Andy Bell looks at the idea that NoCode applications are a better tool for charity digital leads.
Let’s talk about NoCode.
NoCode refers to a collection of apps which allow you to develop digital services without having to write code. Instead, you assemble it from building blocks. NoCode may lack some flexibility compared to writing code yourself, but it requires less knowledge.
NoCode isn’t appropriate for everyone, in every situation, but it’ll do in most cases. It’s a bit like going to IKEA and getting a combination of mix-and-match flat-packs you can put together yourself. Sometimes, you need something hand-styled - something you can’t get in the shops. More often, the IKEA version does the trick - and far more cheaply.
I recently wrote that switching to NoCode made me four times more productive. A bold claim but one that I stand by (assuming we allow for the intrinsic impossibility of measuring productivity in digital work).
That got me wondering. Has NoCode been this significant for other people?
The short answer is: a big, emphatic YES!
I spoke to three people using NoCode at charities. All were buzzing. NoCode was empowering them. Technology had gone from being a deadweight to being a superpower.
Sonja: ‘It has grown organically: with software, flexibility is everything’
WFD aims to make political systems more inclusive and transparent. They run about 60 programmes worldwide. Evaluation in such a subjective area is always going to be tricky. What made it especially hard for WFD was the data was collected in long Word documents with little standardisation. This made comparing results impossible.
WFD wanted to improve this process. They spent four months looking for the right piece of software. They drew a blank: existing software either didn’t provide the right functionality or it cost five times the budget.
So Sonja teamed up with her colleague Rosie Frost to see what they could build themselves.
“Typically, organisations procuring new software tools have the option of either buying an off-the-shelf tool, or having a custom-built solution made by an agency,” she said. “We chose to go a third way: specifically a drag-and-drop webapp building tool called Knack.”
Using software that costs £30 a month, they built the entire monitoring system.
“Our attitude as we developed it was always ‘this is our best guess for now’ and people appreciated that,” she said. “If someone asked ‘can we add this?’ normally I could say yes. People's confidence in the system grew when they could see their suggestions being implemented.
The new system has grown organically into the heart of what we do. It helps us monitor programme delivery and results, keep track of the stakeholders we engage, and even run our internal programme performance management process. Once it was established, people wanted to move more and more processes onto the system.
Joey: “It’s like having great engineers focused on your problems”
Joey Ceunen runs IT operations at Carefree, a charity tech startup that matches vacant hotel rooms with unpaid carers to provide vital short breaks.
Joey’s first NoCode win at Carefree was the customer care system. “Because I come from the hospitality industry, customer care is top priority,” he said. “I hate to see conversations falling through the cracks.”
Joey implemented Front to ensure all inbound enquiries, whether via WhatsApp, DM, live chat, email or phone, got seen in one interface. He says: “It is the one central place for all our inbound comms. Not only is it very efficient, it also allows us to spot trends and gaps in our workflows through analytics.”
Another big win was the back end of the booking platform. Joey and his team had expected to take six months to build it. Instead, using NoCode tools Memberstack, Webflow and Zapier they slotted it together in a few weeks!
A year ago Carefree was constrained by inflexible custom code. “Our beta trials ran on code that was 80 percent custom,” he said. “A small bug in a custom setup might take days to fix. That's expensive and slow and simply not sustainable for a small charity like us.”
Now Carefree only uses 20 percent custom code. That’s for tasks that are unique to Carefree. The other 80 percent is NoCode.
“If a task is being done in hundreds of other organisations, there is a good chance that there is a NoCode solution,” Joey said. “And the beauty of the NoCode solution is, it’s like you’ve got all these great engineers focused on your problems.”
Sara: “Our Covid response wouldn’t have been so successful without NoCode”
In the first two months of the Covid crisis, Oxford Hub went from 800 to 2,300 volunteers. At the same time, Oxford Hub built a new system to cope with the caseload, using Asana at its core. Not only did their system scale smoothly, it worked so robustly that the local council adopted it as part of their Covid response.
“It was pure serendipity,” Sara said. “We were approached by a volunteer software engineer, and he made it work. In fact, he didn’t go for a pure NoCode approach. He used off-the-shelf systems, primarily Asana and Google Forms and pieced them together with custom code.”
Violating this article’s narrative of NoCode boosterism, Sara feels that prior to this episode Oxford Hub had been over-reliant on NoCode. “We had had so many experiences of someone coming in, writing custom code and disappearing, that we had made the decision to always use NoCode. But our Covid response was less rigid about only using NoCode. As a result we delivered a smoother, more integrated user experience.”
This is the first part of a series. In the next instalment, we'll hear some perspectives on the pros and cons of NoCode from our three charity digital leads.
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