How Brighton Women’s Centre is bringing digital to life

Every charity deserves a chance to learn how to ‘do’ digital services – CAST’s free Design Hops give them that chance, as tech for good specialist Joe Roberson explains.

Guest Writer | 19th Mar 19
Image credit: CAST

Digital services are fast becoming a hot topic across the charity sector.

In the last 12 months funders have launched £15.5M of programmes. Over 900 charities signed up to the Tech for Good Hub. ‘Tech for Good’ charity, CAST, launched their Digital Service Design principles. And the government has recognised the need for strong digital leadership across the sector by investing £1 million in it.

There’s plenty of evidence for why digitising delivery is necessary for any charity offering a service. As a result we stand on the threshold of digital services going mainstream. But most charities are stuck here. Stuck because they don’t know how to step forward into this brave new world.

We need to use tech better

That’s where Brighton Women’s Centre (BWC) were at. They deliver vital services for women who have experienced trauma or are survivors of abuse or discrimination, including women who are homeless or involved in the criminal justice system. They work hard to make a difference with limited resources. BWC had started to think about how they could make tech work better for them.

Then, at a conference on collaborative working, Partnerships and Development Manager Sophie Gibson heard about a series of free digital workshops CAST was running, intriguingly called ‘Design Hops’. She quickly signed up.

Focusing on beneficiaries

“I wanted to think about our organisation’s use of tech, but at the Hop they made me think about our service users,” said Gibson.

Although her first thought was about how digital could help tackle her organisation’s problems, she hadn’t realised how much it could be used to focus on their service users’ needs, problems and daily lives – nor that this could be a more powerful starting point for exploring BWC’s use of digital.

“The invitation from CAST was to think hard about the assumptions we were making and how we might test them,” said Gibson. “It was a constant and invigorating pushback. Because as professionals we are at risk of assuming.”

A plan comes together

It’s important to have a rigorous process to prioritise what’s important. Gibson had an idea around providing out-of-hours services and spent the afternoon working through the problem.

She explains: “We went through all these talk-think talk-think exercises, working through the problem. Then at the end we took all those bits and rejigged them into this really clear plan.”

In Gibson and BWC’s case that plan describes how to research and test the idea of a digital product that provides out-of-hours support and information. The very first step is to validate the need itself – by talking to real users and understanding when they most need help, and how they access information more generally.

Motivated and inspired to take action

The next day Sophie arrived at work and immediately began validating the need. That process is currently ongoing but she’s come away motivated to take action.

“I’ve often been on courses where I don’t take the next steps, to turn the intention into reality. But this time I actually did,” says Gibson.

Ellie Hale, Design Hops and Communities Lead at CAST adds: “Getting started isn’t difficult. Any charity can do it. It’s a myth that digital services have to be big, expensive, time-consuming, or difficult – in fact, that’s what’s held our sector back. It should be about whatever delivers the most value in solving real problems, which could be as simple as a WhatsApp group or a Typeform.”

CAST are offering a countrywide programme of free local Hops so that everyone can attend. Find out more on their website.