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Transformation traumas - who pays?

Are we spraying and praying in the name of access to justice technology?

'Digital transformation' - two words which should strike fear into the heart of a leader. Not because its a bad idea but because its an abused term, often peddled by the inexpert to the unknowing, in the desire to go better/faster/cheaper with  some tech and a few tweaks to the way you work. If only…

But its bigger than that and the clue is in the name. All digital transformation is (whisper it... 'transformative') aka major heart surgery which requires assessment, prep, expertise and fitness, followed by commitment through the operation and a recovery period afterward. You wouldnt just wake up one morning and run a marathon with no planning or preparation would you? Yet too many organisations are embarking on the self same thing without thinking it through.

Innovate or die?

Digital innovation may or may not be digital transformation. We all need to evolve, to innovate, to improve. But beware of the difference. Innovation may be doing something uniquely new, adapting something else so its new to you or indeed transforming your very essence in the name of technology.

Types of project

So what kind of projects sit along the spectrum of digital transformation?  

Level one is strategies and scoping exercises. They require internal commitment and honest dialogue but are usually straightforward. They can act as a health check and are a good way of dipping a toe in the water. It may clarify a ‘good idea but it can also, importantly, quash a rather stupid one. IT reviews are a subset of this level.

Level one is also upgrading your IT infrastructure - a new server, new PCs and faster internet connection is fairly straightforward (its essentially a refresh). Its baseline stuff and you need to refresh/improve your kit regularly, just like you need to get a new pair of shoes if you do a lot of walking or trade in your old car for a model that doesnt break down as often. If you are using six year old PCs on a slow internet connection then do something about it.

Yet who would get a new server these days? Level two is ‘moving to cloud'. This depends on how organised you were in first place and commitment to manage it well. If half your data is on paper, most of your staff have a completely independent filing system and no one ‘really collaborates, then this could be a bigger challenge than you think. Youll probably be accessing data in different ways with different security and management implications and need to think carefully about filing structures. After all, sticking Doc1.doc somewhere in the cloud isn't going to make it easy to find. Information architecture and training are key.

Level two is also using new collaborative online tools. There are lots of them about from online project management, messaging, time tracking, HR etc. Their features are often layered by price point. The key is to know what you need (clear specification and user benefits) and be prepared to pay what that costs. And training – you do train your users dont you? The best software in the world is rarely totally intuitive (and learning more about the stuff that is can help you get more from it).

Level three is Internal Digital Platforms. These can be very tricky (see also – But I Only Wanted A Database? Its a Bit More Complicated Than That…). They require considerable commitment, communications and flexibility. Making a database work and possibly integrating it with your website takes time. It pays to be clear and to have explicit leadership and commitment behind these projects. The projects usually hurt but can be worth it.

Which brings us to level four. Innovative External Platforms. You know the sort of thing – a guided pathway you will save society from ever needing to consult a lawyer again (other more practical use cases are available). A knowledgebase for the entire information ever gathered about ‘problem x'. These can be highly complex and may not find a market. Even if it is a really good idea, are you sure YOU should be doing it? And be careful that when someone mentions minimum viable product you both have the same idea of ‘viable' and that minimum is only the beginning and not the end.

How to get ahead of the curve

But its not all pain and disaster. These things can work without you wishing you had an easier job (like sorting out Brexit perhaps?).

Projects work best when:

  • clearly scoped,
  • effectively planned and budgeted,
  • well led at multiple levels of the organisation,
  • supported by adequate capacity of expert experienced resource,
  • have internal commitment and prioritisation
  • plus appetite for change and attention to detail and follow through. 

Simple huh? Follow those principles well and you have made a good start.

Benefits need to be explicitly planned and clearly measurable with a baseline and interim measures recorded. Yes, know where you are going, what the value/impact is, how to demonstrate progress along the way and what success really looks like. Dont be like the Finance Director who spent £250k on a project and was greeted by a ‘lack of appreciation because the users didnt see the difference. It wasnt the project (and it did meet users needs), they just didnt actually see the difference as they expected the result so it looked like a wasted investment to the Board. If you dont plan or measure, how will you know if its working or whether you actually reached the goal?

Working with third party stakeholders can be challenging - youre not their first (or even second) priority. For most of us, platform development will involve partners either in testing, pilot use or actual ongoing use. They will have different expectations and different priorities and experiences so may not actually meet the deadlines of YOUR project plan. Factor in some contingency. Thats before you consider suppliers who may speak a different technical language.

