Technology and the Voluntary Sector: Don’t (always) Believe the Hype

Gareth Lloyd at the NCVO: “One of the most important questions for voluntary sector organisations of all sizes is how their work can be supported by technology. We have talked before about how the sector needs to identify technology that is replicable and has low barriers to uptake, but we have also recently carried out a research project with Tata Consultacy Services on this issue, which involved an evidence review, mapping exercise and workshop with voluntary sector experts.

Here’s a brief overview of what we learned, including the different challenges for large and small organisations; as well as those that apply to everyone.

Grand ambitions

First, our work looked at the attraction – and possible dangers of – investing in new and largely unproven technologies. We have seen the voluntary sector undergo fleeting love affairs with new and exciting types of technology, such as big data, crowdfunding and bitcoin; and we go through periods of hearing about technologies that have the potential to change the way that the sector works…..

Defining problems and choosing solutions

For all the challenges mentioned so far, the underlying issue is the same: a mismatch between the problem to be solved and the solution implemented. The answer is to focus on the problem that you’re trying to solve, whether approaching it as a technology issue or not, and then look at the ways that technology can help you. For example, Jointly – the app developed by Carers UK to enable conversation between groups of carers – stands out as a problem that could have been addressed without use of technology, but was eventually enhanced by it.

But organisations also have to ensure that the technology used to solve those problems is cost effective, time effective, and appropriate for them in terms of where they are starting from. If the solution you choose is tying you up in knots, maybe it isn’t a solution at all.

Our research came up with some high level principles that organisations can use to avoid these problems, and try to ensure that adopting technology transforms the day-to-day activities of organisations while minimising disruption…

Think iterations, rather than discrete projects

Participants at our workshop talked about how the discrete project model doesn’t quite work when trying to embed technology at an organisation. That is, rather than these projects having straightforward planning and implementation phases, they need to be introduced iteratively, as an ongoing process of deployment, evaluation and redesign. Introducing technology in this way minimises risk, helps to ensure that the solution fits the problem, and ensures that it is tailored to the needs of the people who will use it on a day to day basis.

If you are interested in this research you can read the executive summary here, the full slide deck here, or find details of the Spark Salon event where it was launched here….(More)”