Top tech trends for charities in 2018

In January, we published The Road Ahead, our annual publication that identifies the key political, economic, societal and technological trends for charities in 2018.

I’m proud to have contributed to the technology section, and in this blog post I’ll give an overview of the challenges and opportunities of technology for the charity sector.

Exciting opportunities on the horizon

Increased availability of open data, developments in artificial intelligence and practical applications of blockchain technology have opened up new ways for charities to deliver and improve their services. Some voluntary organisations have started to make use of open data sets, for instance Shelter’s Housing Databank and the Justice Data Lab. Others, like RNLI and St Mungo’s, are using fundraising applications based on blockchain technology while Arthritis Research UK is using chatbots to engage with their beneficiaries. However, these examples remain a minority. Inconsistent or fragmented data, a lack of resources and skills, and a missing digital strategy are some of the most common factors preventing the use and uptake of technology in the sector. Many charity leaders still need to embed data in their strategic planning and address issues around resources, data availability, data quality and good data management systems.

Technology is changing the workplace

Technology is also affecting how people work. Alongside potential job replacements and the creation of new jobs, technology in the workplace has made it easier for people to connect and has facilitated a growth in flexible working opportunities. But there is a downside to constant connectivity: it has led to blurred boundaries between personal and working life and made the regulation of working hours more difficult. Checking of emails after work can also lead to lower productivity and job satisfaction, and a higher stress level for employees. Voluntary organisations will more often be confronted with demands from employees for both protection and flexibility. While staff will generally benefit from flexible working opportunities, employers will also need to think about possible negative impacts on employee well-being and develop working cultures that allow staff to switch off.

Charities should lead the ethical debate

While voluntary organisations should be excited about the opportunities that artificial intelligence and data-driven technologies hold, they should also challenge developments that go against their values. Applications like the use of Facebook posts to personalise election campaigning, social bots (software applications that automatically generate messages) masquerading as citizens influencing elections, neural networks detecting gay people or algorithms that are racially biased, are raising increasing concerns about ethics.

While the adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a step in the right direction, it’s not enough to deal with other ethical challenges. However, there are some promising initiatives, including the Convention on Data Ethics by the Nuffield Foundation, DataKind UK’s ethical principles for data science and the partnership between Data for Democracy, Bloomberg and BrightHive. In the future, charities should play a central role in overseeing the development of new technology to ensure that the changes benefit everyone and unintended consequences are minimised.

What NCVO is doing around technology

Get the full publication

Download the Road Ahead 2018 summary (pdf, 80 KB)

NCVO Members: access the Road Ahead 2018 full report

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Lisa Hornung is a data and research manager in the research team at NCVO. She leads on the data collection, analysis and communication of the UK Civil Society Almanac. More widely, she helps to ensure that NCVO remains at the forefront of voluntary sector data collection and analysis.

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