Consider whether you would spend your own personal cash on this - grant funding is not free money. Im not suggested you start writing cheques for your own tech but I do get a little perturbed (read: bloody angry) when organisations think foundations or donors should pay for something ‘just because. I always think the willingness (if not the actuality) to stump up your own cash is the difference between commitment and playing with other peoples money. Are there better ways to spend that money?

Technology is just an empty vessel without data and content. People and process are the engine and fuel for making things happen and getting it done and as Stephen Covey says, make sure youre pointing in the right direction. You dont want a white elephant, do you?  

So what does this mean strategically for funders and the organisations they fund?

Change IS hard. Any technology or data development will cause some pain and the more extensive the development and change, the higher the risk and the more painful it is. But if it wasn't a problem, they wouldn't need you to lead it would they?

There are good things to come through the intelligent planning and application of technology and data in the interests of user needs (both staff and client) but we need to:

  • be clearer about our problems,
  • recognise the culture/change costs (and lets call it what it is, trauma)
  • and ensure that projects are well specified,
  • appropriately funded,
  • have clear benefits and measures and
  • are delivered by those capable of delivering them.

Development costs are a small overall part (often as little as 25%) of the longer term lifecycle costs.

We need:

  • better problem statements, 
  • clearer detailed user journeys (which cover the entire cycle not just the tech one), 
  • a log of what works and why alongside a repository of what already exists (oops, there goes a knowledgebase) and 
  • to be investing money, not just spending it, across a lifecycle. 

So rather than building X, lets think about the real cost of resolving problem Y or taking opportunity Z. Not just a bright shiny toy which looks good when its built but the hard yards of making progress on transforming a seemingly intractable issue.

Technology (and use of data) has a long way to go in the advice and access to justice sector. It starts with ensuring a level playing field of basic IT infrastructure (which may or may not include ‘the cloud), moves through using ‘internal tools (collaborative tools, case management systems) well, accelerates through platforms and guided pathways and reaches its peak with voice assistance (hello chatbot!) and the unicorn of AI (artificial intelligence). But the latter are another story. Lets get the basics right first, lets sustain those basics, lets innovate intelligently (with a rational mix of risk and semi-certainty) and lets move towards resolving the big hard problems. After all, any fool can pick low hanging fruit and buy a bright shiny toy and sadly, many do. If we stop ‘spraying and praying and start working together in pursuit of shared outcomes, we can truly make a difference.


Better, faster, happier Access to Justice (part one)

Summer’s lease may have all too short a date but are we in the midst of a real opportunity to transform access to justice (and more fundamentally the justice that comes after the access)?
In recent weeks I’ve attended a number of events talking about innovation, collaboration and opportunity. Are we really about to realise new ways to deliver legal support to those who need it?

Having worked on a number of scoping and implementation projects in the legal/advice sector over the last few years, you might pardon me for a degree of cynicism to go with my hope. This isn’t going to be easy and it’s not going to happen tomorrow but let’s start with the big picture and a potential ‘journey’.

Issue – issue clarification – support and reassurance – validation of legal need – provision of legal expertise – positive outcome

So far, so simple? But it’s not is it?

I see four components to take account of here:
  • Needs – what’s the need and what problem are we trying to solve
  • Services – what service(s) are required and how do the key components of Strategy, Technology, Data and Change enable them
  • Ways of working – what changes are needed at macro and micro level, within organisations but also pan sectors
  • Resolutions needed (the actual justice) – what are we aiming for, simple representation and advice or making the pain/injustice go away, one person at a time
I think what we are seeking is access to justice at the right time in the right way for the client and the receipt of justice as quickly, effectively and painlessly as possible. Where ‘need’ meets ‘positive experience’ and ‘results’.

To enable this, we need the right information at the right time to make the right decisions.

And for those individuals and organisations, we also need time and capacity for us to think about what we are doing (reflect) and allow creativity (both in thought, word and deed).

Which leaves us with a handful of barriers to transformation:
  1. Funding – money to invest in adequate technical infrastructure, staff time and tools/platforms
  2. Tools – the right tools for the right jobs (not just new bright shiny toys which don’t quite deliver)
  3. Data – without coherent data or information, tools are pretty much redundant
  4. Understanding of tools and platforms – in a world of similar options, how do you know what to choose, how to invest and how to make it fit 
  5. Expertise – you’ve got to know how to use that fancy hammer or all your problems start to look like a nail
  6. Change capacity – this is different, how can you have space to change if you can’t keep up with the day job
  7. Partner working – how we can effectively collaborate so we are greater than the sum of our parts
  8. Mindsets of individuals and organisation leaders in relation to risk, fear of change and the potential for dehumanisation.
So in this brave new world of exciting opportunity, transformative technology (if applied in the right way to the right problem) and a few quid from funders, what’s the key to making it work?

