Digital leadership & digital inclusion for trustees, employees, volunteers & our service users (blog capturing the last #trusteehour)

Our second #trusteehour focused on talking about digital leadership & digital inclusion for trustees, employees, volunteers & service users. This topic was nominated by @TheRichDB, Operations Director at @citizensonline1 for #DigitalInclusion, Trustee at @thectsbrighton for tackling #homelessness. @JulieKHutchison opened the session by asking: how do you balance inclusion with making effective use of digital when it comes to beneficiaries who are excluded from the latest tech?

You can see all the tweets by following the hashtag: #trusteehour

Firstly, it must be noted that the participants to #trusteehour are probably digitally literate! So, we must frame the discussion in terms of the 12.6 million of the adult UK population that lack basic digital skills and 5.8 million people have never used the internet, according to a recent House of Commons Science & Tech committee report. This report was aptly titled the ‘digital skills crisis’. This has implications for charity operations and reaching out to beneficiaries as well as the skills that we bring into the boardroom. Of course, there are opportunities to reach and have a meaningful engagement with new communities but often we are attempting to reach those that may not be digitally literature. We can’t simply divide the ‘young’ with the ‘old’ as @trusteeleaders highlighted the fact that many older people are tech-savvy and many young people can surf in various social media channels, but might not be picking up the digital skills necessary. I often hear in terms of getting young professionals on board that “they can use social media and help develop a website”. That’s not all they can do and we must remember that they are full members of the board. My 80-year-old bowling partner, Murray, can teach me a thing or two with his iPad (as well as always getting closer than me to the Jack)! He has family in Australia, so knows every trick to maintain his relationship with them via emerging technology.

@TheRichDB captured the essence of the discussion when he said: “it’s important to design digital around the needs of digitally excluded people – not just because it’s ethically right, but because it can open up new opportunities to create a better service”.  The discussion moved from the digital skills needed for the board, to recruitment and then onto measuring the success in terms of reach and engagement.

Firstly, there were many calls for all board members to have digital skills, although it was noted that a good first step would be for one person to be a ‘digital champion’ (e.g. @zoeamar, @trusteeleaders).  In @David_McNeill straw poll of 19 participants, 63% suggested the need for a ‘digital trustee’ and 37% that ‘digital’ should be the ‘responsibility of all’. Many cited the potential offered by digital and noting that digital goes beyond Comms and fundraising (@ThirdSectorLab, @sallyld). This did arise as the priority by the 12 respondents to a different poll by @TheRichDB poll. Followed by cultural change, then governance & risk. @David_McNeill also noted that there has been a lot of focus on fundraising but for @David_McNeill, he is excited to see how online platforms are supporting the creation and development of new types of communities / support networks.  Sally got a lot of retweets when she said that fundraising is only scratching the surface of the potential offered by digital. @David_McNeill cited examples from antenatal classes developing WhatsApp groups for peer support to Mumsnet forum chat to community Facebook groups lobbying on planning policy and posed a challenge for ‘charities’ and asked the community to consider how this might replace some of their traditional activities.

In terms of recruitment, @trusteeleaders argued that we should approach recruitment like you would a paid role – advertise and check their skills set. This is sound advice and this should include a range of digital skills. As noted earlier, the majority agreed that a ‘digital champion’ should be appointed and one of their goals should be to build capability and skills for other members. This was supported by Ross (@ThirdSectorLab) who said that this one expert could drive things forward and sense check new ideas, in the same way that every board has a finance expert scrutinising the accounts and encouraging financial good practice. As part of the regular auditing of skills and competences of board members, these skills should be included and if you don’t have them around the table then it would be good practice to go and actively seek them as part of a recruitment drive.

@OfficialCause4 raised the issue of ‘measuring success’ in terms of digital inclusion and this led to a discussion on engagement being a much more meaningful way to measure. @David_McNeill stated that we should beware of vanity statistics, noting that “hits and reach with large numbers are often meaningless – “ask what impact the reach has made”.  As @OfficialCause4 pointed out “no point having a million followers if only 3 of them are genuine”.  Evaluating the impact of our decisions is critical and grow in importance over the years.  We need to demonstrate how we reach out to our communities, including how we debate who is included and excluded by our actions and where possible how we can meaningfully engage with those that may be marginalised.

It is clear that #trusteehour is raising some interesting questions and good practice is emerging from the two sessions so far. For this one, consensus emerged around all trustees having digital skills but having a board level champion would be a great start. The importance of a trustee competency audit regularly comes up in discussion but in this session, this should also breakdown ‘digital skills’ that the board might wish to develop and seek from new appointees. It is certain that debates around ‘digital inclusion’ in our board rooms will help us to consider who and how we engage and likely to identify new ways to enhance service provision.


Next #trusteehour is Tuesday 16 January 8-9pm. Theme? What New Year’s Resolution are you making as a trustee?!

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