You need to learn how social value is created in tech projects. That way you’ll know what to expect and when on your Tech for Good journey. This is important for funders to understand too.
Social value. You could call it social impact. It’s what we strive for in the Third Sector.
We already know its language, we’re already focused on creating it. Our desire to achieve it drives most Tech for Good ideas.
So why bother writing this article?
There’s some differences
There are significant (like, really important!) differences in how tech projects go about creating social value. The end result is the same but the journey is different. It takes longer, failure is more likely (and harder to ignore) but, if it succeeds, the social impact will be much greater.
Understand these differences now and you’ll be able to think, plan or fund your Tech for Good project more realistically. Leave it until later and the differences will trip you up and send you down the Tech for Good toilet bowl (yes, it exists).
A definition of Social Value
Before we jump in further check if you agree with these definitions:
“Social Value: the beneficial impact on society that comes from one’s actions”Billy Dann, Head of Influence at Comic Relief
“A positive impact on the health, strength and sustainability of communities.”
Nick Stanhope, Shift
“A measurable positive impact on people’s lives. It’s an improvement in their health, their life chances, their environment or their relationships with others and should be built in a way that doesn’t create negative unintended consequences.”
Paul Miller, Bethnal Green Ventures
Each of these three definitions talks about social value leading to social impact. If a product or service creates social value then social impact will be the result.
Agree? Are we good so far?
How social value is different in Tech for Good projects
The journey to creating it is different in four ways.
1. It takes longer to achieve
No tech project will generate value immediately. It might need 6-12 months of research and development to generate solid indicators of potential social, user and financial value. Usually it’ll need another 12 months to generate evidence of actual social impact and the learning needed to scale that impact.
This means it may be two years before a team proves their winning formula and can see how to scale to a mass audience.
2. But impact can be 10-100x greater
Once a team has found the winning formula they can confidently plan how to scale their product. Scaling means taking their digital service to an audience of many more people than a human powered service of equivalent funding could ever hope to reach. When done well scaling can multiply social impact 10-100x, creating huge social return on a grant or investment.
This means that after three years a tech for good product or service can be impacting the lives of many more people than an equivalent three year grant funded project would manage in the same time.
3. The journey to achieving social impact doesn’t fit with traditional grant funding models
Grant funders usually expect to seeing social impact begin within three months of a grant’s start date. For them, waiting two years for reliable proof of impact is a long time! So the journey of developing, proving and scaling Tech for Good doesn’t fit with their normal funding programmes.
However, that’s OK because grant making patterns are changing. Organisations like Comic Relief, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Nominet Trust and soon the Big Lottery are trying out different ways of supporting charity tech projects.
4. It’s created through a different design process
Tech for Good projects use structured design principles and methodologies to achieve their goals. They might use agile methods, user centred design tools, service design principles or any of many others.
However, most non-digital services don’t do this. The Third Sector isn’t yet ‘design skilled up’. This leads to more examples of static and ineffective services.
In digital services this doesn’t happen, because failure is usually more visible and occurs earlier, before significant grant funding is made.
Stay focused and be ready for the journey
Whether you’re a funder or a delivery organisation know that it takes time to create social value and cause social impact. This will challenge your expectations and your funder’s grant making models. However, get it right together and the scale of social impact you create will make it a journey worth making.