Charity trustees & CEOs need to get to grips with digital

My recent piece for Third Force News looks at my work with Scottish charity chief executives and senior staff on the OneDigital action learning programme. It’s been a privilege to be involved with charity leaders who are really challenging their organisation and future proofing the work they do.

Many of the non-profits participating are taking a fresh look at the fundamentals of how they work. Their starting point is service users and supporters, not digital tools. They’re making simple changes to transform the way their staff and volunteers work, and allowing them to get excited and empowered about the vital work they deliver.

All of this work is propelled forward by the broader OneDigital programme and the Scottish Government’s digital strategy. However, having worked with these charity leaders over the last few months it’s clear that we need radical change if the sector is ever going to truly embrace digital.

Effective leadership needs to be the starting point. The charities taking part in our action learning sets have embraced change because they’ve got passionate, effective leaders. Senior leaders and trustees can no longer rely on junior staff to make key strategic decisions about digital. It’s not just about social media, it’s not just about the server that sits in your cupboard and it’s not just about your fundraising database. This is about looking at what you do with a fresh pair of eyes, experimenting and empowering staff and service users – it needs to be about real culture change. It’s about seeing the transformational potential of digital service delivery.

For many organisations all of this leads to one fundamental question: is your chief executive or chairperson ready to fundamentally reassess how you do things in light of the potential offered by digital?

Charities need a new relationship with technology. Let’s end the age of the giant IT infrastructure system and aim to get to the point where IT becomes invisible. Beyond that, we need to ensure all decisions we make are based upon effective use of data. We need to be geared up to spot societal trends. It’s vital that we respond quickly to the needs of our communities and we need to be able to truly measure the impact we have.

We need to move away from seeing data as a tool to win and report on funding, it’s about delivering the best services we can, when and where people need them.

Funding is going to be key to all of this. That doesn’t necessarily mean more tech-focused niche funding streams. In fact it would be much more productive if funders simply encouraged more people to make digital-first grant applications to mainstream funding streams. That’s probably going to mean training grants officers to assess projects where digital is key, and we need more funders challenging charities to think about where digital can improve outcomes.

Alongside the OneDigital team, I’m currently working on a charity senior leaders’ digital call to action. This will be a blueprint for change, shaped by those taking part in the action learning programme. Hopefully this will kick-start a wider conversation about the need for effective leadership, culture change, flexible technology, smarter funding, and collaborative data. Less strategy, more doing.

The Call to Action will be launched on 2 November at the Senior Leaders Digital Unconference – 3rdsectordigicamp. This event is open to senior leaders and key stakeholders from across the third sector.

Digital Scotland: Future-proofing the third sector

I was recently asked to write a piece on digital inclusion and digital delivery of services for the Health and Social Care Alliance’s ‘Imagining the Future’ – a collection of think pieces providing insight into some of the essential ingredients for shaping a fairer, healthier future Scotland. Below is the full piece from the document.

 

Digital Scotland: Future-proofing the third sector

The Scottish Government has a bold ambition: Scotland should be a world-leading digital nation by 2020. It’s hard to argue against that – Independent or not it’s clear Scotland needs to embrace new technology if we are to have a truly diverse, robust economy. The Scottish Government’s ‘Digital Future’ strategy outlines four key strands: connectivity, digital public services, digital economy and digital participation. The Scottish third sector has a pivotal role to play, particularly around digital participation and public service delivery. But without a fundamental shift in thinking there is a danger the third sector will be left behind – along with vast swathes of the population.

30% of Scots don’t have basic digital skills. That figure rises to 50% of people with disabilities and 60% where the individual has no qualifications. 15% of Scots have never used the internet. A Citizen’s Advice Scotland survey found 36% of their clients have never been online. These stark figures highlight a massive societal gap that needs to be addressed if we are to achieve that 2020 vision of a digital Scotland. Access to physical technology and connectivity, particularly in rural areas, are important. But for me they’re not the big issues. We need to ensure people have basic skills needed to get online and embrace the internet. That word ‘embrace’ is key. Oxford University looked at why people choose not to use the internet in their everyday lives – 82% of respondents were ‘not interested’. Researchers found no evidence that these people are restricted from going online. They simply don’t care. For many older, disabled and unemployed people their first foray into the digital world will be mandatory online-only benefits claim forms – hardly an inspiring start. In a sense digital inclusion is more about social barriers than technological ones.

