Exploring Digital in the Third Sector.
In this episode of the Make Things Better podcast, Ross provided us with a real comprehensive breakdown on how digital is, and can be used to improve people's lives through various charities.
- Ross McCulloch
Tom: Hello, and welcome to the Make Things Better podcast.
Today, I have Ross McCulloch on the show.
Ross McCulloch works for the Third Sector Lab.
He is the director there, but I'm sure we'll discover a lot more
about Ross throughout the show.
So welcome to the show.
Thank you for coming on.
I really do appreciate your time.
Do you want to start by just telling us a little bit about
what you do, your background and how long you've been doing it.
I was actually, I was in the pub with someone last night talking to him
about how bad I am at elevator pitches.
So I'll go as well as I can.
I've been in this, working in charity digital for over 10 years now?
I was previously head of comms with a national charity.
And our work is quite varied.
So I guess when I started out it was more in social media and comms.
And over the last few years now, much more thinking about
digital in the broader sense.
So how do we use digital to deliver services?
How do we use digital to deliver value to the charities we work with so
all of our client base is charities.
Occasionally we've worked with people like the Scottish government and NHS but
about 95 ish percent are charities and yeah, really, I guess helping people think
about how they can do more with digital.
That's essentially what we're trying to do.
So I've done things like I developed SCVO'S digital
leadership program back in 2016.
So that's now had over 250 charity leaders come through that program.
We're running another one in 2021, 2022, which is really exciting and we're doing some
work with some charities in Wales at the moment with WCVA and Wales Co-Operative.
So we're taking them through a really intensive kind of six week design
process of helping them think about understanding the problems in their
organization, understanding the way that their service users are living their
lives and how they can use digital to help them in new and interesting ways.
So that has been, that's been really cool.
So, yeah, so it's funny.
It's like COVID has been terrible, but at the same time has really, I
think, opened up people's eyes to potentially digital in the third sector
in a way that wasn't happening before.
And what we're seeing now is less conversations where you're
having to convince people at board level or senior management
level that this stuff has merit.
So that kind of argument's gone.
Like nobody's having to be convinced that stuff has merit.
It's like, what do we actually do with it?
How do we embed it so that it's not just a flash in the pan thing we
did during COVID and then we forget about it again, but actually becomes
integral to how we do, what we do.
That's really interesting to hear because one of my first questions was going to be
how had charities been impacted by COVID.
And you've already said really, that there's maybe a bit more, demand for
digital content because obviously they need to support people and
maybe they need to do that through digital even more than before.
Do you think, overall then what other changes have there been perhaps
to charities since COVID, has it had a good or a bad impact on the
amount of work that they can do?
Ross: I mean, it's been a mixed bag and it depends on the type of charity.
I mean, so many charities, you know, are delivered in face-to-face services
and the way that they deliver them or the people are trying to support.
I mean, that's still going to be the bread and butter and actually trying to
do that digitally is going to be really tricky, but there's just been so many
like there was one really small charity in Scotland where they used to do, it was
like kind of dance sessions for seniors and like a community group in Glasgow.
And they managed to move that onto zoom.
And it was like an interesting combination of taking a service, putting it on zoom
and actually digital inclusion where they're having to very, very quickly
support some of those older people get online, who had never been online before,
but very quickly, they were getting online because they had an incentive to do it.
Whereas I think pre COVID for a lot of groups who weren't
online, there was no incentive.
So for those older people the incentive was that dance group I go to every
Thursday, I can still continue to do that it will just be online and actually
some charities are now seeing that accessibility piece in digital, whereas
before it was like a kind of brick wall of, well, people don't have devices
or they don't use it, or don't know how you know how to use the internet.
So we just won't bother doing it.
Where-as now we're seeing the fact that well actually.
We were kind of forcing people to sit on a bus for 45 minutes to come into our
office because we'd shoehorned them into our organization structure, rather than
us thinking about how do they live their lives and how do we fit in with that?
And so I think for a lot of charities there's been a bit of a mindset change
where they're like, oh, actually our organizational structure is of no
interest to the people that we are here to support and it's allowed them
to kind of get back to that reason they were set up in the first place.
Now that's not universal and everyone's going to be different.
I do think we're now also at a period where you know, some people veered very,
quickly into thinking, right we do a thing in a physical space and now we just do
that thing on zoom without thinking, well, what are the opportunities that digital
offers to think about doing this in quite different ways that are appropriate?
And so there's this kind of weird period we're in right now where I
think people are trying to take stock of what this is going to look like.