Perhaps a consortium with real purpose driven leadership, focused around two or three explicit problem statements, led by and embedded in the not for profit sector (but with private sector and government and academic contribution) and above all, client focused, because after all it’s the client who needs the justice.

And what might be the ‘acceptance criteria’ that enables us to see progress and at least the wayposts on our journey. Well, perhaps:
  • Tools which are useful, useable and used – too often digital developments barely tick one of those three
  • Redesign which removes inefficiencies not the ‘digitisation of services’
  • Improved ways of working, thinking and culture in both individual organisations, the not for profit advice sector and the wider legal sector
  • Clear outcome targets so we can live up to Ghandi’s ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ – perhaps articulated through an explicit theory of change
  • Delivering value (and focusing on value first)
  • Taking a lifecycle approach to value/investment compared to risk. It’s not just the upfront cost, it’s the return on investment over the five to ten years of the platform or change. All of a sudden, that six figure investment, if managed well, doesn’t seem such a shot in the dark.
Better and faster and happier access to justice as an outcome. It is possible but by gum it’s going to take work – vision, relationship stewardship, excellent project management and a focus on the people we want to make the world better for, not the vested interests of technologists or individual organisations.

Can we do it? Yes we can! Will we do it? Alas the jury is still out your honour.



Income Generation in Charities - Money's Too Tight to Mention?

A Spring Thursday night in Cass Business School and a crew of WCoMC members joined two pro bono clients for a frank discussion on income generation, chaired by the inimitable Patrick Chapman (Chair of Pro Bono) and supported by our wise counsel Natasha Roe (communications, marketing and fundraising guru) and Rebecca Maynard from StreetVet.
Plus ca change? It is no surprise a number of the issues raised had been covered in our “Strategy for charities – start where they’re at....” seminar in 2014 [1]. 

The session was introduced highlighting ‘money is tighter’ [2] and funders and donors of all kinds are asking more for their financial contribution.

From a strategic perspective, charities (and indeed smaller non-profit community groups) had three choices: maintain the same size and service, grow/develop or wind up. These decisions should always be made in the context of meeting the needs of beneficiaries (clients) but too often there was a relentless desire to grow (and on occasion, to fulfil the needs/egos of specific trustees). We identified the need to see the bigger picture, position effectively in the marketplace and better present our charities to funders, especially when our organisations are ‘different’ and don’t fit in the box.

We also recognised that there might be occasions when the best decision was to wind up operations and hand over responsibilities elsewhere but that this shouldn’t be a knee jerk reaction.

What Makes a Small Charity Viable?

Viability could be articulated as a simple equation: 

“Viability = business model + impact + communications clarity”

Organisations don’t need to constantly grow – delivering and meeting objectives at a specific level is fine. Small (or medium) is beautiful indeed. Funding applications (of all types) provide a discipline to help us think through why we’re needed and what difference we can best make and at what level. All organisations need to have a USP (unique selling point) and accompanying clear elevator pitch (ideally not the length of the Burj Khalifa). If you’re still talking when I leave the elevator you’ve got it badly wrong!

We also identified that grass roots organisations (often small and sometimes the most fragile) are the direct link to the most marginalised in communities in a way the large charities can never effectively reach. So small is important, even allowing for the challenges of fragility.

Is Sales a Dirty Word?

There was some debate about use of the word ‘sales’. Whilst the more commercially oriented amongst the audience saw ‘sales’ as analogous to ‘fundraising’, there are rather important nuances. Firstly, it’s not all about the money (despite what Meja might say - video below if you’re interested [3]). Secondly, relationships might generate other connections and referrals beyond cash. 

Transactional vs relational, Peeing in the Wind and Brand Car Crashes
Transactional fundraising might generate some quick cash but was unlikely to be sustainable. A bit like flogging off your services and not caring about the quality because there’s a new customer round the corner. The key was to transform those interactions into relationships, to retain donors and build a lifetime value. NSPCC learned this when they realised those cardboard collecting boxes our families used to have, full of copper coins, generated limited immediate impact but led to some enormous legacies. It’s about meeting needs, as we should with any ‘customer’ whether they are procuring our services or donating/gifting to help us meet a need on their behalf.

