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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 increasingly 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. Some, however, are still cautious about its transformational potential. “Digital has suddenly become a panacea in the eyes of some researchers, where apps are needed for everything.” Others are frustrated by the lack of strategy; “it all still feels quite piecemeal.” But most believe we are at the start of significant change and are more upbeat: “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 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.

Looking ahead, those we spoke to felt that the digitisation of services will drive the greatest change particularly around transparency, engagement, and focus. But this starts from a pretty low basis, as “there is a huge data gap – we don’t even know how many veterans there are!”

There was also widespread recognition that the way people receive and share information is changing, and for most, receiving information through an app is now perfectly normal. “It’s still the individual having to work the journey out for themselves, but it’s now all about navigation and the provision of holistic services to the individual.” Making it easier for the majority of beneficiaries to access support and information makes it simpler for charities to focus “on the ‘vulnerable few’ who transition with difficulty.” Most consider that we are now at a point of inflection: “The Covid19 crisis has driven home to most charities that you must have digital channels, but it has also made starker digital inequalities obvious – those who are digitally excluded and those who are not. It is those who are already in the most at risk situations who don’t have access, so is a compounding of that risk.”

As more data is made available, expectations around greater transparency and visibility of impact will increase. However, the transformation may not be as speedy as some would wish. Some charities “might be nervous about changing the model”, as there may be modifications to “the ways that services are commissioned, the way money is ring-fenced and allocated, which ties them to a particular model that they have been delivering for a long time.” , This may explain why several “look at digital with a degree of apprehension, rather more as a threat than an opportunity – it will potentially drive fundamental change.”

If used collaboratively, digital engagement and interaction 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 too, 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.”

It seems, as we heard in one interview, that “we are possibly in a generational shift, are 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.”

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

 

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