Digital services aren’t so new anymore. There are charities who’ve already crossed the digital ocean, dived into its depths and retrieved its treasures. We should listen to these old timers.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It’s precious as a pearl. So last year Comic the Tech for Good Hub asked six services the programme funded what hindsight advice they would give charities wanting to build digital services for the first time.
All six had been successful. They were demonstrating impact after their grant ended. So they had some experience to speak from. Here’s what they wanted to speak about to the young ‘uns:
1. Develop a concept before applying for funding
Strong concepts have a chance of funding. But concepts that have undergone some research and even testing have a much better chance. So invest time and money in developing a concept and trying to prove it before going for funding. You can even test one out using Design Hops.
Have a think of what free tools there are out there. You can test some of your thinking just using a pen and paper or loads of free apps that are already out there. That’ll give you good evidence before going to a funder.” - old timer grantee
2. Find the right tech partner
This was the first thing most of the oldies said. We’ve written about it before. But don’t only find the right partner; find funding that enables you to hire the right one without cutting corners.
Ideally the right partner will have already made a digital service dive into the social sector and be able to bridge the culture and language gap between your organisation and the techies.
3. Plan for digital maintenance and sustainability
Starting new things is an exciting and energising process. But you’ve still got to plan ahead. Consider your prospective service’s digital maintenance and sustainability beyond grant end (e.g. ongoing funding and how it fits your organisation’s offerings). Don’t wait, do it now.
Have a think about the costs and the legalities of it - what would ordinarily be the boring bits -rather than getting sucked into the exciting social impact bit of it.” - old timer grantee
4. Get backing from your senior staff
Good digital leadership and senior management buy-in is really important. Without it you’re unlikely to get funding. But it's more than just about getting backed, it’s being able to identify the right project sponsor and the right project lead. Then it’s all about giving them support and making sure there’s a great team around them.
5. Manage expectations
Yours. Mine. Everybody’s.
Be realistic. Be wise about what’s achievable. Avoid over-promising in your funding bid or delivery plan. There’s no excuse not to educate yourself about the levels of success you can achieve at an early stage.
Then educate your team, your boss, your senior managers and trustees. Help them understand why your early outputs could be less than a traditional face-to-face project, but much higher later on.
6. Get users involved from the start
Starting with user needs and keeping them involved is a core digital service principle. You can do this in different ways. Either way you’ve got to make sure you meet user needs. This doesn’t mean asking them what they want, but it does mean understanding their needs and experience.
I think that it’s important to understand what the service or the project is and who the audience is. So, first of all making sure it’s a well-defined project. The audience is really important, who’s it for, what’s its purpose and what’s the outcome going to be.”
7. Be brutal about your knowledge gaps
You’re going on a new journey. You don't know what it's going to be like. But you can learn about what to expect. Learn about agile development processes, different types of value and the challenges ahead. Read about user experience and the differences between co-production and service design. Fill your head with knowledge. It won’t give you experience but it will help you avoid making it up as you go along.
One day it could be you
Running your first digital service project will teach you a lot. One day you could be sharing your tips and wisdom on this blog, or even writing about your experiences.
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