And there's a danger that some charities might be like, well we did that stuff
on zoom but now we just go back to the stuff being in an office because
it's safe again with all the jabs.
And I think that the kind of better ones are look at those
opportunities for kind of blended approaches to delivering services.
And that's where it's going to be really interesting.
That makes a lot of sense.
Talking about a sort of dance class.
So my mum's got like an illness and she uses a lot of
charities really in Sheffield.
So one of the charities was a Sheffild United community program.
I'm a Sheffield Wednesday fan.
So I was never a big fan of this because she's been brining home all this
Sheffield United merchandise and I'm like 'Mum that can't be in the house'.
'I'm not happy with that'.
But, one of the great things that she was doing was this sort of
dance type active class online.
Um, and she really did enjoy that.
So I guess what you're saying is that charities now they've had time to kind of
change things a little bit and now they need to really think about the overall
approach to the work that they do, because there are so many opportunities online
and they can do that, but they can also, once maybe things settle down, they can
do things in real life, um, as well.
So that's great to hear really, because I don't think this topic is talked about
too much and what we're trying to do at Hive IT in this podcast really is
to just talk about how we can change the world through technology, and just
make things a little bit better really.
I guess my other question was what do the Third Sector Lab do, maybe
a little bit more specifically?
So you said you work with a lot of charities trying to help them
with their digital approach.
How do you really go about doing that?
Ross: Yeah, I mean our work can be pretty varied, so I mean, a lot of it is
dependent on, you know, client budget and time and kind of what we can offer.
What we've always tried to do is, is to be able to offer as much as
we can free at the point of access.
So we have a thing at the moment called the curve, which we ran
during COVID so, I mean COVID still exists, but we ran last year.
So we trained, there was 1,700 places taken up.
And basically we have a free workshop that happens every week.
And so charities can take part in that now so we've got a workshop
happening every week until the end of the financial year in 2022.
So, we've worked with five funders in Scotland, but it's
open actually to any charity globally, nevermind UK or Scotland.
So Robertson Trust, Ronald McDonald, William Grant Foundation,
Inspiring Scotland and the National Lottery as well here in Scotland.
And that's basically allowed us to get in some pretty amazing trainers
to run these free workshops.
So it's been everything from things like building data
dashboards, basic SEO skills.
We've got one running today, Bobby Robertson's doing one on digital strategy.
And so the idea was like people can kind of drop in and pick and choose.
But also what we've seen is a lot of charities now
where they've done a digital skills assessment of their staff.
And they were like, right.
We have two options here.
We can either upskill our staff or we need to go and find a lot of money
to bring people in to do this stuff.
And actually for a lot of charities that's just not an option.
And so we've seen some where it's like, you know, someone's literally
come in for like a month of training like back to back week after week,
been able to get new skills, which has been really, really exciting.
And then a lot of the work we do is going and doing strategy sessions with
charities and helping them understand what that looks like and trying to
demystify it a bit because a lot of the time it's just, you know consultants
come in some very, very expensive process and it's a lot of the time the process
has been completely over-engineered.
That's like, you know, there's a charity we've done some work with recently and
they had consultants in previously, and the consultant had left them
with a 330 page digital roadmap, you know, a year on nobody in the senior
management team had read this roadmap.
Certainly no one who's a front line member of staff in a care organization.
Is going to have looked at that.
And it's like if your engagement as a member of staff or a volunteer is
with a thing that is 330 pages long.
You're never going to engage with it.
And it's trying to think about the mechanisms in which people can engage,
not in meaningless ways, but in ways that are much, much easier for
them to have that initial leap in.
So things, you know, simple things like getting an organization to
develop a digital mission statement.
So how does digital help you achieve what's in your organizational
strategy or your business plan?
You don't need some big separate thing that sits alongside it that's
really what we're trying to do.
And sometimes that can be as short as like a 90 minute session with
the board and that 90 minute session is enough for the board to go.
That's what digital means.
And sometimes it's just taking out of silos, so a lot of the time we will go
to an organization that's just, that organization talks about digital
And actually what they're talking about is IT infrastructure or we go
in and actually what they're talking about is social media and comms.
And that's fine, and that's going to be part of that jigsaw, but actually getting
them to understand it's everything.
It's the clunky toil process that I'm a member of staff
and I want to know what toil I've got and I have to speak to my line manager
and then they sigh and then they speak to someone in HR and then you get
sent a really weirdly formatted word document, and then maybe a week later
you find out how much toil you've got and it's taken someone four hours of
added up time to make that happen.
