How CAST is helping charities overcome digital fear

Hello from a new CAST member

I’m Sam Sparrow, and I’ve recently joined CAST as the newest Associate on the team — and what an incredibly exciting time to have started!

Among other things I’ll be supporting charities through the Fuse accelerator process, helping them to build new user-centred digital products and services, and supporting them through the highs and lows of quite literally being accelerated for three months. I’ve got a unique perspective on the process, having gone through what was the forerunner to Fuse with the same team in 2013 to create vInspired’s hugely successful Task Squad service.

My time on the accelerator programme and beyond was both challenging and rewarding. Although I’d worked in the nonprofit sector for over 10 years in new programme development roles, I had limited experience of digital product development — and certainly not at such speed! It was a steep learning curve — lean and agile methodologies were brand new to me. These processes were not immediately comfortable as they were in such contrast to more the more familiar, traditional approaches I had taken with previous service development. Moving at such speed in a larger, established organisation was difficult, and balancing pace with internal buy in did at times feel impossible. Testing everything we did with users, no matter how small, felt frustrating when you’ve been used to just getting on and developing a service. And nothing could have prepared me for the fear I felt when we unleashed the Task Squad platform on the world when it wasn’t perfect.

But by fusing together my experience of our service users and the expertise of an incredible digital team, after three months something magical happened. The team slowly but surely upped my confidence levels and knowledge, and coaxed me through my discomfort.

The process supported vInspired to create a new award-winning digital service which has provided over 4,000 hours of paid work for the young unemployed, and has also really started to change the way SMEs access young talent. But the end product is not the only benefit of Fuse. The personal and professional development that both myself and the wider vInspired team gained was invaluable. This method of working is an embedded part of their service development and innovation processes today and the knowledge I gained from the team helped me to take Task Squad from a prototype to a fully functioning, sustainable service.

I now hope to bring some of this experience to our next cohort of Fusiliers in September, and CAST is incredibly excited to be working with Women’s Aid, Advising London and Clore Social Leadership over the next three months with the ongoing support of Comic Relief.

With our recent £1.12m funding from Big Lottery Fund to extend this work across the UK, it really is an incredible time in charity digital development. There are so many more charities wanting to co-develop amazing and much needed digital services with their users, and I cannot wait to support them on their own learning journeys in 2017.

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