Tech for good organisation, CAST (the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology), has been awarded £1.12m from the Big Lottery Fund to boost the effective use of digital technology among charities.
For too long, the social sector has lagged behind in its understanding and use of digital to improve engagement with communities. Over three years, the funding will enable CAST to tackle this head-on, expanding its work in supporting organisations to develop new digital products that will transform their service provision.
The support will involve wrapping a bespoke team of designers, developers and business support around the staff of voluntary and community sector organisations, bringing together the knowledge of the social issue with the digital skills of a tech team.
The funding will finance two initiatives: an intensive product ‘accelerator’ programme, which will work closely with 12 charities across the UK over three years to build new digital services; and a set of learning tools, templates and publications delivered on and off-line that will offer wider sector support around digital development and help participating organisations to share their learning.
CAST has successfully developed and tested the accelerator model over recent months through Fuse, a one-year programme funded by Comic Relief, which merges the fast-paced ‘lean’ and ‘agile’ processes, popular in the tech start-up community, with the scale, networks and reputation of established charities. These processes provide a framework for risk-reduced, cost-effective innovation, helping the organisations respond to a changing environment by breaking digital projects into short, manageable stages with constant testing.
Fuse has tapped into a huge demand and has to date supported four national charities to co-develop compelling new digital products with their beneficiaries. For example, CAST has overseen the creation of BECCA, Breast Cancer Care’s new community support app, and QuidsIn, Oxfam’s digital payment service for families on the cusp of food poverty. The Big Lottery Fund award will help a far greater number of charities and voluntary organisations across the UK benefit from this intensive development process and follow-on support.
The learning resources will draw on CAST’s experience from working with a range of charities through its Fellowship and accelerator programmes, and will include peer support together with a digital innovation kit that a voluntary and community sector organisation can use to steer its own route to digital transformation. It is an important contribution towards creating a digitally confident and active social sector.
Dan Sutch, co-founder and director of CAST, said: “The digital revolution isn’t about apps and websites; it’s about a fundamental change in the way we find information, people and support. At the heart of great digital development is a shift to user-led, test-driven design, working closely with people and their communities to create effective and empowering services. We urgently need to engage community organisations to join this revolution, and harness the potential of digital technology to achieve their mission.
“We’re hugely excited about helping the sector achieve this with Big Lottery Fund’s backing. This is not just about building digital capabilities, but also the skills, processes and tools that put people at the heart of development and services. The programmes we’re developing will enable nonprofits to do this and to thrive in the digital age.”
Joe Ferns, UK knowledge and portfolio Director, Big Lottery Fund, added: “Digital technology is a key enabler for people to make their own choices. This project will generate significant learning that will lead to the sector making better use of digital technology in delivering vital services to people so they can take better control of their lives. It will also stimulate digital take-up in the sector and provide evidence of how charities can use technology to expand already proven interventions, generate organisational change and aid sustainability.”
CAST will begin inviting applications for its digital accelerator later this year, with the first two charities starting in 2017. CAST will be looking for voluntary and community sector organisations operating a tested non-digital model of intervention, that have shown an appetite for engaging in digital transformation, and federated organisations with local autonomous branches but have a national scale.
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