And actually now that organization has an HR platform and the person can log in and
they can manage that stuff themselves.
And so it's that kind of unsexy stuff and things like, you know, onboarding
with forms and what we've seen a lot is like charities have good services.
So like that the dance class, you mentioned right amazing service,
what you might then find is like trying to actually get access to
that service is almost impossible.
So you need to know it exists.
You need to know that you have to actually phone up to book a place
on it you need to know that it's only on a Tuesday at 2:00 PM.
You need to then know the zoom link and you know, that simple thing of
what would be normal to you now is like well we'll put a form on the website.
We'll have a really clear landing page that explains all this.
I'll fill out the form.
And it will automatically tie into that zoom account and that person
will get an automatic thing to remind them 24 hours before the event.
And it's those types of processes that often are lacking and there's like,
there's a good service at the core, but there's nothing that sits on the
onboarding or off-boarding of that person.
And those are the bits that like when, when the kind of penny drops
and charities realise the value of that and how much time that can
save them and how much better an experience it is for that end user.
That's when you can really start to use digital effectively.
I think rather than it just feeling like it's kind of, it's an
add on, or it's a one-off thing.
So it sounds to me like you're taking charities that do really good work
and then you bring in everything together online, and just putting it
all sort of in a place where it's just so much more effective for your users
to then go and find it and use it.
And obviously on social media that is going to play such a massive part
because I suppose with COVID as well
you're not really going to have maybe as much sort of
word of mouth recommendations.
I'm sure a lot of like the charities, like my mum perhaps, has gone to in the
past have been through like a friend of a friend's where they're meeting up and
then they're saying, oh yeah, I went to this the other day or whatever it may be.
And so yeah, the online presence is just so crucial.
Do you find you get much engagement with the posts online?
Because this is something I was thinking about the other day is sometimes you
have to be a little bit more vulnerable, perhaps if you were to comment or message
a charity about a particular service.
And so people online, especially because the whole world might see
their post, you know, how, how much engagement do you to get really with
a post online through charities?
Ross: Yeah it's interesting I think, I mean, it depends, it depends so much like
anything on social media with like the age group and the subject matter
and the approach that you're taking.
There's a really nice campaign and it's a couple of years old now, but one that I
really liked which was from See Me who are a mental health charity based in Scotland.
And they basically, I mean, fundamentally were trying to kind of reach out to an
under 25's audience, kind of struggling through a lot of the kind of natural
channels where they'd had previous successes, like Facebook and Twitter
started using Instagram, probably taking that kind of same approach on those other
channels, but actually finding that it just wasn't working for that channel.
And had a complete rethink.
And one of the things they do, which was so, so simple was, they basically
had a hit list of Instagram accounts in Scotland that are largely followed
by that under 25's demographic.
And it's that kind of influencer tag that I think can be off-putting for a
lot of charities where they see it has been vacuous or they see it as being
unattainable because they are like we need to reach out to someone who's got 4 million followers.
And actually their hit list initially, I think they had about 20 accounts on it.
And so we're talking about like there's a guy Richard who runs Abandoned Ship
clothing in Glasgow like quite a small clothing label, Hard Grind, that's
like a barber shop up in Dundee.
And so we're not talking about these kind of like multinational, multimillion
pound multi-million followed accounts but actually localized under 25's
audience, might have 40,000 followers, but those followers trust them
and listen to what they're saying.
And so they reached out with this concept and the idea behind the campaign was to
get people to talk openly about their mental health in a way that suited them.
There was no kind of hard rigid rules about the way that you do it.
Out of the 20 people, basically 15 came back and said either,
no, I'm not comfortable because that's not part of my brand.
Or I want lots of money.
Five of them came back and said, yep, sounds like an amazing idea.
I'd love to be part of this.
And so the charity launched that campaign and basically the campaign
was, we want you to talk openly about.
Things that you are struggling with.
So this notion of your unfiltered life, that isn't a polished version of
your life that you put on Instagram.
And so in those five accounts were the first posts, what happened
was collectively through those five accounts, it was something
like 300,000 people following those five accounts collectively.
So they hit their demographic, like instantly on that first
day of the campaign, what they didn't do is like right
we're going to do a top down campaign and the post is going to come through
the official channel this charity.
And then we're going to spend a fortune, trying to target those people.
And it's going to come on their feed as an ad or a promoted post.
And so that was, that was hugely successful.
I mean, to this day, there's still people using that, 'myunfilteredlife'
hashtag and it, what actually happened
that was quite interesting, was that it wasn't just people consuming content
from influencer accounts, but people felt comfortable putting their own experiences
up and then people would leave comments.
