Challenge, energy, insight and kudos: the story of one charity leader’s journey through our four-week digital discovery programme.

After taking leave to get married Zara returned to a surprise at work. 

Her organisation, End Youth Homelessness (EYH), had been selected to join the Discovery Learning Programme. The programme came with a £5,000 grant, and involved a month of learning-focused support with one of EYH’s digital challenges. 

Zara returns to work…

As National Programmes Manager Zara was asked to lead EYH’s discovery process. She returned to work on a Wednesday. The programme had already started on the Monday!

For Zara, this was a bit of a stretch. Though she described herself as “always looking to see how I could improve” the programme would mean focusing away from her day-today-role and on “the ideas we’d been talking about for years but not taken time to look into them or make the leap”.

It felt as if she was jumping in at the deep end. Zara wondered...

What about all the jargon? Would she understand it?

What about all her other work? Would it suffer because she gave attention to digital for a while?

And would taking four weeks to focus solely on digital, data and design be worth it? Or would the end result be a let down?

Discovery is the important first step

We recommend that any charity with a digital challenge goes through a discovery process. You can do it solo or with support. It helps you properly scope out the challenge or problem, surface people’s assumptions about it, dig up the underlying issues and critically examine initial ideas and solutions. This helps you avoid spending money on solutions that won’t work. Or even worse, spending money on solving the wrong problem (something that happens painfully often).

Zara and her team had a challenge to solve.

The collaboration challenge

“We weren’t working as smartly or as effectively as we could be with networking our members.” - Zara

Zara saw the chance to explore how EYH and its member charities could use digital tools better. But there was also a specific challenge she wanted to solve. 

All their member charities needed to deliver more services to young people remotely. This needed to be consistent and high quality. But to do this they needed new ways to collaborate, and to be able to do so more frequently and effectively. Zara’s team ran webinars and events but their members had not identified an easy way of communicating with each other in between these moments. 

Exciting and re-energising

“It’s been a great experience. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s made a big difference to me.” - Zara

For Zara the programme was better than expected. 

It was challenging but also well supported by We Are Open Co-op, one of eleven digital agencies recruited to train and mentor Zara and 102 other charities. Over the four weeks, they guided her through a full discovery process. This included:

  • Examining EYH’s initial problem statement and identifying their assumptions about it
  • Undertaking desk based user research
  • Carrying out 1-1 user interviews with people from EYH Member Charities
  • Continuously coming back to check assumptions by using a knowledge board
  • Redefining the problem statement and drafting user need statements
  • Identifying possible solutions
  • Learning how they might go about prototyping and testing those solutions 
  • Planning the next stage of their new project

This might sound like a lot to learn but Zara said The facilitation was great. Really clear. Even though a lot of concepts and terms were new we were guided through it really well.”

At the same time the process was valuable in how it helped Zara take a step back and examine the bigger digital picture for EYH. She told us “usually there's no time to review and assess what's been going well and not well, and what could be more effective.”

Her colleagues also saw the benefit and rallied round to help her find the time she needed to follow the programme. In this way it gave them the opportunity to declare, in their actions, that digital matters to EYH. Zara explained “the support was great, my colleagues took on different things. I got out of my comfort zone and asked them to help. And they did.”

There were Aha! moments

Every journey into digital and design generates Aha! moments. Not only as you start to understand and build faith in a design-first approach, but also in the unexpected insights it reveals. Zara describes two Aha! moments:

“I had assumed that by now our members would have been providing a lot of remote support with young people. But they were providing less than we expected. Digital was being used cautiously and inconsistently. Staff members did not feel confident using tech. 

I was also hearing about what tech people use in their personal life. We don't often talk about these personal things at work but it gave me a more rounded picture of what people felt comfortable using.” - Zara

Both these insights helped Zara think in a more informed way about what software their members would feel comfortable using to communicate with each other in real time.

And there was kudos

Zara got credit for what she brought back from the programme too. Her colleagues were very interested in hearing what she learnt from user interviews. She explains more “They were interested to hear because it wasn't at all what any of us expected. Without the insight into people’s behaviours and actual needs we might have designed something that would not have worked!”

There was more kudos through the techniques Zara learnt: “The programme was full of little tips and tidbits about how we could be communicating and collaborating better digitally. I’m definitely sharing some of the facilitation tricks I learnt.” 

Jargon no more

Now Zara understands what a ‘user journey’ is (a way of telling the story that your users experience when using your services). And she knows that a ‘touchpoint’ is a way of describing the moments or milestones on their journey when they interact with your service. These are the kind of terms she felt unsure about before. 

Ready for the next step

Zara ended the programme having completed a full Discovery process. When we spoke to her EYH were planning to test some free or low-cost solutions. They’ve since done this and have applied for further funding to develop a more tailored solution. 

Join a future programme

We hope to run similar programmes in 2021. In the meantime if you’d like to get support with your digital challenge try Digital Candle or a Design Hop (both free).

Photo by Jakob Boman on Unsplash

Our Catalyst network - what we do

Support & services

Our free services help you make the right decisions and find the right support to make digital happen.

Learn what other non-profits are doing

39+ organisations share 50+ Guides to how they use digital tools to run their services. Visit Shared Digital Guides.