Civil Society Strategy urges the voluntary sector to embrace digital technology

The government document, published yesterday, argues that charities have been slow to adapt compared with other sectors

The government has warned that charities are lagging behind other sectors on digital technology and called for a digitally-focused approach to civil society.

The Civil Society Strategy, published yesterday, sets out how the government plans to work with civil society in the long-term to create a "strong society".

The 123-page document mentions the word "digital" 139 times and emphasises the need for civil society to catch up with digital technology, focusing on increasing digital skills, building digital partnerships and using digital technologies.

The report says digital technology "offers unprecedented opportunities for the way in which we approach social challenges", not only by bringing efficiency but also by helping organisations to put the user, or beneficiary, first.

"That is why it is essential for the social sector to be part of the digital revolution and why the government is committed to bringing together digital and civil society," the report says.

It says the social sector is beginning to use social media, big data and artificial intelligence and there is "increasing awareness that adoption of digital techniques can make charities more resilient and sustainable".

But it says: "The rate of adoption is slow by comparison with other sectors."

The report calls on experts in the tech field and the civil society sector to build partnerships promoting "tech for good".

"The government wants charities and social enterprises to be able to employ strong digital skills to deliver social good," the report says.

The strategy expressed support for the Charity Digital Code of Practice, a framework to help charities embrace digital technology.

Zoe Amar, the digital consultant who has helped to develop the code, said the strategy "very much echoes what the sector is trying to achieve" with it and welcomed the government's support.

She said: "It was heartening to see the emphasis on digital in the new strategy, particularly the government's acknowledgement that digital can help charities be more sustainable and increase impact.

"There is an encouraging emphasis on government supporting the sector in developing digital skills, using technology to meet beneficiaries' needs and developing collaboration between the voluntary, private and public sectors on digital."

She said examples of technology use cited in the strategy demonstrated how charities could scale up their impact using digital without necessarily investing large amounts of money.

The biggest digital challenge the social sector faced, she said, was the need to increase confidence and skills, particularly among trustees.

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