Lessons from the Charity Digital Code of Practice: Lesson 2 – User led

Charity Digital trustee and Chair of the Charity Digital Code of Practice Zoe Amar sits down with DataKind UK to talk about the lessons from the Code around putting users at their heart of digital services they deliver.

Guest Writer | 21st May 19

Since the launch of the Charity Digital Code of Practice, charities have been exploring how digital skills can help them increase their impact, efficiency and sustainability through its framework of helpful guidance points.

Zoe Amar, Chair of the Code and founder of digital agency and social enterprise Zoe Amar Digital is talking with charities and their digital partners about how best to put the Code’s key principles to practical use, starting with the first in the series: ‘Principle 1 – Leadership’ with Age UK’s Lara Burns.

This time Amar sat down with Giselle Cory, Executive Director, and Tracey Gyateng, Data Science Manager, at Datakind UK, to discuss how to build user-led digital services that ensure the needs and behaviours of people are kept at the heart of everything charities do digitally.


Amar: You were involved in commenting on the draft Charity Digital Code of Practice. What strikes you about how charities currently plan for user needs?

Giselle Cory: Small charities might have a lot of data about service users, but often the data that is collected is to meet funders’ requirements, with little time available for charities to reflect on how to turn data into insights to help their strategy. Charities need to make looking at their data a priority, asking themselves if they are delivering the outcomes they need to. You need qualitative and quantitative data to answer those questions.

Hiring data scientists and investing in systems will help. But it’s not just the resources, it’s also the mindset. If budgets and time are tight we suggest seeking pro bono support from Datakind UK. The Royal Statistical Society do some pro bono schemes, as well as Pro Bono Economics. There are other good resources out there. The Coalition for Efficiency can help provide support on measurement outcomes, 360 Giving have opened up lots of funders’ data, and Superhighways are good at getting small organisations tooled up.


Amar: As a small charity, how are you applying the user principle in The Charity Digital Code of Practice?

Tracey Gyateng: We’re applying the Code in how we work with the two groups we interact with, ie our volunteers, and also the social change organisations we work with. The importance of being user led, which is a core principle of the Code has made us aware of the need to build in time for both of these communities to contribute and inform our work. The code is useful in helping us to measure against best practice.


Amar: Where should charities start when looking to understand users? What data should they collect?

Gyateng: Start with the data you already hold and take the time to explore that. If we think about service delivery, charities will have access to demographic and other information which can help them profile who they are working with.

You can build up a picture of engagement, for example how often people come to your services, and how they interact with them. You can also look at social media and web analytics and understand how your users (ie beneficiaries, supporters and other stakeholders) are interacting with your charity online.

Many charities also collect feedback data and it’s another source of insights into your supporters’ wants and needs, and what could be improved. Only collect new data if you can’t get what you want from the existing data.

When developing products and services quantitative data is key, but so is qualitative data, which helps you to do a deep dive, understanding who your users really are and what they need. Triangulating all this data will help you really understand them.


Amar: How can time poor charity leaders stay on top of data about users?

Cory: Time poor leaders should make it everyone’s responsibility to stay on top of data. Create a supportive learning culture in the organisation encouraging everyone to stay on top of data, including when it goes wrong. Data is one of the most valuable assets the organisation has, but it can also be a liability if not carefully protected. Everyone needs to find a way to blend data with their main job.

Automation can help, which can be as simple as setting up systems to automatically export/copy from your database to Excel, using formulas to generate reports.


Amar: What’s the biggest mistake you see charities making about users’ data, and how can they avoid it?

Gyateng: Charities sometimes see data as a liability, but it’s also a signficant opportunity which should not be ignored. For some charities GDPR has been a huge burden, but it’s been a useful way to pull everything together. Data is not a bolt on activity and has operational as well as strategic value. Ultimately charities should use data and the information and insights it brings to inform the decisions they make.