Working with Lancashire Women's Centres
Lancashire Women’s Centres supports over 4,000 women and their families each year across Lancashire to achieve their potential through delivery of a range of services across five female-only centres, including the provision of support for women’s mental health and emotional wellbeing and projects working with women in contact with the criminal justice system.
The charity was keen to use digital to innovate and continually improve its services but didn’t know where to start. Staff felt a real confidence barrier as they were not ‘experts’ in digital, and were wary of committing time and resources to new things.
Business Development Manager, Liz Islam, joined the CAST Digital Fellowship in 2017, about to embark on creating a stand-alone digital strategy for the charity. She soon realised that in order to realise their ambitions, she would have to break down the idea that digital only happened in one part of the organisation. Digital tools and approaches needed to underpin all their work, and strategic use of digital would encompass much more than ‘shiny new websites’.
She also saw they would need to dedicate time and resource to upskilling staff in new skills and ways of working, so that they had the confidence to become a truly responsive and digitally-enabled organisation.
The Fellowship has been a catalyst for a culture shift in staff confidence and collaboration. Liz has focused on building ‘confidence to be curious’ across the team – from experimenting with new tools like Google Hangouts to aid communication between their regional centres, to lunch and learn sessions where staff are encouraged to share existing digital skills with colleagues. They are using capacity building funding from the Big Lottery Reaching Communities Programme to improve the basic IT literacy of staff and Liz is planning dedicated design training for the whole senior management team in the coming year.
Digital design is fast becoming embedded across the charity’s services. For example, one team has used service mapping to better understand and improve their volunteer management process, while another is reshaping their mental health programme around user needs, and exploring how they might use digital tools – such as sleep apps – within their programmes. Another still is developing a prototype digital product to improve women’s journeys into and through the charity’s services. The product, currently being piloted in several centres with over 50 users, is helping the team learn and embed new skills like user testing and prototyping.
The charity has also transformed its approach to new service development. In April 2018 they secured funding through Access Impact to dig into their data in order to make better decisions based on its analysis, and have used learning from the Fellowship to reshape a data function in the organisation, appointing a data lead to build on this work in the future. They have also rewritten funding bids for new delivery work to include iterations of development – being honest about not knowing at the outset what certain elements are going to look like, but that this will be guided by user needs. Liz told us, “We wouldn’t have had the confidence to not have everything nailed down before. It’s now part of a good project to go through cycles.”
The design workshop at the end of the Fellowship also prompted the team to reflect on users and needs they currently don’t support, such as younger women, and the Board has funded a piece of exploration work into this from their reserves, to better understand the needs of this group and begin to consider how the organisation may respond.
Keen to share and learn digital best practice from other organisations in the region but finding that no such opportunities existed, Liz has helped set up a Digital Communities Network. The network plans to meet regularly, bringing together local social sector organisations to discuss how they can all build confidence in using digital to become more effective.
“I still feel like we’re continuing to learn from the Fellowship as it has improved my personal confidence to read digital articles, engage and explore. Had I not done the programme, I’d have written a separate digital strategy, and not seen it as something embedded across everything we do from services and marketing to fundraising and recruitment. Now I understand that digital permeates everything. We now want to be a leader in our field.” – Liz Islam, Business Development Manager and Digital Fellow.
Interested in the Digital Fellowship?
We are hoping to run another Digital Fellowship cohort again soon, and we’ll announce the details through our newsletter.