I remember one really kind of stood out in my mind which was someone had
clicked, taken a photograph of some of the medication that they were on, they
were on maybe five or six different pills.
And then other people who were just following the hashtag or leaving comments
to see, you know, I've just been a prescribed that by my doctor, really
interested in knowing your experiences of it and someone else talking about their
own experiences of having it and just a community emerged around what could
have just been quite a cynical kind of one-way traffic hashtag of promoting a
message from a charity and because they'd deliberately made it a bit more loose,
and kind of gone where the audience was already, it was, it was hugely successful.
So that for me is a really nice example where it's like the levels
of vulnerability are up to the user.
And I think the charity has got a lot of responsibility around that, as you
need to be really careful, particularly with certain subject matters of how you
approach it, what you're asking of people.
But what I think we've also now seen, is a move away from lots of
charities or organizations in general where social media is a thing we
put stuff up, you engage, whatever that means and then that's it.
It's like we don't want to have a conversation with you.
We don't want you to private message us, but now we've actually seen the
value that someone might see a post and then they may reach out in a
direct message because they want to use a service or reach out by direct
message because they want to volunteer.
And that's the bits where the values is that follow-up that someone's not
just consuming content, but they're then going on to become a supporter
or a volunteer, or service user.
Tom: Yeah, that's awesome.
I think with that sort of charity campaign it sounds like one of the
most successful parts of that was just getting a few people to start to use
that hashtag and then, because some people use it it's then it allows other
people to post similar sort of types of content and do so a little bit more
freely without that sort of pressure of being all like, ah, you know, I have
these problems and you can just kind of.
You just feel so much more comfortable opening up once other people open up,
that's the way of life with everyone.
It's like if I was to open up about various things now with you, it's like,
there's a stronger chance of you opening up about other things and so that's great.
And once you get that community doing that, then obviously that just opens
so many doors to people engaging with these charities even more.
Ross: And I think particularly like health charities, they've been doing it
for years really effectively, but in a more kind of closed format.
So we've seen really successful health based like closed Facebook groups and
forums where, you know, it's people living with a specific condition and
there's charities that have created a safe space where people can come
together and the difference and the value in that versus that being on
you know, an open Instagram thread where anyone can see it.
And it's that for me is where you know, we've seen a lot of charities really
harness the power of social media and use that as a tool to get their job
done and moving away from it feeling like it's a kind of cynical marketing
exercise where the end goal is fundraising or the end goal is we recruit more
volunteers, but actually it's about, you know, our organizational aim is to
build a community of people living with this condition and better supporting
them and them supporting their peers.
And actually we can do that on social media.
It doesn't need to be in a face-to-face group.
One doesn't have more value than the other.
And I think that's one of the things we've seen, particularly
during COVID, is people realize that face-to-face is not some gold standard.
And then online is this kind of slightly crappy alternative that
you might want to go and use.
As actually for a lot of people
doing that stuff online is more valuable and that's the place they want it to
be they don't want to come in that face-to-face space and that's okay.
Or maybe they'll feel comfortable coming to that face-to-face space because they've
built that relationship with you online.
And that I think for me has been a really interesting thing is charities starting
to understand that much, much more.
That makes a lot of sense.
And so I guess that is a bit of a positive then maybe to come out of
COVID-19 is that these charities are helping people engage online better.
And it's interesting to me as well about how you have like these sort of places
where people will all come together to talk about maybe something that's perhaps
going wrong in their life and getting support basically, just getting support
because I'm on this well, I was on this platform called for Football Index.
And I probably shouldn't talk about this too much on this podcast,
but this was really difficult.
And obviously I lost a lot of money.
Do you know anything about Football Index?
It's the kind of like stocks and shares type football platform.
And it all went into administration and went wrong and loads of
people lost, loads of money.
But what we definitely saw in the aftermath was a real community of
football traders who had all lost a huge amount of money, all kind of
coming together to support each other.
And although it's not a charity, you still have the same sort of effect
of people just getting real support and people would message each other.
Like, I honestly, after all of that ended, I probably received
over like 50 messages on Twitter.
Just really, really kind
genuine messages, checking I was okay.
Because that was my work.
That was my job for a long while, um, a few years, and I lost a lot of
money and a lot of other people did.
And that is one of the benefits of social media.
And I think to sort of harness that power, as you said earlier, as you were saying
earlier to sort of create that community of people, is just so, so important.
So it's good to hear really that you're able to help people do that.
