Digital Charities North East

This guest post is from David Van der Velde, Managing Director of Consult and Design 

Supporting Tech Enabled Social Innovation in the North East

In early June 2018, I was at Philanthropy House in Newcastle, a former Methodist chapel which is now the home of the Community Foundation to speak to a group of social leaders about what the sector can do to benefit from the opportunities provided by new technology.

In this article and the presentation, I want to highlight what innovation can mean for the North East’s voluntary sector and set out a shared vision for achieving social impact through a coordinated innovation programme that will build capacity and help to overcome barriers to adopting new technology in the sector.

I was invited to the meeting by VONNE who represent over 1000 member charities, voluntary organisations, community groups, networks and social enterprises in the region.

Consult and Design (C&D) have been working with VONNE and others to develop the Digital Charities North East programme to support tech enabled social innovation in the region. The programme emerged from a concept note Consult and Design put to VONNE concerning how to build the capacity of VCSE organisations in the North East to do more with digital.

C&D deliver projects where technology meets learning and communities and our senior staff have many years’ experience of the not for profit world, connecting people with technology to change the way we live and work. Working closely with the tech community and with tech clusters, such as Digital Union and Sunderland Software City as well as experience working in and with the voluntary sector puts us in a good position to understand the cultural differences between the sectors and to help bring them together to make things happen.

[NB. The meeting was the day after Donald Trump’s first meeting with Kim Jong Un, hence the somewhat tongue in cheek use of the image of these two in the presentation above].

Innovation = “Connecting What’s Possible with What’s Needed to Create Value”

The above definition of innovation is from Prof. Roy Sandbach, who wrote the region’s innovation strategy for the LEP. It underpins what we are aiming to do with the Digital Charities Programme in helping VCSE organisations work together with technology specialists.

This isn’t only about changing culture in not for profits -  a sector widely known to be behind the curve on the uptake of new tech, but it’s also about supporting tech firms to learn from working alongside organisations with a social purpose.

From digital photography to taxis we’ve seen numerous tech enabled innovations that have disrupted entire industries and changed the world. In the North East region, there are multiple innovation programmes running to support both tech start ups as well as established organisations who want to innovate and find new ways of working. This kind of innovation is backed by private investors as well as governmental institutions who all recognise the massive potential to generate value from tech enabled innovation.

What we need to see now is that same innovative thinking in the voluntary sector backed up by philanthropic funders and ethical tech specialists to make change happen.

Good News!

The good news is that in the voluntary sector where investment in technology lags far behind the private sector, there remains significant untapped potential - potential to innovate with technology in ways that can massively multiply the impact of VCSE activity, can empower communities to do more for themselves and can reduce the gap between service users and the people making decisions which affect them.

The Digital Charities programme aims to increase capacity in the following four areas:

  • Leadership - supporting social leaders with the networks and know-how to drive forward digital innovation.
  • Data and Innovation - delivering service design programmes and technology workshops to identify opportunities where technology can change the way we live and work.
  • Prototypes and pilots -  give social leaders and innovators the opportunity to work alongside software specialists to take their ambitious, tech based ideas through an innovation process to plan, build and demonstrate how they can work.
  • Skills - a comprehensive programme to embed new ways of working and support whole team, whole system change.

Together these four strands will equip organisations to understand the digital landscape and develop effective strategies, partnerships and know-how to realise their innovation potential.

Feedback, Comments and Big Ideas

There’s currently more information about the programme on the VONNE website as well as a link to a survey that social leaders are invited to complete.

If you’re already on board and have an ambitious idea for a tech enabled social innovation, then get in touch for a chat. The plan is to have resources in place by Autumn of 2018 to support the first big ideas through the innovation process.