Martin Campbell: Why embracing digital is going to be so hard but absolutely necessary

There are two key principles: base decisions on data, not opinions; and make bold incremental steps towards change

Martin Campbell
Martin Campbell

Digital technology is going to have a huge impact on the charity sector – as it has in other industries.

This isn’t just because it enables us to do the same things faster, but also because our costs, our information flows and the feedback loops within our organisations are all fundamentally changed.

As a consequence, there are two key principles from the world of the fast-moving digital start-up that, as charities, we have only a short period to learn and adopt before it’s too late.

The first is that we must base decisions on data rather than opinions.

The second is that we must make bold incremental steps towards change, testing as we go.

These principles are what underpin Agile, the methodology used by the majority of successful tech firms to build products and services quickly and react to changes in the world.

Sounds simple enough, right? And it is simple. But it’s also hard. It requires rare skills – particularly digital leadership skills – and it requires a genuine change of heart.

You see, the popular misconception about Agile is that it’s easier than "proper" project management. Indeed, I heard one senior member of a well-known charity say that "we don’t have the resources that we planned, so we’re just going to have to be Agile", as if that was somehow going to be easier.

In truth, an Agile approach means a tough schedule where every two weeks (or so) the whole team takes time out from "doing" to focus on reviewing results and planning the next actions. That means having grown-up conversations about our real results and accounting for our actions over the previous couple of weeks of work.

That’s why Agile initiatives in charities often fizzle out: keeping up the rigour and focus might be simple, but it’s also hard.

So it’s with some trepidation that next week I launch the Digital Collective, my Agile initiative at World Vision. We’re in a similar position to many charities in that we’re not getting anything like the value from digital that we should.

In my previous business, a small, high-growth financial technology start-up, I was able to use an Agile approach with a small team to build tens of millions of pounds of value within just a few months, so I have high hopes for what this approach can achieve in an organisation with such committed staff and dedicated supporters.

Adapting the Agile approach for the set-up of a mid-sized to large fundraising charity has been a year-long project, one that I’ve been designing and delivering as part of a commercially available programme. But now it’s time to put it into action myself.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be leading my colleagues through formal Agile Scrum training and starting our roll-out of our new "collective" approach to organising and delivering successful digital projects across our charity.

We’ll be sharing every detail of the Agile project with colleagues inside the organisation, and we’ll also be blogging our journey as we go for all to see at the digital collective blog.

I hope that you’ll join me and my colleagues on the journey and share your own thoughts with us as we go.

Martin Campbell is chief information officer for World Vision UK, where he chairs the Digital Collective

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