The Design Museum has a wonderful display of the first mobile phones. They seem ludicrous now: heavy, unwieldy and with incredibly limited reception. And yet, when they were introduced, they were beyond the means of most and an aspirational symbol of cutting-edge technology.
Anachronisms sprang to mind again when I was talking to a second-tier charity about ways in which it could increase take-up of one of its services. The trustees were very clear about the reasons behind the decline, freely admitting that the service, once a flagship, had long been superseded by cheaper and more up-to-date options provided by other organisations.
Two questions sprang to mind. First, how had this charity's unique selling point been allowed to slip so far without review or action? Institutional complacency might well have played a part, but failing to keep up to date with user needs seems to have been key.
Any relevant service provision is welcome in an empty marketplace. But needs change over time, and charities need to review and amend their services to ensure they stay relevant. This is as true for charities that operate without competition as it is for those in a crowded market. Services exist for their users, not the other way round.
This relates to the second question: why was the charity running an outdated service that few people actually wanted? It appeared to be a question that no one had asked, and made me wonder how many other charities are putting resources into services that continue simply because they've always been part of the charity's repertoire.
Reviewing services to ensure they stay relevant is more important than ever, but reviewing unused services with a view to winding them down is surely a matter of survival.
- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.