Our Deputy Chief Executive Anne Fry leads on VONNE's work on all things digital, encouraging and supporting the development and use of digital technology in the VCSE sector across the North East. The Covid-19 pandemic has seen an explosion in the use of digital technology as the sector adjusts to remote delivery. And VONNE's delivery on digital has also evolved to fit, as Anne explains in this blog post.
Our work on digital since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis has focused on two main areas – digital innovation and digital exlusion.
We adapted our previously face to face workshop series on Introducing Innovation and Developing Innovation, which looked at techniques and tools you can use to improve your services or introduce new ideas, to create a two-part webinar on how to innovate online, led by Michael Coates, MD of Protostar.
Accompanying this, we also produced a companion guide to innovating online, which not only proved useful to those signing up to the webinars but will also be a useful reference guide for the future. This has so far been downloaded more than 60 times.
Our popular Social Tech NE meetups turned into virtual Tech Lunch Tuesdays, two-hour drop-in sessions on Zoom at which people from the VCSE and tech sectors could come together to ask questions of each other and network. Nine of these virtual events were held following lockdown.
We also worked with CAST to reconfigure their previously face to face Design Hops, which are the first step, or ‘hop’, into exploring the role of digital in charitable services, demystifying technology and design, and instead placing the focus on people. Our Membership and Communications Support Officer Laura Elliot was involved in the delivery of the pilot project and we were the first to test virtual delivery, with three virtual workshops held during August.
Following lockdown, the issue of digital exclusion started to come up in almost every conversation we were having, so in June we held a roundtable on the topic, bringing together people from VCSEs, the digital sector and higher education for a discussion around the issues, and to learn from each other and make connections.
We became a delivery partner for Digital Pathfinders, a £2m fully-funded programme of support to help businesses, charities, and organisations in the North of Tyne break down barriers to using digital. Through the free programme, we're delivering digital transformation support to more than 500 businesses and organisations across Northumberland, North Tyneside and Newcastle upon Tyne over the next three years. It's a partnership between VONNE and Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley, Generator and Steam Digital – made possible by funding from the North of Tyne Combined Authority and Digital Catapult.
We've also partnered with researchers at Newcastle University’s Open Lab and Not Equal to deliver a series of 90-minute workshops on digital inclusion for the VCSE sector, bringing together people working in this area across our region to discuss what is working and what needs are unmet by current approaches, to develop new tools to support future work. Learning from these workshops will result in a good practice guide that will add to our understanding of the regional picture and support people with the design of future interventions. Participants could also choose to collaborate with Open Lab to run workshops for their service users, insights from which will also be used to inform service design.
Last but not least, VONNE is a member of Better ConNEcted, which is calling for access to the internet to be seen as a necessity so that everyone can access goods, services and information online, closing the digital divide for a fairer, more equal North East. This is just one of a number of initiatives across the region aiming to highlight and tackle digital exclusion. Hopefully we'll now begin to see these strands come together to form a cohesive and strategic approach, which deals with digital exclusion and the inequalities it exacerbates.
To find out more about, or get involved in any of these areas, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.