Sort of on that topic.
How come you did decide to get into working for like working
within the third sector rather the public or private sector.
That's an interesting question.
I mean, yeah.
So prior to working for charities, I mean, I've had some weird jobs over
the years, like, I mean, yeah, so.
One of the things I used to do is I used to sell trainers from my
bedroom before like trainers became like that like ludicrous value.
that is in them now.
I probably should have stuck at that because I'd be stupidly rich now.
But yeah, that was basically what I did.
It was literally like I used to buy trainers and I would sell them on eBay.
And that was, that was my job from my bedroom, and I
worked for a bank for a while.
I mean without sounding cheesy
it's like getting to work with charities is like a total privilege
because like most of them, the work they do is amazing and it has genuine social
impact and you get to work with amazing people who are doing incredible things.
And yeah, that sounds like a very gushing kind of response doesn't it but it's like,
there's that there's an intrinsic value.
Like I've got a friend who works in digital marketing and I can
remember him getting a new job.
And he was working digital marketing for a company that fits like domestic
blinds you know, sort of blinds for your windows. And like so his whole job was
you know, it was like trying to beat competitors on SEO and doing PPC ads.
And like even him, himself is like, yeah, it's quite well paid, but it's
like, I go to my work and I have to help a rich person sell more blinds.
And that's what I do every day.
And it's like, fuck.
So, yeah, it's just a really interesting subject matter.
Get to work with really interesting people and like charities do amazing work.
Like I'm in awe of some of the work.
Like and particularly in Scotland during COVID.
If you look at like, so like there's a program in Scotland called Connecting
Scotland, run by the Scottish government in partnership with SCVO who are the kind
of umbrella body for charities in terms of how it's delivered on the ground, it's
often quite small grassroots organizations that are helping people get online.
So getting their first digital device, getting them unlimited data through that
program, giving them basic digital skills.
And often, front line charity workers like literally people go in to someone's
house posting a device through a letter box going to the window because they
have to be distanced from them and explaining to them how to put the SIM
card in for the first time showing them how you use a browser for the first time.
And that's happened to me, like something like, I can't remember
the exact numbers, but something 50,000 people have got online for
the first team through that program.
But the whole thing is delivered through community groups and quite
small charities across the country.
And you think about like just that sheer scale of social impact that's
been delivered is just phenomenal.
And you just don't, it's just not a thing that's happening in the commercial
sector, it's exciting as well.
Tom: Yeah, that is really cool.
I think to know that you're having a positive impact on the
world is just such a nice thing.
Like you can just go to bed feeling like, yeah, you've maybe accomplished something,
maybe you get to work with people who have similar values to yourself.
You know, if you're focused on making a positive impact and you're
working with charities all the time, obviously you're going to
come across loads of great people.
I'm sure so do you
Do you find that in your job as well?
I mean, I'm like, usually I'm kind of in awe of the people I work with because
they're like far, far greater than I am and far more motivated than I'll ever be.
There's some amazing people.
I mean, it's like any other sector so, you know, there's like, there's
a mix of people that you work with, but by and large, it's just, it's
just a different feeling I think, from working in the commercial sector.
And it's like, people are focused on that end goal.
And so for some people, you know, if you work in fundraising
that end goal is money.
And actually the fundraising world is probably more closely aligned to
a lot of the commercial sector, but they are so motivated because they're
doing it for that end goal of that money is now going to help support
more people who need a cancer nurse in their home or support the youth work
charity that they're working with.
And so that level of motivation is pretty staggering.
And often, in particular digital, much lower salaries than people
could get in the commercial sector.
Um, yeah, that that's a tricky thing and that's a perpetually tricky thing for
the third sector and it always has been.
How do you recruit the right people and actually being able to recruit people
who are motivated by more than the cash.
Because yeah, they could easily go to the commercial sector and get paid a ton more.
I suppose, as an individual, you have to make that trade off really.
What's most important to you is it maybe making a little bit more money
or doing something where you have a little bit more purpose and in this
job that I'm doing now, and I'm really sort of enjoying it because Hive IT
so this is who the podcast is through.
Um, although we do work with a range of companies and just
a range of like different clients.
We do tend to try and work with people who are a lot more ethical.
So we do work with a lot of charities and I really like that aspects of things.
And with this podcast.
One of the other things I'll be doing is asking people within Hive how they sort
of got on working with other charities and hearing even more about what other
charities have been getting up to.
And it's just good to know that our company is doing something
quite positive within that field.
And so it is nice.
It does make a really nice difference.