Recent research on digital exclusion from the Carnegie UK Trust recommends that ‘trusted intermediaries, such as voluntary workers, community development workers…can help to deliver the personalised, differentiated approach that is needed to help different groups of citizens in Glasgow to get online’. So third sector staff and volunteers will be key in ensuring the digitally excluded are skilled and enthused but it’s also worth thinking about that other strand of the Scottish Government’s digital strategy – digital public services. I believe the third sector can deliver innovative, effective services through a ‘digital-first’ approach. Of course we will always need face-to-face interaction with service users but let’s not use digital exclusion as an excuse for inaction. So could an Argyll & Bute counselling service save money and reach hundreds more isolated individuals if it allocated half its travel budget to video technology rather than the environmentally-unfriendly, time consuming practice of counsellors driving all over the region?

My experience on Foundation Scotland’s grants committee, chairing other funding panels and working with Scottish charities in my role at Third Sector Lab tells me that two fundamental areas need to be addressed to get the voluntary sector ready. First we need a skilled workforce ready to ask how digital technology can help us deliver cost-effective services that make a real difference to the lives of Scottish people; we need digital champions within every Scottish non-profit. Secondly we need funders to understand the difference digital can make and put their money where their mouth is. We don’t necessarily need dedicated funding streams – digital to should permeate all areas of the funding landscape. We also need to ensure grants officers have the skillset to objectively assess tech-based project applications from charities and social enterprises. Once we make that shift I believe the Scottish third sector can lead the world in digital media for social good.

11 Must-Read Digital Inclusion Reports & Case Studies

I sat on the recent Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy evidence panel session looking at Digital Democracy which has got me thinking more about the importance of digital within the Scottish third sector. I’ve written a short piece on digital exclusion and the role of the voluntary sector for an upcoming Alliance Scotland paper, I thought it would be worthwhile sharing some of the research. So here’s my eleven essential digital inclusion resources and research papers. There’s a definite Scottish focus to these and it’s worth noting they’re in no particular order:

1. Spreading the benefits of digital participation | The Royal Society of Edinburgh
Launched today, this report outlines findings and recommendations on how barriers to digital inclusion can be overcome so that everyone in Scotland can benefit from the digital revolution. The research considers in depth questions on the responsibilities of a digital society.

2. Digital Participation: A National Framework for Local Action | The Scottish Government
This document sets out the Government’s plans to build upon the progress being made in developing world class digital connectivity. Section 6 will be of particular interest to third sector professionals.

3. Cultures of the internet | Oxford Internet Surveys
78% of the UK population said that they use the Internet. Does this large proportion of Internet users in Britain herald the rise of a common Internet culture, or are beliefs and attitudes about the Internet as diverse as opinions can be across the general population?

4. Digital participation and the third sector | Chris Yiu, SCVO
Chris Yiu, Director of Digital Participation at SCVO, spoke at Social Media for Social Good about the digital inclusion role the third sector plays plus he touched on the need for a digital-first approach to services. He’ll also be speaking at #BeGoodBeSocial in July.

5. Get IT together case studies | Citizens Online
Tons of useful case studies from digital inclusion projects across the UK. Scroll down the page for the Scottish examples.

6. Scotland’s digital future: A strategy for Scotland | The Scottish Government
A few years old now, Scotland’s Digital Future: A Strategy for Scotland sets out in detail how the Government intend to achieve their digital ambition. The strategy looks at the four key areas of public service delivery; the digital economy; digital participation and broadband connectivity.

7. Making Digital Real: Case Studies of How to Help the Final Fifth Get Online | Carnegie UK Trust
The Carnegie UK Trust’s 7 Digital Participation Tests and 6 Case Studies of successful local projects that are tackling digital exclusion in new and innovative ways.

8. Offline and left behind | Citizens Advice Scotland
Only half of CAB clients have an internet connection at home. 36% of respondents said they never used the internet and a further 11% said they hardly ever used it. Does a digital by default approach to welfare benefits could exclude some of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of society from accessing the very services they rely upon?

9. Wealth of the web: Broadening horizons online | Age UK
The report looks at the obstacles to older people being online, which range from lack of interest to financial cost and lack of training and support as well as the drivers behind getting older people online which include family support and specific interests and hobbies. It’s London focused but incredibly useful for those of you working with older people.

10. Across the divide: Tackling digital inclusion in Glasgow | Carnegie UK Trust
Who is offline in Glasgow? Why are people in Glasgow offline? Research and recommendations for tackling digital participation within Scotland’s largest city.

11. Media Literacy: Understanding Digital Capabilities | BBC
A useful overview of digital skills by region, socio-economic profile, etc.

Any essential reports or resources I’ve missed? Leave the url in the comments below.