Growing digital: Seeing the Shoots Come Through

The Children's Society
6 min readApr 26, 2023

Launching our report, ‘Growing Digital’ , sharing our work and learning from the National Lottery Community Fund’s ‘Digital Fund’ programme.

This is the first blog in a series that aims to reflect on our celebrations and learnings over the 3 years of our Digital Fund journey.

Authors — Lucy Wappett and India Roche

Who we are

We, as an organisation, are here for children and young people when they need us most. We support them when they’re facing huge life challenges like abuse, exploitation, or low wellbeing. And we campaign tirelessly for the big social changes we need to change the lives of the next generation for the better.

Introducing the Digital Fund

This blog series spotlights our Digital Fund programme which began in late 2019, after we were awarded almost half a million pounds from the National Lottery Community Fund to focus on our organisational digital transformation. Over three years of delivering this work we have all experienced the challenges of Covid and seen just how vital digital ways of working and being are. We hope the case studies and insights shared in this blog series will be useful for others in the voluntary sector as they navigate working in the internet era.

Why the Digital Fund?

As a sector, some Charities haven’t been the quickest to embrace and implement digital solutions. This is down to a variety of complex and competing factors including lack of resources, time, and skills. We know that working with vulnerable groups means safeguarding must be a priority and digital poverty can also be a huge blocker when it comes to adoption. Underpinning all of this is the fundraising landscape, which frequently doesn’t encourage innovation or collaboration due to prescriptive funding targets and competing needs, meaning it can be hard to nurture the mindsets, culture, and adaptations necessary to be a truly ‘digital’ organisation.

Prior to the Digital Fund, we had begun the early steps on our digital journey by advancing our digital engagement channels, developing a new eCRM, website and upgrading IT hardware and infrastructure for our staff. Despite this, we were aware that our existing funding didn’t support us to provide the digital options young people, as digital natives, expect or to equip our staff to work in the digital era.

The National Lottery’s Community Fund’s — Digital Fund gave us a number of reasons to be excited about a new type of commissioning. The Digital Fund’s aim was to create a catalyst for lasting change within organisations. Not focussed on creating a one-off solution or digital ‘thing’ but to embed ways of working and culture change, embrace the digital-era and to set us on a path for digital growth. This new approach focussed on key elements to bring about lasting and person-centred change. Examples of this include:

  • Co-design approaches — putting young people at the heart of solutions
  • Iterative and flexible — recognising the context around us and being adaptive
  • Roadmap/goal oriented — setting goals and roadmaps to achieving them
  • Responsible technology — using open-source software, respecting privacy
  • Generous leadership– having an ecosystem mindset, sharing openly
  • Working in an ecosystem — setting a precedent and collaborating
  • Support partners — working with allocated agencies and professionals

What we did on our Digital Journey

Beginning in 2019, our journey of digital growth has been one of intentions and surprises! When we set out, we knew that we wanted to explore both:

‘Whole Change’- how might we transform organisationally to sustain digital approaches? and ‘Soul Change’- how might we create greater impact for young people?

To achieve these we focussed upon:

  • Multi-disciplinary working: Centering programmatic, agile, processes in our re-structure and digital delivery to support teams to collaborate
  • Generous Leadership: Regularly sharing blogs and presentations internally and at external meet ups and conferencesx
  • Anti-racist action: Nurturing a commitment to genuine equity and inclusion, via our Intersectionality Report, programme of anti-racism training and ‘Committed to Conversations’ reflective spaces
  • New ways of working together: Facilitating remote working and introducing service design and digital methodologies to projects and teams
  • New ways of working with young people: Working with young people to develop new products and services together
  • Growing staff capabilities: Ensuring staff were supported with this transition by providing training, coaching, and mentoring with a focus on resilience and adaptability
  • Testing and learning: Creating space to try new things, including digital tools, platforms, and engagement methods, ‘failing safely’ and actively learning
  • Within these categories there were multiple projects and discrete ‘tests of change’ that we piloted over the course of the programme. During the Covid-19 Pandemic we learnt, along with organisations across the world, what it meant to be flexible, adaptable and to think holistically. We went from planning for incremental shifts to having to look at all aspects of digital development simultaneously, including hardware, software, training, and guidance on working remotely and safely with young people and each other.

This collaborative approach paved the way for further collective practice, bringing the governance and focus of our digital work together under a shared umbrella. This allowed us to understand how all components of digital growth needed to complement each other, including: governance, platforms and processes, digital design and delivery and increasing staff capabilities.

Impact and Legacy

We have made great strides and seen changes that we couldn’t have anticipated when we started out our work on the Digital Fund. We have changed our structure, teams, platforms, and processes and we now have the technology and policies in place to support us to work digitally with each other and with young people, alongside a suite of training to complement and sustain this. Our confidence with digital approaches and working in digital ‘places’ has grown hugely, and we’ve started the work on culture change that we know is so needed for these shifts to be sustained. However, it’s vital that we don’t slow our work and instead capitalise upon the momentum we have built to gain even more traction against our aims of truly making digital ways of working part of our ‘business as usual’.

As we embark on the next phase of our digital journey, we have five priority intentions to catalyse sustainability and support our continued ambition…

1 . Ensure we have the digital leadership we need to continue to transform, including having clear ownership, providing clear vision, developing an ambitious roadmap, and embedding an approach to impact measurement

2 . Continue to prioritise people and enabling processes. Including sustaining and adding to our digital focussed roles, recruiting for digital skills, and promoting collaboration, creativity and sharing

3 . Create a digitally enabling culture and cultivate new mindsets. Including living our organisational values of trust and bravery and creating space to ‘fail safely’. Thinking systemically about how to further strengthen synergies across disciplines

4 . Sustain and evolve our new digital products and approaches. Including generating further investment and nurturing our blended service offer through service design and improvement, working with our users to ensure we stay relevant and effective

5 . Maintain an unwavering commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Including continued anti-racist action, prioritising intersectional practice, and ensuring digital accessibility is the norm

For full detail on this work and what we learnt along the way read our ‘Growing Digital Report’ and watch out for our next blogs, which discuss different aspects of our journey in more detail alongside relevant case studies and insights.

With big thanks to all who supported us on this journey.

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The Children's Society

Supporting young people to build hope for their futures.