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5 projects look back on what they’ve learnt about implementing digital technology into their services.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We can look back with understanding borne of experience. Understanding that comes from being there, from doing the work. This understanding is not only valuable to us, but also to others. We can share it, pass it on, so others might benefit from the wisdom we gained.

That’s what this blog tries to do. It shares five pieces of wisdom from projects who have been there and done it, into a form that you might use.

[All these projects were funded in 2021 by the Catalyst and The National Lottery Community Fund COVID-19 Digital Response programme.]

1. Think big, act small

The West of England Centre for Inclusive Living (WECIL) prototyped a digital-first process to onboard people with disabilities to their Direct Payments support service, using Jotform. Supported by We Are Open.

They initially hoped to build a ‘super-duper portal’. They ended up building a prototype that can be evolved and integrated into their CRM.

“My big tip for other charities would be to think big, but act small; there's no point in aiming for perfection, because you'll never get anything done. You need to go with something and learn from that first attempt. Start somewhere small and evolve.”

Matthew Young, WECIL

Celia Suppiah, CEO at Parents 1st UK gives similar advice: “If you’re starting a digital project, think step-by-step and not the whole picture in one go. Put the foundations in and then build onto that.”  

2. Don’t get trapped by your ideas 

Scouts, a federated charity with previous digital experience, built a platform for volunteers to assess their digital skills and knowledge against what they needed for their role, and access resources to help them improve. Supported by Yalla Cooperative

“If there is a really clear vision about the outcomes you don’t need to know what the digital solution will look like or how you are going to get there. The focus should be on how to turn the product and journey into something that is outcome, not output, driven to avoid being ‘trapped into’ one idea or approach.” 

Rachel Wilkinson, Senior Product Manager at Scouts

Ashley Hind, Help Services Manager at The Proud Trust says similar: “Be open to change, be adaptable and remain informed by the process, rather than having a set idea on a solution that will be ‘perfect’. Your initial ideal might not turn out to be what is needed.”

3. Manage failure, keep testing

Once Voice Blackburn implemented a member onboarding website feature, a member mailing tool and a team collaboration platform. Supported by Outlandish.

Outlandish encouraged One Voice Blackburn to learn from the unsuccessful implementation of their initial ideas, rather than view them negatively. They asked them to shift their mindset around failure.

“One of the best things about the programme was that we were encouraged to keep testing, to accept and admit failure. It was more about making sure that we tested our new programmes, with our service users, with our members. So, the solutions didn't come from one person, it came from our membership itself.”

Zaffer Khan, CEO, One Voice Blackburn

4. Reap the knock-on effect 

The Proud Trust developed a digital support service for LGBTQ+ young people: web chat with a LGBTQ+ youth worker and semi-interactive help resources. Supported by Subzero.

One digital project can inspire and spread change across a whole organisation. If you let it.

“Because of the funded work we have redeveloped and integrated our mentoring portal with our website and CRM. This has led to wider participation - mentors and young people from outside of Greater Manchester accessing it.” 

Ashley Hind, Help Services Manager at The Proud Trust

WECIL did the same. Matthew Young said “we are using ideas from the programme for other projects we are working on. It has made WECIL more digitally mature.”

5. No code tools can save money

Parents 1st UK used Airtable to simplify a complicated volunteer recruitment, training and management process. Supported by Reply and Tom French.

Many challenges can be solved by using No Code tools. You probably still need specialist support to configure and implement them well, but it costs less than building something new with code. Read more.

“Airtable allows you to capture information, send forms and automate processes. Its beauty is it can give you an overview and help you manage information much better. Rather than having to hunt through different files, you can see things at a glance. Also, having someone who's a whizz at Airtable helps you to move through things much quicker because when you've got a problem, you can ask.“

Celia Suppiah, CEO, Parents 1st UK

Words of encouragement

If you’re not one of the 158 organisations who got funded by the programme you can still benefit from the work that others carried out. We are creating a library of over 600 presentations, design assets and writings about what each project did and how they did it. This library will go live in 2022 but you can already find things - learn how

Alternatively search all Catalyst’s resources on implementing digital into your organisation’s work. 

Good luck!

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