How we began
Incubated CAST and funded by a group of private and public foundations and with support from government, we focused our efforts on building collaborative networks, improving digital practice, and identifying tools and services to support the sector’s digital capabilities.
How did the pandemic change things
Part of our mission was to break down the barriers preventing charities from adopting digital. With the onset of lockdown, the element of choice was removed almost overnight: charities had no option but to 'go digital' at an accelerated pace. Interactions with colleagues, staff, volunteers and other stakeholders moved almost wholly online.
In response, we shifted from being an external connector and facilitator to adopt a more hands-on approach providing immediate and urgent support for charities at various stages of their digital journey. At the beginning, this involved gathering evidence on charities’ short-term emergency needs, signposting organisations to existing support resources and identifying gaps. We filled the gaps either by creating new services (such as Dovetail, a directory of agencies working with charities, and fortnightly Digishift Zoom calls) or supporting others' development (such as Digital Candle, a free digital expert advice service, and Design Hops, a free workshop on digital service design).
In August 2020 we worked with The National Lottery Community Fund to launch a new £5 million COVID-19 digital response fund.
Through this fund, we have awarded a total of 223 grants to a variety of charities, supported by over 60 partners. These projects focused on urgent needs for marginalised communities and vulnerable groups hit hardest by the pandemic. To help as many charities in the sector as possible, we are ensuring that all funded projects will be available for others to reuse, through our Service Recipes platform and library of open working assets. In addition, the fund has enabled us to commission the creation of data initiatives (such as the Data Collective), and free design training courses from Beyond, which will help support charities into the future.
So what now?
We are continuing our ongoing digital support efforts, while simultaneously taking time to reflect on how we can collectively best serve the needs of the voluntary sector. Especially in a context so radically different from when we started. This will be a journey we go on as a network, ensuring all voices are heard and more people feel able to take part.
You can read more about our current thoughts and next steps here.
How can you get involved?
We would love to hear from organisations or individuals keen to help civil society make the best use of digital, data and design. Please find all the details on how to get involved here; we look forward to you becoming a catalyst for change!