Moving services online for charities, nonprofits and community businesses

On 2nd July 2020, we joined forces with the digital transformation platform Twine to put on an online session supporting charities, community businesses and social purpose organisations to move their services online.

The session was led by a panel of 3 digital experts, Eriol Fox, Jake Moffat and Danny Hearn, who shared their own journey of putting services online. The panel were joined by Claire Bloor, CEO of Somerset and Avon Rape Crisis, who gave an insight into the process. You can watch the session back on our site or our Youtube channel

Our experts each took a part of the journey and broke it down. From defining the needs of those you expect to use the online service, developing ideas and prototyping, to understanding how to test those ideas with the people that use your service, and finally testing to adapt your product to respond to feedback. Here’s a quick look at the insights shared. 

Defining the needs of those people who will use your services 

Jake Moffat, digital product manager leading Power to Change’s Twine programme, kicked things off with defining the needs of those who use your services. When charities and nonprofits start to explore a problem, Jake urges them to believe that if you solve the right problem, you don’t need to focus on a perfect solution. Get messy, bring the design team into the room, and write down every problem that those who use your services face. Start with asking “why?”

 Asking this question once isn’t enough. Jake sets out the process of asking at least 5 “Why?” questions in order to get to the higher level problems. Questions such as:

  • Who are we solving the problem for? 
  • What are the problems this audience has?
  • What does our organisation need to accomplish?
  • What themes emerge from this process? 

Through these questions, a charity or nonprofit can get to the root of their problem. Along the way, organisations should ask where there is evidence for the problem and need for a solution, and delve into additional research from what perspective your prototype might solve a challenge. 

If an organisation works with older people and needs to ensure that care is still given even while social distancing, Jake suggests focusing on a positive solutions-focused framework where you can begin to look at the problem differently and from all angles. How might a service bring friends and family to older people, rather than focusing on the burden of older people?

After discovering the problem and articulating a solution, it’s time to sketch out your solution and share it. This involves making your ideas ‘real’ to other people, and ensuring that the team and those who will use the service are all on the same imaginative page. 

Danny Hearn and Claire Bloor on the design process and prototyping

Danny Hearn, a member of DOT PROJECT leading on UX, design and digital strategy, was up next to outline the process of design experiments and rapid, effective prototyping. Danny stated that there are always low-cost ways of testing whether your ideas work for those who need them most, usually including those people and gathering meaningful insights along the way. A design experiment is a way to test ideas with the people who use your service, easily and quickly.

Alongside Danny, Claire Bloor, CEO of Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support, reflected on the recent prototype process the charity had undergone with Danny. As their services went online following the pandemic lockdown, SARSAS recognised that they were not reaching those who didn’t have a safe space to access services, such as helpline calls. 

A quick research period approaching volunteers and survivors, testing quickly on the site with a mock-up using an existing tool, and then role playing through interactions ensures the nuances and sensitivities are tested, improved on and even revealed to the team for the first time. The prototype itself took less than a day to set up, and Danny recommended getting your whole team to try it out before you pay for a hi-tech solution.

The most important thing is to show, not tell, and let your idea become something more than an idea in your head. Once you’ve got something out there – from a low-fi diagram on a Post-it, to a temporary web app – you can embed user testing into your process, getting feedback as you go. 

The important thing is to share prototypes early and often. Paper prototyping is particularly good for keeping costs low and getting your ideas into a workable visual model, collaborating with team members and re-designing. Top low-fi tools include PowerPoint and Google Slides, Notion and Typeform.

And remember, anyone can do it!

Eriol Fox on testing your ideas 

Our last speaker was Eriol Fox, who is a Design Lead, speaker, and part of the Tech4Good South West leadership team. For charities and nonprofits, it’s important to move away from the perfect prototype and embedded testing model, so that organisations can centre those who use their services, and reduce bias along the way. Testing prototypes or initial ideas early and often can uncover the myriad ways assumptions and biases inject themselves into a product or service, as you will be in direct contact with those you want to reach.

Eriol outlined the principles of ad-hoc testing, usually with the public in a targeted and non-targeted way to get immediate feedback, validate or scrap assumptions and ideas. Ad-hoc testing can take from 5 to 20 minutes, and for it to work well ad-hoc testing needs a safe environment, a buddy system for your team, and confidence. You can also conduct ad-hoc testing through online communities, such as dedicated Facebook groups, Meetups for interest groups, Twitter, Reddit, Slack groups and more. As we’re locked down, it’s likely that online communities will be busy and receptive. 

Eriol then moved on to recruiting testers in a more structured way. This is for times when you must get feedback on a particular idea, and it allows you the confidence of 1-to-1 feedback. It requires patience and planning, especially when you are attempting to communicate across time zones, as well as a more rigid structure than ad-hoc testing. When taking this online, it’s harder to watch body language and initial impressions, and sometimes the tech can glitch meaning that structuring a remote video or phone testing session can take more time. 

Another method of testing a charity’s or nonprofit’s solution is community sessions. These are a focused way of bringing together ideas from multiple viewpoints to tackle difficulty.Multi-day community sessions are great for ideas that need to grow from the community or user group.

Creating multi-day  community sessions online during social distancing measures can be tough work, Eriol said, but it’s not impossible. Maximising your planning and platform choice, which could just be a large group phone call, is essential. So is recognising that the tech we use to create online gatherings create new power dynamics organisation’s may not have thought about, as participants can’t easily communicate thoughts and ideas as they would with face-to-face contact, Post-its and notes. 

Eriol also took some time to focus on the process of dismantling racism within the design process from the perspective of nonprofits and charities. When we work with communities that are marginalised, it’s important to build humility, take steps to not re-traumatise by asking unnecessarily invasive questions, and to always pay those from marginalised communities you are recruiting into the testing process for their time. 

If you would like to re-watch the session, visit our website our Youtube channel to do so. 

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