Now we've talked a fair bit about charities and how there is so
many different ones out there.
And obviously you work with a wide range of different charities.
This was just something that I was thinking about the other day, to be
honest, but you know how Amazon have kind of taken over a large part of the private
sector with selling so many different goods, and they've kind of decimated
plenty of businesses around the world unfortunately, do we have a similar sort of effect of like a big charity
in the third sector, that are maybe making the smaller charities less effective perhaps?
Ross: I think, I mean, don't get me wrong.
There's always been an issue of, you know, if someone's a household name.
So the classic one is.
You know, there's some charities that are household names, but actually
don't provide services in Scotland.
And because they're household names, we'll probably get a lot of donations
from people living in Scotland, but actually the person in Scotland doesn't
necessarily know that no service is going to be provided in their country.
Now you could argue that actually does that really matter because the
person's giving money to a good cause someone's going to benefit from it.
It doesn't matter if it's on their doorstep.
So that's always been an issue.
I think It's a really, really tricky one.
Where I think digital has the potential to change things is this notion that
actually the competitors aren't in the charity sector, the competitors
potentially are in the tech sector.
I think that's something.
We really, really need to get to grips with very quickly in the third sector.
Is you know, if I'm a small counselling charity and I'm based in a small
geographical area, and I have traditionally won like a contract
with a local authority to provide counselling to primary school children
for example, but now there's a big tech platform that can do online counselling
and the pair counselling session for me as a charity is 50 quid and the
pair counseling session for this big tech online platform is 10 pounds.
Because of economies of scale and the way that they're delivering it and maybe
they're using some automation in that process is actually your competitor is
not another charity going for that tender.
Your competitor is potentially a big tech firm, so it's almost
like you've mentioned Amazon.
It's like the competitor might be Amazon rather than the competitor is MacMillan or
the competitor is you know, Barnardos or Oxfam or these other huge charity brands.
And that's the bit where I think we need to see more particularly small and medium
charities collectively working together.
So, you know, if I am the counselor of an umbrella body for England and Wales
or for Scotland or Northern Ireland, what we need to be thinking about is how do we
pool resources and get these people on a platform where we can, we can, out-compete
what maybe a tech provider who's essentially encroaching in this space.
And this is like, I think, I think that the other thing that charities need to
remember is that this is not a new thing.
This has been happening for years, but we're seeing it kind of start to
ramp up because people are seeing that actually there's profit to be made
in supporting people with a mental health or there's profit to be made in
providing school dinners to vulnerable children who can't afford them.
And the commercial sector will scoop that stuff up if the
third sector is not careful.
So that's the interesting thing I don't have any particular answers around it.
Even it's like, there's, there's a tech startup that essentially acts as a broker
for people who have got individualized care budgets, so if you have a care
budget and maybe you've got a rare health condition and you need support and
you've got your own personalized budget.
Well, actually you may choose to spend that with a third sector provider
who's based in your community, but you might equally choose to prefer
to spend it with, a tech startup that can provide some of that support
remotely through internet things.
What actually, what we're also seeing is that there's, a few tech startups
who essentially act as brokers.
And so someone might have the personalized budget and it sits
in a kind of centralized space.
And then people might bid for that, or the person might choose based on
a kind of TripAdvisor type system.
And so we're kind of seeing a move away from the traditional model that might
have been, someone works for a healthcare professional or social worker who says
you should go and work with this charity.
That's the person that should go and do it where actually now people have
more control over their own money.
And they might go to use a charity but they might go to someone who's
a commercial provider or they might go to someone who's that third
party that sits in the middle.
And that's where it's starting to get interesting and potentially quite messy
as actually more and more commercial, quite tech based providers coming
into a space that was traditionally the realm of third sector organizations.
That is a big challenge.
I think it sounds to me like maybe like collaboration is quite important then
amongst the charities, one thing that we've actually just worked on at Hive and I
feel like I need to stop plugging Hive
that's not full intention but one project that just really does relate to this.
And I think is quite interesting is that we've just finished building
the Sheffield mental health guide.
So they already had a website, I think Hive have come in and just
tried to make it a lot more cleaner quicker and have made it so it is a
lot easier to use really, so that you can just search for the wide range of
charities in Sheffield very easily.
So, that kind of helps all of those charities be in one place
at the same time, which I think is quite important really.
Um, and so do you think in your job, or do you have any ideas around how
charities could maybe collaborate a little bit more to make them more effective?
Ross: And you know what, it's interesting.
