INTERVIEW: Robin Knowles, Founder of the Digital Leaders programme » Charity Digital News

INTERVIEW: Robin Knowles, Founder of the Digital Leaders programme


Robin Knowles is one of the founders of the Digital Leaders programme, a resource network for individuals and organisations across the UK and beyond who are committed to delivering sustainable and innovative digital transformation.

We recently caught up with Robin to discuss the work of Digital Leaders, its relevance to the charity sector and its involvement in this year’s Digital Leaders 100which recognises leadership and innovation in harnessing digital technology and the internet as providers of information, key services and social interaction. 

Digital Leaders 100 is organised in conjunction with our sister publication, Digital by Default News – click here to find out more and cast your vote now.

How did the Digital Leaders programme come into being?

We started Digital Leaders in 2010 because we could see that a lot of our leaders, particularly in the public and non-profit sectors were being told to use digital to transform what they did.

While, like me, not from a digital background, they knew they could no longer delegate “digital” out of the boardroom and away from the heart of their organisation’s decision making, strategies, policy direction and services, but they needed a safe and analogue way to access good ideas and their peers to avoid the pitfalls of isolation, reinvention and the more disruptive elements of this change.

Digital Leaders provides a free-to-participate-in, cross-sector network that gives access to physical events where leaders and senior civil servants across the public sector, industry and NGOs (and who are actually far from digital people) can engage with digital and, as a result, use it to change their strategy and policy mind-set, planning of services and their own organisational structures.

Can you tell us a bit about the key activities of Digital Leaders?

The Digital Leaders network spans over 9,000 people, including central and local government representatives, private/third sector organisations, parliamentarians, SMEs and academics.

This network also involves international contributors currently from across three continents, and cuts across traditional political, geographical, hierarchical and gender divides.

Our on-going mission is to expand this network to make it ever more representative of the rich spectrum of views and perspectives surrounding digital transformation.

We deliver a programme of three conferences, events like the Annual Lecture in parliament, monthly salons, monthly webinars and monthly networking events in London and now the UK regions. These equip leaders with the digital leadership knowledge, information, inspiration and networks needed to transform the use of technology in the UK’s public services and civic society.

How is the work of Digital Leaders particularly relevant to those working in the healthcare sector?

About 800 of the Digital Leaders are in the charity sector. The sector is often criticised for not using technology enough, both internally to drive efficiencies and reduce costs and in the way the organisations deliver services to beneficiaries. Where does a leader in such an organisation go to get the help and find a network where their fellow members face similar problems? This is about leveraging technology for social benefit, not about knowing how Twitter works.

What inspired the Digital Leaders 100 and what are your hopes for this year’s event?

The Digital Leaders 100 was inspired by the digital leaders themselves, who showed a real enthusiasm for the awards last year, voting in droves. The final list last year was excellent and contained those who are the undoubted leaders across the sectors, but also celebrated relatively unknown new leaders. The digital leaders called for two changes: new categories to allow more segmentation of the community, in response to which we have added 5 categories; and more time to nominate, which we are giving this year.

We are using the Digital Leaders dinner that traditionally takes place after the National Digital Conference to announce the list and give the awards.

My hope for the 2014 list is that it inspires all the digital leaders to get more involved and to encourage and reward those that are demonstrating exceptional outcomes and delivery for excellence. I hope all of us are about to discover some great new individuals and services.

Nominations are now open for this year’s Digital Leaders 100. You can cast your votes across 10 categories, including Health Product or Service. Click here to nominate now.

The Digital Leaders 100 is also a great opportunity for your company to get significant brand exposure. Join CACI, Siteimprove and Sopra Group and become a sponsor. Download the sponsorship package here for full details of how to get involved.

 Sponsored by:

Related reading

A graphic advertising eBay for Charity, powered by PayPal Giving Fund. It reads 'Get picked' with a picture of five apples in a row, one red in the middle and two green on each side. Underneath it the tagline reads 'Grow your donations on eBay'.
A headshot photograph of Jo Barnett, Executive Director of Virgin Money Giving.
  • Paul Munim

    Very useful to recognise digital leaders as we need role models to learn from. We have created a website which is about enabling people to find their local voluntary and community sector organisations through simple postcode search. We believe that digital can have an important impact in this area by connecting people to their local community organisations and making people aware of who is offering what services in their area. For example, we have found many people just living without help or support and not realising there are local organisations they could have accessed. Our concern is that if people do not access local organisations earlier when their needs are easier to address than later on they potentially become a problem for the statutory sector such as NHS because by then they have experienced severe problems such as stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure etc.