Why Think Social Tech?

At the beginning of January, I left Comic Relief. Like any consultant, I wanted to see if I could use my skills, interests and experience to design my own work. I actually had two jobs at Comic Relief; one in Research and Evaluation (I did this for over 5 years), the other in funding Tech for Good (a job share with Billy Dann for nearly 3 years).

So now I’m branching out on my own. You can read my CV on LinkedIn and see what services I offer on my website. Here, I want to explain more about why I’m setting up as Think Social Tech, what projects I can work on and my experience, to help you decide when to work with me.

The need for critically informed social tech development

Think Social Tech is currently an umbrella name for the work I’m doing as an independent consultant. I’m providing research, design and evaluation consultancy supporting ‘tech for good’ initiatives, often in partnership with other freelancers and agencies.

I believe social tech development needs to be better informed at all stages of conception, design, development and delivery. Without this, we risk funding and developing good ideas for digital tools and services, without thinking critically about whether people will need and want to use them, as well as the implications of doing so (what data do they create, where does this go, what happens if the project folds or is sold on). In other words, we need to better unpack the potential user, social and financial value. For these reasons, there is a need for more advice and support to develop projects which is both independent of and directly connected to funders, support agencies and developers involved in the ‘tech for good’ community.

In the UK, there are currently very few suppliers of research and evaluation who understand and fully engage with the implications of technology as a mechanism to create social change. They tend to rely on traditional approaches to defining outcomes and measuring progress. Yet agile digital development processes necessitate that research, design and evaluation are part and parcel of the ‘learn-build-measure’ cycle. The focus of creating digital tools and services is meeting user needs, creating social value and becoming financially sustainable in future to continue doing this. So I set up Think Social Tech because of the need to better embed research, evaluation and learning throughout the process of funding and developing projects. This is about working alongside technologists, developers and designers to gather insights and make decisions based on incomplete and complex (digital) data.

More broadly, Think Social Tech is about providing critical thinking about how projects are developed or funded to make people’s lives better. It will undertake some cross-sector and cross-organisational work with funders, charities and start-ups, to identify and find creative solutions to common problems encountered.

What I hope Think Social Tech will do

In a nutshell, Think Social Tech provides consultancy advice and projects to help those working in or with the charitable sector to do their work brilliantly. These projects may not always relate directly (if at all) to social tech development, but will use the same principles of user-led research, open knowledge and collaboration. For example, projects could include:

  • Helping charitable trusts and foundations decide what and how they want to fund projects to create social change, developing or adapting their application forms and processes, providing assessment support or sitting on decision-making panels as an advisor
  • Undertaking research with not-for-profit organisations and the people using their services to scope user needs and identify priority areas where tech can help (like the Tech Vs Abuse project)
  • Supporting ‘tech-savvy’ organisations to develop their research (and evaluation) skills and capacity relevant to the context of working in agile teams and creating digitally focused outputs
  • Evaluating projects or designing evaluation frameworks which use digital methods or creative approaches to gather insights about the effectiveness of digital projects or products
  • Creating tools, resources, workshops and training to support teams involved in digital projects, based on sector research

How Think Social Tech can help your project

I have extensive experience in the following areas to help you develop better informed social tech projects:

  • Charitable Funding. In my time at Comic Relief I’ve reviewed thousands of applications, analysed funding data, taken part in lots of committees, designed application forms and assessment processes and supported over 300 charities to develop their outcomes and evaluation frameworks. I know what funders are looking for, what charities struggle with and how I can help improve this.
  • The Third Sector. I’ve been in it for 10 years, working across a huge range of social issues and approaches to delivering change. I know a lot of great charities across the UK, the problems they face and how they are working creatively to address them.
  • Tech for Good funding. I devised Comic Relief’s first ever Tech for Good programme and developed this in partnership with Paul Hamlyn Foundation. I know what ‘good’ social tech projects look like and how to find, fund and support them.
  • Tech for Good community. I coordinated a network of expert mentors and digital agencies, supporting over 50 grantees with their social tech projects. I know how they are developing, the challenges they have overcome and their ongoing support and funding needs. I can connect projects with the expertise and people best placed to help them.
  • Tech for Good debates and futures. I’ve been a judge on the NT100 and Tech for Good Awards for the past three years, helped organise the MERL tech conference, as well as participating in community networks. I know about current developments and trends which affect the charitable sector.
  • Open Data. I published Comic Relief grants data to 360Giving and the Tech for Good longlist for the first time. I commissioned Beehive Giving to create a searchable online database of applications. I know how to analyse, publish, share and use data creatively.
  • ‘Tech-savvy’ research. I set up the ‘Tech vs Abuse’ initiative to explore how technology could improve the safety of those experiencing domestic abuse. I partnered with Chayn, SafeLives and Snook, using service design approaches to understand the experiences of 200 survivors and 350 practitioners. I secured £360,000 from Big Lottery Fund to support 10 digital projects addressing key design challenges (see www.techvsabuse.info and Comic Relief). It has been featured in Third Sector, Guardian and Telegraph and I presented at the NPC Annual Conference. I know how to use research to engage diverse stakeholders and stimulate social tech development.
  • ‘Tech-savvy’ methods. I completed a Masters in Digital Sociology, learning how to code in order to collect, analyse and visualise data online. My work with Women’s Aid about Domestic Abuse Migration has been used to influence local authorities and was longlisted for the Kantar 2016 Information is Beautiful Awards.
  • Sharing learning. I set up Comic Relief’s Tech for Good hub and the learning work for the Innovation Labs and the Tech Vs Abuse design challenges. I’ve trained staff across multiple funders in shortlisting tech for good applications. I know how to curate knowledge online and identify what practical guidance, resources and tools are needed to help practitioners better deliver their work.

Email me to talk through ideas for projects or for specific advice that you need and find out more about my rates and availability. I’ll be updating the Think Social Tech website with new projects as I take them on and share these in future posts.