David Bull works as a consultant in NPC’s research and consulting team, focusing on NPC’s research strands in digital technology and health. He previously worked on a paper on scaling approaches to social problems and a briefing on the role that the charity sector plays in supporting the nation’s health. David also previously worked at the Institute for Government.
As far as a lot of people are concerned, the ‘tech world’ is about Silicon Valley, mega-corporations, and people in Shoreditch who don’t wear socks. They are the digerati. They possess the resources and skills to make use of technology and their focus is on developing shiny and complex products—which are either prohibitively expensive or require a degree in Computer Science to operate.
In the charity sector that point of view tends to lead to the view that the benefits of technology are for other people—people with more resources, or people with different skills.
But by changing the way charities approach technology, there’s an opportunity to open up the benefits to everybody. Far from moving the digitally-literate and resource-rich organisations further ahead, digital transformation can close the gap and move everybody forward together. .
Benefitting the charity sector
To achieve that we need to take a collective approach. That means coming together with people facing similar issues, or working in the same area, to use digital technology in a way that benefits everybody individually as well as making it easier to pursue shared goals together. It also means developing digital products and services that have benefits to people and organisations other than those creating them.
Take the in-vogue field of community ‘asset mapping’, for example. This is essentially about making clear what resources and services are already available within a community to solve a given problem. Digital technology already makes this a lot easier—using the power of technology to sort and organise large amounts of information to make it easier to find.
But this information tends to be presented through an organisational lens—listing the services provided by a particular charity in a local area, for example. From the perspective of somebody wanting help, this creates hundreds of different directories of similar services—instead of one.
If we could bring this information together to create fewer, larger, centralised directories, the benefits would be clear. Not only would it be easier to find information for the people who need it, but it would open up the mapping process to everybody. Often the people on the ground have the best sense of what’s out there.
Meanwhile, it could create a level playing field for organisations. It wouldn’t just be those organisations with the resources and capacity to build the best system that would be at the top of people’s search results—instead, even those with no website of their own could have a platform to make their services known.
Opportunities like this are the reason we started the Digital Transformation programme. For the last nine months we have been talking to people in the sector to make the case for collective digital transformation, and to find out what stands in the way.
In the coming months we will be navigating these issues through practical projects designed to bring about collective digital transformation in the areas of advice, health and ageing.
There are some big issues to tackle—whether it’s an environment that pits charities against each other as competitors, a lack of longer term funding for collective projects or the digital skills of beneficiaries.
But by bringing together organisations from the already vibrant digital inclusion community alongside beneficiaries, front-line workers, funders, trustees, infrastructure organisations, researchers and those from other sectors—we are aiming to create the critical mass necessary to make this way of working the norm.
To find out more about the programme and our vision for the future, read the report: Tech for Common Good.
For more information on the next stages of the programme or where to find support for digital transformation projects, get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet us @NPCthinks or follow the conversation on #NPCdigi.
If you’ve been involved in a collective digital transformation project yourself, share your example with others in the sector on NCVO’s case study platform.