Rather like predicting which horse will win a race, the trained eye can tell which Tech for Good projects are most likely to be successful. There’s some pedigree advice in this article.
You’re a charity chief exec. You’re planning a Tech for Good project or maybe you’ve won a grant. How can you be sure you’ve got a good chance of success? How can you stack the odds in your favour?
To stack the odds and give yourself the best chance check if you’re planning these four things.
1. You’re running a solution-finding project
You look at your plans and know that you’re not running a solution-building project. Instead you’re running a solution-finding project. The difference here is important because it’s the difference between old and new charity approaches to building tech.
The old approach
‘We’ve specified the tech solution up front, we know what it needs to do, and how it needs to work. We’ve worked this out either by people telling us what they need, or because we had a good idea. Now we just need to get on and build it.’
A new approach
‘We’ve got a problem we want to solve and some ideas for how we might achieve it. But we’re open to the solution being different to what we currently think. We’re going to investigate the problem further, narrow and refine our thinking until we have a clear concept. Then we’re going to run some design and testing cycles to test that concept in practice.’
Do you see the difference?
Even after you’ve built and launched a digital service, this ‘solution finding’ approach should continue for the rest of the product’s lifecycle. Use the same approach when making changes or adding features.
2. You understand the difference between user and social value
How much do you understand the difference? If you’re you’ve worked in service design or used user centred design principles before then there’s a good chance you understand it. If you haven’t then likely you don’t. Because user value isn’t a common concept in the voluntary sector.
But social value is something we know a lot about. It’s the value of an intervention or service in terms of how it affects a social problem. Social value is rather like social impact, or social outcomes.
User value is still a relatively new phenomenon. It’s the value of a product or service in terms of how easy it is to use. Not only in the moment of interaction, but in the context of the user’s day-to-day life.
For example, you could have a service that creates great social impact when it’s used, but few people use it because it’s delivered at the wrong time, in the wrong place or by staff with poor engagement skills.
How to know you know the difference
You’ll know your project staff understand the difference between user and social value when you have:
- A social impact framework and a process for collecting evidence of impact (so you know if you’re actually solving the social problem)
- Solid understanding of how your product fits into a users’ world and evidence that people are using it voluntarily
3. Your project isn’t ignoring financial value
It’s not sexy. It’s not as much fun as building a product. And there’s none of the warm glowy feeling that comes from people using it.
But these fun, warm feelings will only last if you attend to your product’s financial value.
How to ignore financial value
Ignoring behaviour could include:
- Ignoring it because it’s a bit harder to do
- Assuming financial value means charging your end users
- Ruling out any commercial model because you’re a charity
- Delaying it until you’ve cracked social and user value (there’s a case for focusing on these more at the beginning but don’t delay too long)
- Hoping for grant funding to sustain you (maybe you’ll need a second grant, but grant funding isn’t a long term strategy)
How to attend to financial value
Attention giving behaviour includes being 100% willing and able to:
- Allocate time and resources to developing value propositions and concepts of financial value from the start
- Test these concepts with customers, commissioners, grant funders or investors – so you get feedback from the people who will pay
- Build your product or service with your best concept/value proposition in mind
- Sacrifice nice to have end user features in favour of including at least one feature with financial value to the people who will pay
4. Your team kicks ass
You’ve read the first three. Do you think success is more or less likely now? Give it a really hard Paddington Bear stare.
If you feel less confident don’t worry (yet) because even if you don’t focus on the solution, or don’t yet understand user and social value, or are unable to consider its financial value, having the right team can still bring success.
That’s because the right team will be willing to embrace new ways of working, and be supported by you to do that. They will be willing to learn what’s needed to make the project successful.
Your team will have…
They’ll have head-above-the-parapet support from key leaders including the Chief Executive and Trustees. The project leader will have dedicated capacity to deliver and learn as they go. The team will include a competent and engaged development partner, and between its members will have previous experience of failure and maybe even success.
Beyond the team you’ll have a strong network of partners and potential customers, ready to be involved in co-design sessions, usability testing, concept testing and piloting.
If your team has the right capacity and attitude then don’t worry, everything else can be learnt. The odds of success can still be stacked in your favour.
What would you add?
These are four key indicators of likely success before you start your project. More indicators come into play once you’re up and running. Would you add any more?