We learned of ‘p*** off gifts’ (fill in your own asterisks dear reader) – that reaction where your charity might get money to go away and stop hassling someone but which damages both relationship and reputation. ‘Income generation’ in any form should be about relationship building not taking money and running. If we find out (and take the time) what individuals and organisations interests are, we are more likely to be successful. There are many sources of potential income (see figure) and the sources have different expectations and intentions and seek different ways to contribute. 

Brand car crashes occur when charities too easily take money from companies who seek ‘goodwill by association’ as a means of propping up their own rather unfortunate reputational issues. Ask yourself, do I really want to be associated with X and do your homework before you take the money. It would be unfortunate indeed if a children’s charity had taken money from the President’s Club

The role of charities in social change and the wisdom (or otherwise) or trustees

We thought a charity might well be summed up as ‘innovating in bringing about social change which becomes sustainable’. It involves a journey from dependency to self-sufficiency, a need to look at future market trends, a need to look beyond itself and rather look at how it can connect and be part of the solution and part of the bigger picture (as opposed to taking over the picture). We talked of the need to go upstream and look at and resolve the source of the problem rather than just fix what’s presenting – change rather than treat the symptoms.

Bob Harris discussed the research WCoMC had undertaken with the Charity Commission [4]. Over 700,000 individuals held 950,000 roles as trustees in England and Wales and their average age was 60. 

Trustees can be overly conservative but do their best. Their fundamental responsibility is to the cause, not to the individual organisation and whilst this can sometimes be missed, the majority of trustees work hard to sustain their organisations at the right level of income/expenditure, merge (or accept turnover) when appropriate and close down when there is nothing left to do. You can read more of “Taken on trust - The awareness and effectiveness of charity trustees in England and Wales” here.

Rightsizing and good organisational stewardship

Funding comes in many ways and has many purposes from major donors to legacies and social investment. The core of ‘purpose driven relationships’ demonstrates that even a small organisation can have lots of relationships with different purposes. Relationship husbandry is a lead to marketing.

Again, taking our frame as consultants, we want to build (and encourage) a positive, mutually beneficial relationship with clients. There are multiple ‘buyers’ with different needs and expectations. Natasha from Red Pencil talked through the multiplicity of income generation (funding) options and the need for a coherent plan and strategy in how to approach the asks. Again, we are back to building relationships and making connections not just scattergun desperation to get money in.

Rebecca from StreetVet talked about the importance of managed growth and the challenges of growing service need. It’s hard but it works.

Who’s Buying

Whether we’re talking about commodities or charities, there are three fundamental questions (and thanks to J Walter Thompson here[5]):

1. Who’s buying (and how do they see themselves as a result of buying)
2. What are they buying (better self, belonging, respect, impact)
3. Who are they buying from (the association of)

So are your donors feeling good about themselves, feel they are making a tanglible difference and feel they are a part of a bigger community? You need clear communication messages, evidence of impact (something tangible, it doesn’t need to be a 40 page impact report or randomised control trial) and the will to keep making friends and building relationships. It’s not about you, it’s about the cause and the beneficiary and what you can do for the person/organisation providing the income.

The need for collaboration

We can’t view the entire charity sector as a whole. Whether by size or beneficiary type, there are differences and distinctions, it’s not one size fits all. Yet, there are key principles. We are not, and should not be, in direct competition (however commissioning and a paucity of funding might make us feel). We’re in it to make a difference. Ethics are key and we need to resolve the issues of founder syndrome and personality clashes. It’s about peer organisations and building, growing and maintaining a spectrum of relationships.

Fundamentally, it’s about ensuring you deliver maximum public benefit akin to your mission.

Data is also becoming crucial – we need to plan what we want to do (the logic model/theory of change approach) to ensure we have the right metrics (and underlying basic measurement tools) to understand behaviour and dial up or down accordingly.

Charities and community groups of all sizes can do that best by rightsizing (being the right size for the purpose) and investing in the right purpose driven relationships to sustain income whilst tackling the specific problem which fits their piece in the jigsaw of the bigger picture. Not easy, but that’s why WCoMC offers pro bono consultancy and mentoring to help.

