Modernising the Third Sector – Echoes and Resonance

In my last post “A Tale of Two Cities” I made an assertion that:

“The sector, which is expected to take over the delivery of services as local authorities move to commissioning rather than delivery, is not ready for Digital by Default; ergo it is not ready for Assisted Digital. While the Government may point to the success of its digital champions and its one million UKOnline successes it has yet to address the principle client group of many Third Sector organisations, the final 20% who are the biggest users of services. The Third Sector is not ready of the impact of personalisation nor is it prepared for co-production.”

Hold that thought!

More recently excellent blog posts by Carl Haggerty and Martin Howitt on Local Government as a Platform moved me to comment first and then to think about how such a platform might work with the Third Sector as they become a key service provider.

Martin’s Diagram, reproduced here, places Service Providers as an arm linked into the Local Gov Hub along side People (in places with needs). My argument to both Martin and to Carl was that while we can identify why Local Government sits at the centre (fundholder, standards assurance, governance, political oversight) if you were designing a system to deliver services to people with needs you wouldn’t necessarily design it this way. There are additional issues around political oversight and democratic representation of the most excluded that I refer to in my response to Martin’s blog post so I won’t go into them here.

Val Lewis (AKA @otherhalf and the Val in Penval) was approached this week to do a short presentation on modernising and the role of ICTs in a Third Sector organisation where she is a member of the board. Given my opening statement and the questions posed by Martin and Carl it seemed an ideal opportunity to think about how that might look.

While this might fit into Martin’s “Service Provider” square hopefully I’m going to explain how it overlaps with that, the Local Gov Hub and the People in Places with Needs. The diagram has sections that are deliberately blurred; this is not a hierarchical organisation in the strictest sense. The curved lines represent the flow of information, from left to right and up and down the organisation. The organisation is “Social” in the sense that it uses social channels to engage with a wider stakeholder group as well as providing a direct service and receiving feed back. The organisation also uses “Social” in business; that might be a platform like “Yammer”.

The organisation uses ICTs to run its business processes, it has Customer Relationship Management, It monitors contracts, it invoices, it produces reports; it may even be big enough to have a resource management system, my point is that it uses business software along side its social software. Together they provide the Business Intelligence, intelligence that goes beyond raw figures and facts. Because the business is “Social” the opinions, the feedback, the ideas can all go into the mix. To this is added open data, the wider information that can both inform the bigger picture and can provide insights that impact on the lives of the client base. All of this informs strategy.

If knowledge and opinions are shared within an organisation then the organisation begins to resonate, ideas flow informed by formal and informal knowledge, the whole day can become a watercooler moment or a corridor conversation that oils the wheels of service delivery.

When we talk about modernising our Third Sector it’s not a question of Microsoft or Open Software; it’s not a choice between lap tops, desk tops and tablets; it’s not even about smart phones it’s about re-thinking the approach. The backdrop to all of this is Digital by Default and it’s shadow, Assisted Digital. The positioning of an organisation in a digital context begins to prepare it to support its client base in a digital by default world. This is about more than building the capacity to support ICTs, this is about how we work and what we do that constitutes work that enables us to create organisations that ultimately provide better outcomes for their clients – who are some of the biggest cost users of public services – so we all benefit.

Hopefully this post will contribute something to the discussion and I welcome people’s comments and thoughts. I would like to thank Martin Howit and Carl Haggerty for getting this discussion out into the wider world  – let’s see if it leads somewhere.


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