I think that in many cases, the tech isn't the issue, so the tech is not the
issue when it comes to say collaboration, for example, but, actually culture and
ways of working and decision-making and collaboration, are often the tricky bit.
So it was like, you know, we've got an end goal that is say, like, for example,
that, you know, a mental health directory, or signposting site and there might
be twenty-five different providers that can input content into that.
And the tricky bit isn't like, technically, how do we do that?
Because executing it is not difficult.
The tricky bit is how do we get 25 mental health charities to agree
on how you describe a service?
How do we get 25 mental health charities to decide on where each
of their logos is going to sit?
And it's, it's that process bit that's often the bit that requires loads and
loads of time, not the bit of we're going to build the thing because building
the thing is often quite easy and it's based on tried and tested methodology.
But the tricky thing is getting people to actually work together and collaborate
where that's not naturally how they might do things or how decisions are made.
And actually a lot of the work that we've been doing and particularly
during COVID has not necessarily been about the tech, but has been
about different ways of working and different ways of making decisions.
So how do we take service design principles so that we can better
understand what users want and need and then they can genuinely influence that
process rather than we ran a focus group or we did a survey monkey with
17 users and then we made decisions based on that, or how do we better make
use of data to make the decisions and actually starting to remove people's
personal opinions from these processes or just that someone has a good idea.
And that's enough it's like the good ideas a starting point, but how do
we validate that through service design or through the data that's
going to tell us whether that thing is actually needed in the first place.
And so for me, that's the bit is like starting to change those cultures.
And I think we've seen like loads of positive steps.
around COVID where people have been forced to use things like whether it's
teams or slack or whether it's zoom calls, but actually sometimes we're
seeing a kind of perpetuation of the things that were bad in the workplace,
but now they're happening online.
So people are feeling like fatigue at relentless zoom meetings and all we've
done is really taken the structures of the workplace and now we've stuck them
online rather than thinking, well, where's the potential for asynchronous work and
where's the potential for collaboration.
We had loads of meetings in our office.
Now, we have those same meeting that last four hours where we
just go around and tell everyone what we did for the last month.
But now we do it on a zoom call and so that's where I think that potential for
collaboration gets really interesting is where you can show charities here's
how you can make meaningful decisions.
And here's how you can do it really quickly rather than, you
know, the end goal is a website.
But it's going to take you three months to get there because you're going to
have 17 meetings and you can't decide anything and you end up with this quite
fudged product is actually giving them those kind of skills and confidence
to take processes from the tech world and apply that to the charity world.
Do you think COVID has maybe provided an opportunity to have a bit of a clean
slate in terms of having ideas around the whole methodology of the work that you
do, rather than just having individuals have their own psychological biases and
personal reasons to work in certain ways.
You're then trying to help the charities sort of have a clean start
in terms of their way of thinking about how they are most effective
in working with various people.
I mean for a lot of them, it's not about you know, you need to go and
send 20 members of staff and some service design masters and they have
to become utter experts in this stuff.
It's like having a shared set of principles that you adhere to as an
organization so that everyone knows that when we go and apply to the
lottery for that new project it's not good enough that we just sat
down with five people who have got a relationship with the charity already
and asked them if they want a thing.
And they all nodded and we were like well that's validated the thing and
now we're going to apply for the thing and we get money for the thing.
And then the thing runs for two years ago, the things kind of not
really working is it and then we kind of rip it up and we do it again.
It's like getting people to understand how you design that service in the first
place, getting people comfortable with the fact that there'll be iterative steps, that
you'll get stuff wrong, but if you change it in small increments, every few months,
you'll end up with a nice product that people actually want and are going to use.
Whereas I think in the past, not universally, but you know, a lot of us.
We develop a service.
When we do it behind closed doors, we present it to a bunch of people as if
it's a hundred percent complete, and all we're asking for is validation as
to whether they're going to use that thing rather than thinking how do, we
meaningfully produce that alongside them.
And how do they meaningfully have some influence on what that looks like
rather than like we present and go would you use a service if it was on zoom?
It's like we've already got far too far down that journey and we've not, we've
not, we've not used any of those people's skill set or their own lived experiences
in trying to get to that point.
So it's almost like giving charities that ability to kind
of take a pause and discover like how are people living their lives?
What do they want from us?
What's going to be meaningful to them rather than thinking, what is the legacy
of the way that we've always done things.
And then we put that on zoom or now we put on teams or whatever that looks like.
Tom: Yeah, that makes sense.
What other advice do you have for maybe charities in terms of
improving their digital presence and being more effective online?
