Tech for the Common Good with NPC
Tris Lumley at the Tech for the Common Good event in February 2016.

Tech for the Common Good with NPC

24 February 2016

A major part of the Trust’s work is to bring learning and research from across the UK to Northern Ireland to a Northern Ireland audience to see what lessons can be learned to help the development of the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Sector here.

We recently part funded a piece of research by New Philanthropy Capital into ‘Tech for Common Good’ and we jointly presented this research at NICVA on Monday 22nd February 2016.

This is part of our work in Social Innovation which has included research into Digital Social Innovation, running the SI Camp Project and the Tech for Good working group.

We have invested in ‘inventing’ and developing new tech solutions to challenges faced by VCSE organisations. The best example of this is our successful Techies in Residence programme which recently held a showcase of the first phase of innovations it has fostered.

However we also recognise – as the report highlights - that there is already a huge wealth of tech products available out there and a lot can be achieved by matching organisations to existing solutions rather than re-inventing the wheel.

The potential impact of this ‘tech adoption’ approach on beneficiaries is much greater if organisations facing common challenges collaborate and adopt shared solutions.

The report – which is available by clicking here – identifies advice, health and ageing sub-sectors as those with particular potential for adoption of digitally innovative solutions to existing social problems.

It looks at the ‘power of digital’ at positively effecting individuals, organisations and entire sectors. As well as this, it looks at the existing digital landscape, opportunities within it and outlines the need for collective working.

On the day, we also had reflections from local practitioners on the report and how it relates to their own work including Stephen Gray from NICVA, Advice NI’s Patricia Donald and Farset Labs’ Andrew Bolster.

As well as this, participants were asked to share their own views on the potential for digital technology to transform the way the sector works – here are a few of the opportunities and challenges they identified:

  • One of the main difficulties for VCSE organisations, especially small ones, is knowing what tech solutions are available or even the potential of what tech can achieve – could a central resource or directory be produced to help with this?
  • The importance of making tech solutions available ‘open source’ was highlighted i.e. freely available and accessible to all to re-use and adapt
  • Could mentoring by tech professionals be provided – along the lines of Techies in Residence but need not be as intense
  • We need to take into account the ‘bias of connectivity’ – certain parts of the country and certain demographics have better access to and ability to use digital technology – by over-focusing on digital could we exacerbate this divide?
  • Very few funders recognise the value of digital technology when assessing applications –a little upfront investment can reap rewards in terms of impact and efficiency further down the road
  • Collaboration is crucial to harnessing the full potential of tech across the sector, but organisational competition is becoming more and more of a problem, especially as resources become more scarce
  • Perhaps we need a ‘tech audit’ of the sector to assess what we have already, what we need and what are the options
  • Could technology be used to develop innovative new approaches to peacebuilding work? There is already an international #PeaceTech movement.

NPC Director of Development Tris Lumley said: “It was great to find so much enthusiasm for a collective approach to digital transformation in the voluntary and community sector, and so much goodwill among those already pioneering in this area.

“My takeaway is that we need leadership to turn that energy into action, and to offer people concrete opportunities to collaborate.

“That could be within subsectors like ageing and youth, or in geographic areas, or building on existing innovations that have more potential if people get behind them, like some of the great initiatives developed through the Techies in Residence programme.

“I’m looking forward to what comes out of this over the next year!”

Tris’ presentation from the day can be downloaded here.

Paul Braithwaite, Programme Lead at the Trust who heads up our Social Innovation work, said: “We’re delighted to have NPC in Belfast to share this research.

“It confirms what we already believed – namely that technology and digital solutions can play major role in solving some of the social problems facing Northern Ireland.

“Both the Trust and NPC would be keen to hear from organisations, or ideally, groups of organisations who are already thinking along these lines or who have a common challenge where they feel tech could make a difference.

“NPC aims to continue this work by mapping out needs and potential solutions in specific sub-sectors – there is an opportunity for Northern Ireland organisations to get involved in and benefit from this if there is sufficient demand.

“The Trust will play a key role in ensuring organisations hear about, and can avail of, these types of opportunities”.

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