Thank you to Natasha Roe of Red Pencil for contributing key ideas and some of the graphics in this article and thank you to the event attendees for a stimulating evening of ideas. If you want a great introduction to charity branding, go and see Natasha speak on Branding in Small Charities at the Nonprofit Academic Centers Council Conference at Cass on 16/17 July 2019 -  and in the meantime you can read   https://blog.localgiving.org/blogs/48/183/how-small-charities-can-overcome

[1] WCoMC Strategy for charities – start where they’re at....: https://wcomc.org/2014Oct31-5 
[2] Simply Red – Money’s Too Tight to Mention: <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/DrUB0g8Vjgg" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>
[3] Meja – All About The Money: <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/YcXMhwF4EtQ" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe>
[4] https://www.cass.city.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/382830/Cass-Trustee-Awarness-Research-Summary.pdf
[5] J Walter Thompson presentation, Charity Comms conference, June 2018.
[6] How Small Charities Can Overcome Barriers to Brand Investment (Natasha Roe): https://blog.localgiving.org/blogs/48/183/how-small-charities-can-overcome



Crossing the Chasm - How Innovation Really Works

A camel, a tiger and a unicorn walk into a bar. Or rather into a CMCE seminar…

Read more about Diffusing Innovation and how we take ideas to market and grow at https://wcomc.org/2019Mar31-5


Increasing access to justice through technology (and why it matters)

Legal advice should be accessible to anyone who needs it – no matter their background or income. The UK legal system is built on values of fairness and equality, enshrined in our laws.

But day in and day out, people cannot access the legal advice and representation they need, either because they cannot afford the fees, don’t know where to turn to or the resource isn’t available. Relatively simple issues quickly become overwhelming without the right information and support.

The consequences of this can wreck lives and families, from being illegally evicted for rent arrears (Maria), discriminated out of a job (Jordan) or even removed from the country (Adnan)*.

Cuts to Legal Aid means that more and more people like these cannot access the support and legal advice they need when they need it.

A solution

There is a way to make access to legal advice more fair, more equal and faster – and it’s beautifully simple. 

Relationships are critical in putting people at ease, and expertise and experience are essential in ensuring the right questions are asked, the right information collected and the right escalations made. But access to experienced lawyers is either time constrained or expensive.

Through the Jeanie Project, we’re piloting a system which puts supportive people (in local charities and community groups) on the front line, equips them and the client with groundbreaking technology (KIM, donated under licence by Riverview Law) to ask the right questions and direct the information collection, collates what is needed and makes the material available, easily and quickly, to experienced lawyers either directly or through brokerage.

It means we can increase the number of people dealing with initial concerns, ensure critical issues don’t get missed, bring together the key information, review/triage and, if still needed, make more time effective use of the scarce legal expertise (and do so virtually, even outside office hours) so each lawyer can help more people and resolve more issues.

It’s a way of getting more support into the hands of local charities and community groups to support poor and vulnerable people like Maria, Jordan and Adnan.

Through the technology of simple-to-use online information and tools, we can equip hundreds of groups in the hearts of local communities to provide advice, information and connections to lawyers; simply, effectively, for free.

Next steps

The theory works so now we’re testing in the real world. Rolling out the technology and processes with the community groups and charities who are on this early journey with us, starting in East London, to make sure it works smoothly for them and the people they help. The quicker we can do this do this quicker we can share the KIM technology (http://ask.kim/) with more organisations that can help.

Right now we’re crowdfunding (for 30 days, the clock is ticking) - https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/the-jeanie-project/ - to increase our support for our partners. We have some initial pilot funding from the Legal Education Foundation and a lot of pro bono support to make this happen (as well as the technology provided for free). If you can donate and/or share the link above, you’ll be making a valuable contribution to #accesstojustice

We now have 30 days to raise the funds needed. If we don’t reach our target then we don’t receive any money from this crowdfunder and more people go without help. Any surplus we do raise will go into bring more partner organisations on board. 

The future 

If The Jeanie Project is as successful as we believe it will be then we can transform access to legal advice and support in this country. We are hugely excited to be part of that. We look forward to welcoming you too and making a transformational difference to access to justice.

ABOUT THE JEANIE PROJECT: The Jeanie Project is a lean, agile charitable organisation, supporting access to legal advice for those who need it most through an exciting new technology. We enable local staff and volunteers in community organisations to help identify a legal issue, and collect the relevant information to send electronically to a lawyer or adviser.
www.thejeanieproject.org.uk Follow us on Twitter @jeanieproject