So I think, I mean, one of the, one of the big things we've done a lot of work with
the catalyst who are a kind of collective of organizations working in tech for
good in the UK and the catalyst has done some amazing work over the last year and
a big principle that kind of underpins
almost everything they do is this concept of reuse.
So that's the assumption that the thing you're trying to do exist already,
whether that's in the area that you work in, whether it's in the UK or whether
it's globally, there's only ever a tiny, tiny, fraction of charity digital
services that haven't been done already.
And whether that's about the actual deployment of the service, whether it
is about backend process, it's that assumption that it's happened and actually
going in with that is quite liberating.
And it's kind of moving away from this kind of thing that I think has plagued
digital and particularly in the charity sector, where it's like stuff always
has to be innovative and actually it doesn't, it's like, you're not starting
from scratch every time you do something.
concept around service recipes.
So this is a move away from what would traditionally have been case
studies where you can see another charity has done a nice thing.
You see a nice fluffy story about how it's helped someone and you get excited
about it, but there's no way of you deploying that yourself because you
don't actually know how they did it and what the tech stack was that sat behind
it or the processes that sat behind it.
And so what the catalyst is trying to do over the last year,
and we've been part of this.
Is trying to kind of, a charity has had a good success story.
What does that actually look like in terms of another charity basically
lifting and shifting that process.
And so the recipes are just the same way that if you saw a nice picture
of a plate of food, that's great, but how do you actually cook that food?
What are the core ingredients?
What are the steps that you go through?
And so they've broken down tech services essentially so you can get
them on the catalyst website and they're adding to that as we go.
A really nice example actually is Barnados very quickly moved
a lot of their services for vulnerable children onto WhatsApp.
And so the tech bit of it is easy because like almost everyone
has WhatsApp on their device and everyone knows how WhatsApp works.
The tricky bit is how do we onboard a vulnerable young person who's
maybe experiencing difficult things at home and needs to get
access to the device, how do we
make sure that that school knows that that young person is safe.
How do we have a process so that if that young person is on a chat
with us and someone is seeing that chat who doesn't need to, we
don't want to continue that chat.
Do we have a safe word with that young person?
So the difficult thing is not the tech.
The difficult thing is like, how do we safeguard children?
What are the processes?
How is it GDPR compliant?
And so Barnados basically essentially open source, like the workshops that
they ran at the outset with children.
So they will, they open sourced.
Here's how we ran the workshop here were some of the findings that we got
from that they open sourced here's some of the processes we put in place
to make sure it was GDPR compliant.
And so the tech bit is not the difficult bit, but what Bernardo's has made
simple is if I run a really small children's services charity and I'm
based in Sheffield and we don't have any technology and we have very little budget.
I can basically take that service Barnados has deployed in WhatsApp
and I can lift it and I can make some small tweaks, but within a week
I could be running that service.
So I'm not trying to do that thing from scratch.
I'm not looking at a case study where I go, well, that's fine for
Barnardos, but they're massive.
It's actually, I can take it and I can deploy it really quickly and that
for me is I think as soon as charities can get their head around that the
potential becomes pretty colossal and they could look at a service that's
maybe running in Canada and bring it to the UK for the first time.
So really appreciate it.
Tom: I'll tell you what Ross that sounds a lot better than a
three-hundred plus page manual.
I mean, that could really change things.
If charities started to use that sort of approach, catalyst, you said it's called.
And I think we'll probably have to wrap it up around now, uh, I really
value your time and I've learned so much from this episode because to be
honest, prior to this conversation, I knew next to nothing about how
the third sector operated online.
So this has been really interesting to me.
So thanks for coming on where can people find you online?
Ross: Yeah, so Twitter mainly so @ThirdSectorLab on Twitter or the free training that
I mentioned the curve that we run.
If you go to thirdsectorlab.co.uk you can click the training tab.
Anyone who works at a charity in the UK can book a free place and
so we're running those weekly.
Some of the other organizations I mentioned.
So if you Google thecatalyst.org.uk you'll find the service recipes that I mentioned
things like the digital senior leadership program that I run in collaboration with
SCVO so if you go to scvo.scot you can find that information on that as well.
Tom: Awesome stuff.
Thanks again, Ross.
And I'm sure we'll have a few listeners and people that maybe we work with, or
just people who follow us on Twitter, who will probably have a look at this video.
And hopefully some of those charities as well, will learn one or two
things and can maybe improve their online presence a little bit further.
Thanks for everyone watching.
I hope you have enjoyed this episode and I hope you have a great rest of your day.
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