do to make their working life more productive and accessible for our clients and improve the working environment for my staff team.

If we could harness aspects of social media better to increase our reach and improve our accessibility, there would be more staff time to provide an 1-2-1 hands-on service for those that need it most to make a difference to their lives.

So why am I not delivering this? Because I am not an expert in all of these things, which means I have to pay for advice, find someone with all of the knowledge without a bias towards any supplier. I have to find the money to pay them, then the money to buy the equipment, then the money for staff training and not least, employing one or more people to do all of the work that will keep these solutions up to date and expanding. What existing service/post do I cut to pay for these changes? How do I take funding away from service delivery for an unknown future? This model of working is a fundamental change in thinking and practice, and like all paradigm shifts, is akin to leaping off a cliff. It would be made easier if it did not come at a time of austerity, or if an enlightened funder could be found to underpin the financial risk involved. Oh yes, Utopia again.

This decision requires a leap of faith, and I am finding it very hard to make a start. I know this is the role of a leader, and being a part of the One Digital Action Learning programme has helped me on this journey.

It has clarified my thinking and better informed my decision making. I have learnt knew ideas and it has reinforced thinking in other areas. I am grateful to my peers for their openness and support, we are all facing difficult decisions ahead. ‘Just do it’ is made easier by having a knowledgeable network to sanity-check your bad days. Having the thinking space to help make the right choices is invaluable.

A Third Sector Interface is meant to lead by example; how can I suggest that increased use of digital resources in original ways will improve the service for the many and free up resources to focus on the few, without proving it by doing it.

This is an informed choice, there is still a risk to be mitigated, but to me, the way forward is clear.

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Posted in Blog News

Discovering the power of digital

I’m Michaela Hodges and in the run up to VCSSCamp I was thinking about what I could write a blog about that would be interesting and relevant. And, to be honest, I was struggling. Not because there is nothing to say about why using digital is good and would help the work of VCS orgs, but because there’s almost so much to say it’s hard to think of just one point to make about all this.

Group discussing smartphone apps at VCSSCamp Three in Barnsley (by Paul Webster)
Group discussing smartphone apps at VCSSCamp Three in Barnsley (by Paul Webster)

So I thought to myself, ‘OK, start simple by thinking about what a VCS is’. Then I did what I always do when I want to know something, I picked up my phone and went to Google. First I was directed to the NCVO website, which makes sense since they’re pretty big. I had a look around there and then, because I live in Birmingham, I thought of BVSC, so I had a look at the most recent e-newsletter I received from them. Thinking about that I remembered I met some people from Voluntary Action Leicestershire at an event last week and we talked about newsletters, so I had a look at their Twitter feed to see what they’ve been up to. From there I followed the hashtag #VolunteersWeek and read loads of great posts about the difference volunteering makes in communities. On that hashtag I saw Kensington and Chelsea Volunteer Centre’s great pictures from their #Queenat90 celebrations, and I also found an amusing video from vinspired about the ‘seven types of volunteer’. From there I watched a few more videos from various places based on what came up in YouTube’s ‘up next’ offerings.

As I was doing this, it suddenly struck me what I was doing. Ten, or even five, years ago I wouldn’t have researched something this way. On mobile, using social media, and video. The way people get information has changed.

For example, last month the Pew Research Centre found that 62% of US adults are getting their news from social media. In the charity world, 75% of charity donors use online resources to research a charity before they make a donation. And a new report by the Institute of Fundraising and fast.Map found that email is now the preferred method of contact by charity donors (and yes, that includes people 55 and over). And it’s not just the internet generally – we’re talking about more than text – it’s images and videos. In 2015, YouTube overtook Facebook as the second largest search engine, and there are YouTube channels (run by ordinary people), that have larger viewing figures than some TV shows, for example the season finale of season four of Game of Thrones generated 8.2 million views, but some YouTube videos reviewing, recapping, re-enacting and generally discussing Game of Thrones generated twice as many views.

Whether we like it or not digital has created new ways for people to do things, like access information. And it’s not going away. So if we want to continue to engage with the public and get stuff done, we can’t not use digital.

But, why wouldn’t we use digital? It represents a huge opportunity, and when you think about what it can do, it’s pretty amazing actually.

For example, Julia Unwin of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation was selected as one of the top 30 charity CEOs on Twitter, she said she uses social media because it allows her to connect with people she wouldn’t otherwise be able to meet. She said “I love the fact that someone experiencing poverty who heard me on the radio can get directly in touch”.

YES! This is the power of digital to connect people, in action.

And it’s not just about digital comms, for example Cancer Research UK created an app called ‘Play to ‘Cure’. It’s a game set in space that users can play to pass some time on a boring train journey or while they’re waiting for an appointment. But it’s also a lot more than that, as Cancer Research UK explained themselves at the launch of the app “We’ve been working with our scientists and gaming experts for months to build the game, which on the surface is a simple and entertaining caper through space. But underneath it’s a data crunching powerhouse that help’s our scientists identify the DNA faults that could lead to cancer”. In order to carry out their vital cancer research, scientists at Cancer Research UK were having to trawl through huge amounts of data, which obviously takes time. This app, by gamifying this task and making accessible to the public, means that people can play a game and analyse the data, getting the results back much faster.

That’s real cancer research, happening on people’s phones! A device we used to use to just call people! That’s amazing!

I’m using a lot of exclamation marks because I think this is exciting, and there are a lot of other examples I could give, but I should probably clam down. And, more importantly, it’s not really about what other people are doing – it’s about what you could be doing.

In 2014 the Government’s Digital Inclusion Delivery Board looked at the barriers preventing small businesses and charities from getting the most out of the internet. The Board identified a lack of awareness, motivation, and availability of digital skills training. The findings of a number of reports in this area back this up, finding that lack of time and knowledge are the main barriers to progress.  Also see the Virgin Money Giving and Third Sector Insight (2015) Digital Fundraising Report: Are you innovating with online fundraising? and the Nesta Impact Investments (October 2014) Going Digital Research.

We need to change this. And really, I think we know that, for example a report by Eduserv and Charity Comms found that 73% of charity staff surveyed thought their organisation would raise less money if they didn’t embrace digital, and 70% thought their organisation’s reputation would suffer.

We need to get to a place where instead of being baffled by digital, or maybe even a little wary, we’re excited about it.

We need to up-skill as a sector.

So my message to you is embrace all the digital training you can get – starting (but not ending!) with VCSSCamp on 23 June. The day is run in an unconference format, so there is no set agenda before the day starts. We will talk about whatever you want to talk about – you pick the sessions. All you need is a desire to talk about how digital has changed the landscape we live and work in, what we are doing, and what we could be doing.

I’ll see you there. J

Michaela Hodges is the Director of Fancy Guppy, an organisation working with not-for-profit organisations to help them use digital to save time and money. When used well digital can help you be more attractive to funders, engage your supporters, and improve efficiency. Get in touch for a free consultation – we’ll discuss what you’re needs are and what support Fancy Guppy can offer.

You can find Fancy Guppy on Twitter at @Fancy_Guppy and on Facebook at FancyGuppyDigital. Follow and like for updates and discussion on digital, the third sector, and digital in the third sector.