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Cat & Annie — DOT PROJECT Co-Founders

Reflecting on this year I realise there are important milestones DOT PROJECT has reached which have almost passed us by as we focus our attention on supporting charities hardest hit by COVID-19. Usually in November we go to Websummit, we like the event but more than that it’s an opportunity to have some time out, reflect and plan over a pastry. As a cooperative we spend time supporting charities to find the space and headspace to reflect which is a reminder to us that we should do the same for ourselves once in a while.

2020 began with a feeling of hope and promise, we entered the New Year in a mindset of consolidation and focus ready to clarify our charity support programmes and build our network of digital and organisational design experts. In many ways the year has worked out completely differently to what we’d envisaged, but I realise this is always the case. Over the 4 years we’ve been running DOT PROJECT much of what we do is based on instinct, our journey is never linear it weaves and wiggles. What’s happened in 2020 is our usual pivots and weaving have happened at fast speed and without the usual coffee shop moments where much of our magic was previously made. …


A week ago I wrote a tweet about my 94 year old Grandad using Instagram. My lovely friend Dawn, a social anthropologist at Mundy&Anson, got in touch to find out more. I started to write her an email to tell her a bit about my Grandad, a bit turned into a lot. In telling his story I found out, through a stroke of serendipity, that Dawn had a temping job at Hawker Siddeley (where my Grandad worked) in the 90s. Now I’m finding out if they may have ever crossed paths. …


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The Citizens Advice lifestream is a critical insight into population needs at this time.

Over these past few weeks I have drawn on my expertise in humanitarian relief in ways which I could not have anticipated. I have rapidly come to realise that one glaring gap that exists for organisations supporting civil society in the UK is the absence of the practical application of data for decision making. As we rapidly shift gears to collect data from all corners of the UK social support infrastructure I realise how lucky I was in conflict zones and humanitarian emergencies to have sight of data so regularly, and so clearly, to guide our decisions.

To be clear I am not saying that population data sources in the UK are weak, actually I attribute the glaring gap I feel to my own lack of knowledge on where to look for the data sets I need. But therein lies the problem, the data doesn’t feel accessible, and this is partly due I believe to a certain attitude towards data that I’ve only just started to recognise. At the moment my mind is racing and quite full, so unfortunately this piece may seem like a ramble. But I can’t help thinking it might be useful to explain how things work in an emergency context, in order to make sense of the information we have (and don’t have) at our finger tips right now. …


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In response to the COVID-19 crisis communities are connecting and charities are supporting those most in need. This is happening in a way we have never seen before — with minimal face to face interaction. Digital is enabling this to happen, but people will ultimately influence whether digital is used effectively. [Photo credit: Dan Meyers Google Unsplash]

Now, more than ever, digital will play a crucial role in providing life saving support, reaching vulnerable communities and connecting people to improve quality of life. As a Support Team we feel a collective responsibility to ensure that the digital skills and expertise available to grantees is timely and responsive to their evolving situations.

Organisations, their workforces and the communities they support are facing unprecedented change. With very little time to prepare people are being forced to rethink how they live and work. Over the past four days the Support Team have been speaking with Digital Fund grantees to assess how their needs and challenges are changing in response to the COVID-19 crisis. There is much to learn and we are all still learning. …


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An ECHO Needs Assessment team in the north of the Central African Republic in 2012, this area is extremely remote and difficult to access due to poor roads and conflict. We travelled by air, then motorbike to meet with community leaders to assess needs, we had 4 hours on the ground. Mobile reception was intermittent so in the weeks that followed data was shared by text message and paper copies of health record which were sent via plane and then analysed in the capital Bangui.

As UK civil society organisations respond rapidly to the changing situation within communities across the UK I have been reflecting this week on how humanitarian practices could be applied to the situation we are facing. Prior to co-founding DOT PROJECT I worked in humanitarian emergency settings (for UNDP, WFP and International Medical Corps). I have direct experience of supporting and coordinating aid efforts in the following crisis’: earthquake response in Haiti (2010), civil war Libya (2011), civil conflict in the Central African Republic (2012), displacement of populations in Northern Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia (2012–2013) and working remotely to gather needs from in-country teams in Kismayo, Somalia (2014). …


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Building the confidence of leaders through a coaching approach

An important aspect of the support service we provide for the Digital Fund grantees is leadership coaching. We see coaching as a process to focus leaders and teams on the ‘here and now’ rather than on the distant past or future and to unlocking their potential to maximise their own performance and delivery. In this fast paced digital age, being resilient, adaptive and feeling prepared for change is a must, but in reality this is hard to achieve.

Competing priorities, a lack of resources and the perceived inability to take the time to reflect and explore mean that leaders, particularly within charities, are forced to constantly compromise. Leaders tend to be in ‘delivery mode’, acting reactively and working at a fast pace due to the constant noise around them. Digital can only be transformative to organisations where the people within them will thrive through the change. Successful digital projects are born out of an enabling organisational culture, managed by teams who understand their environment and led by confident, competent leaders who themselves are supported to lead. …


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We’re supporting grantees to set their direction for their Digital Fund project, and beyond (photo credit Jamie Street I Unsplash)

We’ve been engaged with the grantees of the Digital Fund since July and we’re a week away from meeting the next round of grantees. Working alongside charities who are responding to some of the most complex challenges in society is always inspiring and engaging. As a support team we feel a sense of responsibility to ensure that our support impacts positively on the journeys of the Digital Fund grantees. Now that we have designed the initial support packages for the first seven grantees we have some learnings to share which cover common themes emerging across this cohort.

Attracting, building and retaining…


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CAST, Shift, DOT PROJECT and the National Lottery Community Fund team in the early days of designing the support team (photo Cassie Robinson)

Earlier this year, as part of the National Lottery Community Fund Digital Fund, we were awarded a support grant to boost capabilities within grantees of the Digital Fund. For all organisations involved this represents an opportunity to bring together our diverse skill-sets and range of expertise for grantees to draw on throughout the duration of their grant. We’ll be sharing regular updates about what we’re learning and we thought we’d start with an introduction to who we are and why we exist.

Why does the support team exist?

We know that the social sector plays a vital role in the future of our civil society. Charities, social enterprises and voluntary sector organisations are working on the front line, working with communities and individuals who are at the heart of our society. Life for those communities and individuals has evolved dramatically over recent years, behaviours have changed and relationships between individuals, communities and the social sector are shifting. One factor influencing these changes is technology — the way we use, interact with and deploy technology has changed the way we expect to access services, find information and connect with each other. Alongside that, technology is also changing the wider context, raising questions of power, of values, of new kinds of inequalities, consequences and cumulative effects, so the whole purpose of the social sector and civil society also needs to evolve. …


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This weekend I had the honour of speaking at a friends wedding. This came about because when I got married she swiftly wrote to me and said ‘I’d like to speak at your wedding’. My friend is Dutch and it’s a common tradition in Holland for quite a few guests to speak. I was already planning to make a speech myself so after my speech, my dear friend made a beautiful speech about our friendship and the times we’ve shared over the years. What’s more she delivered her speech in perfect English.

In respect of her lovely contribution to our wedding it felt important at her wedding to take the opportunity to share a few words. For me however there was no chance of delivering it in perfect Dutch, I stuck to my native English. This friend is particularly special, she came into my life when I was living in New York, we were both in our early 20s. I had never lived in a city before, I come from a small UK town in the Midlands (big up Chesterfield) and I graduated to a small university town called Loughborough. …

About

Cat Ainsworth

Co-Founder, with @annielegge, of The Dot Project (@dotprojectcoop). Champion for tech for social impact & women in tech.

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