The importance of resilience and responsiveness for Digital Fund grantees at this time
Cat Ainsworth, Co-founder at The DOT PROJECT discusses her insights of the factors which are enabling Digital Fund grantholders and their teams to be highly responsive at this time of COVID-19.
Now, more than ever, digital will play a crucial role in providing life saving support, reaching vulnerable communities and connecting people to improve quality of life. As a Support Team we feel a collective responsibility to ensure that the digital skills and expertise available to grantees is timely and responsive to their evolving situations.
Organisations, their workforces and the communities they support are facing unprecedented change. With very little time to prepare people are being forced to rethink how they live and work. Over the past four days the Support Team have been speaking with Digital Fund grantees to assess how their needs and challenges are changing in response to the COVID-19 crisis. There is much to learn and we are all still learning. In this post we thought it would be useful to highlight the factors which seem to be enabling organisations and their teams to be highly responsive at this time.
Organisations who are already confident in using digital tools for collaboration and are working fully remotely, or work remotely often, have been able to switch to working from home very quickly. Where teams feel confident in the practical ‘how’ of using a tool like Zoom or Microsoft Teams they can easily identify how these tools can be used to adapt to the current situation.
A lack of confidence is a barrier. Most of the organisations we have spoken to so far reported that whilst their central team or head office staff were fairly confident, front line staff who are used to delivering face to face services were less confident about using digital tools. As a result these organisations need to spend time on rapidly upskilling people within their workforce before rolling out any new activities.
Transforming your organisation and services to become more digitally enabled usually takes time. It is disruptive and a positive culture, which naturally embraces the changes digital brings, is a key enabler. At this moment in time organisations who already have a positive and enabling culture for change are demonstrating the ability to adapt to the ‘new normal’ quickly. A positive organisational culture looks different for each organisation, and fundamentally it is driven and created by the people working within an organisation.
Where organisations can use their own data and emerging data from national statistics to model different scenarios they are able to plan their resources and work through scenario approaches to prepare for different eventualities. Larger organisations amongst the Digital Fund grantees have reported carrying out this exercise which is enabling them to pivot quickly as the situation changes so rapidly.
Connection to service users
A critical and urgent concern for organisations at this moment in time is how to reach the most vulnerable and most marginalised people. Little or no access to a digital device and/or little or no access to the internet is now one of the most pressing needs for some service users. Organisations who are connected to their service users, and know who the most vulnerable and marginalised people are, are now in a position to focus resources on how to ensure these groups have access to the internet. It will take more than one organisation to solve this challenge, therefore connecting organisations to each other who are facing this problem is a key responsibility for the support team.
Organisations who already have clear data structures and feedback mechanisms in place to understand what their service users need at this moment in time are in a good position to respond. These organisations are able to understand in real time how information on their website is being used, spot trends in what individuals want to know when they call helplines and use techniques such as social listening to build knowledge about how service needs are changing. Organisations who can gather insight in real time are able to reshape or radically transform services quickly.
Identification of urgent priorities
At this time we are noticing two main responses from grantees of the Digital Fund that we have spoken to. On the one hand some organisations feel that that they need to accelerate certain aspects of their digital approach and can identify which activities need to progress urgently. On the other hand some organisations are in a position where it is very difficult to identify what the urgent priorities are. For them it feels that priorities are colliding from getting staff online and able to work from home to feeling bombarded with requests for support from service users. Organisations who are able to identify the urgent priorities seem to be able to focus team efforts and energy around those priorities.
Managing demand from service users has been a common theme across all grantees. Every organisation we have spoken to so far has identified that the ability of upgrade infrastructure to cope with demand quickly has been key.
One organisation gave the example of putting in place multiple phone lines for their helpline which, 2 weeks ago, only had one line. This organisation was able to make the upgrade to their system rapidly because they could make the decision on investment quickly (without a bureaucratic budget sign off process), they had people on their team with the appropriate knowledge to decide what system upgrade was needed and they were working with a responsive and trusted system provider. The system upgrade in this scenario enabled the organisation to increase its capacity to manage demand within an afternoon.
Everyone, without exception, is facing change on a personal level. Alongside switching to a more virtual way of working individuals are grappling with how to merge their personal and professional lives. From looking after children alongside work to coping with living alone with very little human contact for an unknown amount of time people are under stress. At this time organisations are prioritising kindness.
It is at this time that we are reminded those working within the charity sector are choosing a vocation. The charity sector at its core is a workforce driven by compassion and a deeply caring attitude. This is so very important at this time for staff and for the communities they are working with, particularly vulnerable individuals. Our collective challenge is how to prioritise kindness long after this crisis is over.
DOT PROJECT, Shift and CAST provide the core services of the Digital Fund Support Team, supported by a network of organisations and subject matter experts.
We’re bringing together what we're learning from our grantholders about their response to the coronavirus pandemic. Visit our COVID-19 Insights page for the latest information.