Diving into the Digital Fellowship — Part 1

Follow a user-centred design process, and test all the way

A couple of weeks ago we kicked off our Digital Fellowship, which aims to upskill charity leaders in digital technology. We have nine seriously amazing individuals on board, at the helm of organisations tackling issues such as domestic abuse, homelessness, young people’s volunteering, addiction recovery and services for marginalised groups. We want our Fellows to walk away from the 12-week course feeling empowered to explain the fundamentals of tech to their teams, boards and funders, and well equipped to embark on a digital project of their own.

The Fellowship is held in a variety of coworking spaces across London, and began with a two-day intensive start in Machines Room, an inspiring makerspace near Bethnal Green. Nestled behind the 3D printers and laser cutters, we got to work introducing ourselves and gauging aims and expectations for the weeks ahead. A common theme among our Fellows was the hope that the entire sector should better understand and engage with the opportunities provided by digital technology — sentiments very much shared by the CAST team. For some, that means learning how to go about building new scalable and sustainable digital solutions that better engage with supporters or beneficiaries, while for others it’s a more general process of digital transformation across their organisations.

In all cases, these leaders want to upskill their teams in the lingua franca of the 21st century, to support and augment the fantastic work they’re already doing offline. One Fellow summed up the situation brilliantly by saying, “We are like the Soviet Union in the 1980s in terms of technology, so I’m trying to bring us into the modern world. It’s not about putting everything online but we need to be better at incorporating digital tech.”

So what did we learn in the first week? We began with a crash course in why all this matters, and what nonprofits stand to gain from harnessing tech (or stand to lose if they get left behind), from formidable tech entrepreneur and investor Mary McKenna, MBE. She highlighted the advantages for charities thinking and acting like fast-paced, agile startups in order to rapidly prototype and build digital products. Many of our Fellows are part of small teams and so can relate to the need for speed and efficiency — though it’s sometimes harder to convince trustees and funders!

Sam Sparrow, Director of vInspired Task Squad, then gave a super overview of how to integrate a digital project (or product) with a wider organisation, and how to structure that project so that it meets the needs both of the end users and the organisation itself. Understanding this ‘why’ is a critical first step, and once this is clearly established the teams can think about the ‘who’; the make-up of an ideal project team and their roles, bearing in mind this might change as the project progresses. Sam also advised to be honest from the start about the level of risk your organisation can handle. When failures happen — which they inevitably will — think about what you can learn from them, adapt and move forwards. Also make sure you fully support your team through their failures as they are the ones who will feel them most keenly.

Dan and Darshan discuss the potential of digital

The Fellows have also been introduced to some of the key terminology of lean and agile, such as MVP (minimum viable product OR process — basically the smallest output that can give you validation to keep going); design sprints (breaking up the project into manageable, testable chunks) and user stories (mapping out the user’s profile, activity and their touch points with information throughout the day). Darshan Sanghrajka, founder of social impact studio Super Being Labs, joined our own Dan Sutch to navigate us through the build -> measure -> learn cycle and explain how the three key strand of value — user value, social value and financial value — can be measured using lean metrics.

“What things are you seeing on a day to day basis that give you confidence that your product or service is useful? Good metrics either reinforce that confidence or tell you to stop or pivot. Measure immediate efficiency rather than the ‘epic’ big-picture social value.”

Check out Part 2 to find out what the Fellows learned on their second day…

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