Start small, test and iterate – creating a new digital service at SafeLives (Guest post) » Charity Digital News

Start small, test and iterate – creating a new digital service at SafeLives (Guest post)

“I completed CAST’s Digital Fellowship in 2016 – I went in an enthusiast, and came out an evangelist – and now I firmly believe charities can achieve their ambitions much faster, more cheaply and more effectively if they embrace tech and digital,” says Suzanne Jacob, Deputy Chief Exec, SafeLives. “I was going to write this blog, but having seen the team go from fearful to flying in just over six months, why would I? They tell the story much better themselves.”

“Facebook was started in Mark Zuckerberg’s bedroom, so my daughter recently informed me,” continues Natalie Blagrove, Senior Advisor, SafeLives Knowledge Hub. “I’d been telling her about SafeLives’ new project, the SafeLives Community, and maybe a small part of that conversation had involved some hand wringing on my part.

“You see, we’d been given a small grant of £20,000 by Comic Relief to build an online platform for professionals responding to domestic abuse. “Well,” I thought, “surely it’s gonna cost a lot more than that!” But do you know what? I’m happy to say I was wrong and, twelve months later, the SafeLives Community is a now real, evolving and responsive platform.”


The journey

“So how did we get here? The first step was to identify and understand the problem – what were professionals in the sector telling us? They were telling us that they needed networking opportunities, but had no cash or time to travel. They wanted to be able to learn from each other and from professionals across the UK, but there were limited opportunities to do so. They wanted to exchange ideas, identify and share good practice, but had no platform that enabled such sharing. And finally, they wanted to access the expertise at SafeLives quickly and easily, asking questions of us and each other.

“These problems led to us working with an online platform provider to develop software that could evolve and adapt to meet the many needs of our varied audience.

“When Suzanne told us she was completing a CAST Digital Fellowship, I admit, I had no idea what it meant – or what it would mean for our organisation. To start with, it meant our teams got to take part in a ‘hack day’, led and facilitated by CAST. That day was pivotal in our thinking about the solution to our identified problem because, although we had a piece of functioning software, we hadn’t really defined what our online platform would, could or should look like. CAST helped us take this idea and guided us to think about the ‘minimal viable product’ (a phrase that has become almost a mantra!). In other words, what was the smallest possible version of our big idea? Because big ideas are scary and have a habit of becoming even bigger, therefore we needed a really small place to start.

“We left that hack day knowing that we didn’t need to launch an all singing, all dancing product. We left understanding terms such as ‘sprint’ and ‘agile’. We left knowing what our next steps needed to be. And, most importantly for our team, we left knowing that our minimal viable product was good; we were ready to test it and ready to respond to any feedback. In short, we had a solid and realistic plan.

“We followed that plan, completing two short development sprints with a small number of co-developers – external users who used the Community, clicked on stuff, posted content, played about with it and then told us what they thought. After our second sprint we invited CAST to a meeting where we reviewed our progress and looked at next steps. Their feedback was, and continues to be, incredibly helpful to a very non-techy team such as ours. We’ve achieved a lot but we’re not at the end. As CAST say – test, iterate, test, iterate!”

CAST is currently recruiting for its 2017 Digital Fellowship. If you are interested, please complete this form and someone will be in touch soon.

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