The Trust at #NPCDigi
#TechForGood is a major part of the Trust's work, falling within our Social Innovation theme.

The Trust at #NPCDigi

08 July 2015

The Trust have been looking into Digital Social Innovation for some time now. This week Paul Braithwaite was in Manchester to hear more about what New Philanthropy Capital have to say about it...

This week I attended an event as part of New Philanthropy Capital’s (NPC) ‘Digital Transformation in the Charity Sector’ research, which the Trust has contributed £5000 towards.

The seminar was an opportunity for Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) reps to find out more about the research process and help shape the specific topics to be examined.

I was one of a group of four people who travelled over from Northern Ireland to see what it was all about – the others were drawn from the Trust’s Tech for Good Group which has been meeting over the past year or so to discuss digital social innovation in the Northern Ireland VCSE Sector.

The focus of the research is the observation that Tech for Good isn’t just about ‘inventing’ new stuff but also about innovative adoption of existing technologies.

NPC is trying to identify which existing technologies could be applied across multiple organisations in the VCSE Sector, or which tech solutions are already in use by single organisations but could be used more widely.

This thinking compliments the Trust’s own work with SI Camp and our Techies in Residence initiative which are more about the ‘inventing’ side of things.

This work, and this research couldn’t be more timely as a few, frankly worrying statistics about the VCSE Sector in the UK were quoted:

    • 55% of respondents to a survey cited lack of Board knowledge about digital technology for the slow rate of uptake
    • 58% of charities lack basic digital skills
    • 27% of charities think they’ve already done as much as they can with their online presence

There were plenty of great examples to help show that it isn’t all doom and gloom and there is real potential and appetite for the VCSE Sector to adopt, embrace and really benefit from technology.

We heard about an organisation called LASA ( whose focus has been on helping social care organisations use digital technology in their service delivery.

For example, using iPads in nursing homes as a source of entertainment for older people and to help stimulate cognitive activity.

As well as this we heard about SENDirect (Special Educational Needs Direct) – an Amazon-style marketplace for both carers and service providers helping people with Special Educational Needs;  and Run-A-Club – a one-stop suite of digital back office services for volunteers wanting to set up a community club or group but with limited time and resources.

On top of hearing some inspirational stories and case studies, we were all asked to come up with actions in 7 different categories to help push the digital transformation agenda:

    • Mindset: e.g. providing a simple catalogue-type resource so people with only basic tech skills can get an idea of the full spectrum of ways digitaltechnology can help them in their work
    • Processes: .e.g. could design-think approaches be used more widely to help charities more clearly articulate the problem before jumping too quickly into thinking about solutions
    • Tools: e.g. a digital needs analysis tool for charities
    • People: e.g. should Boards appoint a digital champion
    • Funding: e.g. should funders introduce a ‘digital by default’ approach
    • Cross-sectoral relationships: e.g. could digital tech companies and charities make joint pitches in procurement processes
    • Infrastructure: e.g. could organisations use an ‘Uber’ style service for matching and sharing volunteers with tech skills

This really got me thinking about the Trust’s work in this area and reinforced my conviction about the real importance and potential of stimulating Tech for Good in the NI VCSE sector. To date we have undertaken research, stimulated learning through our Tech for Good group, supported ideas generation through our Social Innovation Camp project and are about to support the building and implementation of a string of innovative tech solutions to specific social and organisational challenges through our latest initiative, Techies in Residence.

But there’s always more we can do and NPC’s research will be a great opportunity to highlight some further specific opportunities over the coming months.

Of course, as an organisation promoting Tech for Good we need to make sure we’re taking our own medicine too. For example, should, or could, the Trust’s Board appoint a ‘digital champion’? Should we, as a funder, adopt a ‘digital by default’ approach? Should we adapt our funding and procurement processes to facilitate tighter problem identification before jumping into solutions?

This is all food for thought but I’m confident the Trust is ready to ask these tough questions of itself and I think the rest of the VCSE Sector in NI is too.

Following on from this event, NPC will be holding another seminar next week in London and then selecting a number of key focus areas for the research which could have real practical benefit for the VCSE Sector.

For our part, The Trust will continue to ensure that NI organisations have the opportunity to feed into and benefit from the research, and to be at the forefront of this exciting area of work.

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