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The Digitisation of Services

The charitable sector embraces digital platforms to improve information flow, data sharing, transparency, and the visibility of impact being delivered.

As with many sectors, charities will progressively seek to use digital platforms, not just to make the most of the increasing quantity and quality of data available, but also to reinvent how their services can be delivered or extended. Although some are still cautious about its potential, “digital has suddenly become a panacea in the eyes of some researchers, who believe apps are needed for everything,” most believe we are at the start of significant change: “It will help charities to drive thinking, identify where the gaps are, and where they can most effectively make a contribution.” Innovative initiatives such as DevicesDotNow, which helps to provide internet access to those who are currently unconnected, and the Coronavirus Tech Handbook, were cited as good examples of the transformational potential data can offer.

Although starting from a pretty low base, as “there is a huge data gap – we don’t even know how many veterans there are”, most consider that we are now at a point of inflection: “The Covid-19 crisis has driven home to most charities that you must have digital channels.” But it has also made digital inequalities more obvious; “those who are already in the most at-risk situations generally don’t have access, so digitisation is compounding their risk.”

Some charity executives “look at digital with a degree of apprehension, rather more as a threat than an opportunity,” and it is clear that adapting to the digital environment will take time and upfront investment, and will present challenges, particularly for established organisations dependent on volunteers with little or no experience. “We are possibly in a generational shift, in the interregnum and not dealing with it very well. But it’s a generational shift on steroids, so we will have to adapt.”

Although this may still be disorienting for some, there is a sense of optimism that there will be significant positive change in the decade ahead. “Data is much more powerful, in a way, than charities simply reporting on their outcomes – it shows what people really need.” If used collaboratively, it can certainly help the sector better understand the needs of their beneficiaries and their families. On one level, it provides granularity about those who are vulnerable; “we have data from financial hardship charities and grant-making organisations in this space, and can now look geographically at where demand lies regionally.” On another, it “offers further user involvement – there is more space for veterans themselves to help shape the strategy of Armed Forces charities … I don’t mean those on the board; I mean those likely to need to use the services.”

Of course, there are likely to be changes brought about by increasing the use of digital platforms to address the challenges of transition by ex-Service personnel themselves. But more significant is the possibility for service providers not only to find new ways of reaching out to those in need, but also to deliver far more personalised services based on better data and more integrated datasets. Looking specifically at the Transition Journey, digitally delivered and recorded resettlement packages provided during the ‘Preparing’ phases of the journey, for example, could be connected with the kinds of service provision that are sought and given during the ‘Integrating’ and ‘Settling’ phases. Similarly, digital health records (or other records of service use) could be used to greatly enhance the ability of the service providers encountered in a later stage to deliver meaningful help to ex-Service personnel experiencing hard times.

Example Implication: Digital-first service delivery will allow bespoke support pathways to be created and easily accessed by beneficiaries, but this may challenge established working processes.

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