Whether it’s partnering start-ups with large corporates, coming together to improve digital skills across the country, or a private company joining forces with the public sector, cross-sector collaboration is increasingly becoming a driving force for innovation.
At a recent roundtable, some of the finalists in the Digital Leaders 100 Awards (DL100) cross-sector collaboration category discussed both the challenges they face and their success stories.
Adam Micklethwaite, director of business and innovation at the Tinder Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation which aims to improve people’s lives through digital technology, said collaborating with other sectors and companies is key to having an impact at scale.
“It has its challenges obviously, but if you want to reach a large group of society and have a national footprint, you need to collaborate,” he said.
The English My Way Programme
The Tinder Foundation’s English My Way programme, now shortlisted for a DL100 award, is a prime example of successful collaboration.
The programme, which ran between April 2014 and March 2016, aimed to blend basic English language training with digital instruction, all delivered in a community setting.
“The aim was to look at areas across the country in which English language skills were lowest, and were there was the greatest potential to achieve higher social cohesion through improving language skills,” said Micklethwaite.
The two-year programme was funded by The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) saw the Tinder Foundation, BBC Learning English and the British Council all coming together to use their respective skills and expertise.
“We all brought different things to the table,” said Mickethwaite.
“We brought experience and expertise in managing large-scale digital community-based programmes, the BBC brought Learning Circle, which is a set or resources that can be used to run English language learning events in the community and the British Council brought its expertise with helping design an English language curriculum.”
The curriculum and a set of learning modules and resources were made available to volunteers and community organisations who could deliver the training directly in their community. During the programme, 9,000 people benefited from the scheme.
The programme was delivered locally through 73 community organisations in 38 areas across the country with great results, added Micklethwaite.
A large proportion of people who attended were female (68%), with 27% being Pakistani and 56% Muslim. The final results of the programme showed that 70% of people who participated advanced to Entry Level 1 English while 72% went on to further learning.
“Approximately 68% reported increased confidence when using their English in shops or public transport, so all these contributed to reduced social isolation and increased integration into the community,” said Micklethwaite.
Working with government and public sector
For some, collaborating with government and public sector organisations can be a technological and regulatory minefield. Micklethwaite said it’s important to know how government works and “which way the wind is blowing, so you can get in at the right time and have the right conversations with the right people”.
Another person who has experience working with the public sector is Alexandra Eavis, director of Alcove, a digital adult social care system powered by the internet of things (IoT).
Alcove’s system has been designed together with housing association East Thames Group’s care and support team, which has been key to its success and landed it a nomination in the DL100 Awards. In fact, East Thames Group shares its offices with Alcove.
“Being in its office has been absolutely fundamental to designing the right things,” said Eavis. She added that little things, such as overhearing conversations about the problems they faced, meant they could “tailor exactly what we built and the whole system according to what people’s problems and challenges were”.
Alcove aims to make it easier for providers to coordinate adult social care, and make lives easier for the service users.
The company started off simply with in-home sensors, which could collect data and send an alert to carers should there be any unusual activity, or no activity at all.
Eavis said this is great for telling other people and sending alerts to carers, although it “strips people of responsibility. We realised we needed to have some interaction with the end user as well, and not just parcel the interaction onto carers”.
Technology for the housebound
So, Alcove came up with adapted smart watches, with very simple functionalities, such as being able to make emergency calls by tapping it, or being able to receive appointment or medication reminders.
“We also have a tablet incorporating up to six faces or images, so it might be the call centre for emergency calls, friends who live in the building, or family members,” said Eavis.
“It’s like a virtual hub for people who are immobile. They will sit in their different rooms and drink pints together. They quite like video calling, it’s a bit like being on TV they say,” she added.
Alcove now works with several local authorities, care providers and retirement villages. However, working with local authorities can still be challenging, said Eavis.
“Very often, you get this divide between the digital teams, who sometimes are the biggest blockers,” she said, and so social workers, who should spend most of their time seeing users, end up spending most of their time “being bad administrators”.
The people factor
Part of the solution, she said, it to find people who are forward thinking. “You need the thought leaders. You need to get buy-in from all different parts of the organisation. It’s targeting and having different collateral and a different approach for different people.”
Another place where the people factor is important is at the Trampery, another DL100 nominee, which gives entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses a place to create a community where they can innovate and collaborate.
From working with the Barbican on a digital arts incubator, to creating a partnership with the London College of Fashion, or working with Accenture to create a retail tech facility, the Trampery’s success has been dependent on its partnerships.
The Trampery aims to create working environments where start-ups and larger corporates are exposed to each other’s ideas and innovation, and can take advantage of their expertise.
“The success of the Trampery is the success of its members, so we are hardwired to do anything we can to make sure they succeed,” said Will Mercer, head of strategy at the Trampery. “What we realised was that one of the strongest success stories we always have is high performance.”
“You want to get the right people in the community. It doesn’t really matter if they’re the right business or not, they just need to be the right person. If you want to attract the best people you need to offer a reason why they’re there,” said Mercer.
Dates, mates and pitches
He describes the journey of collaboration as a story about the relationship. The first date is where you “plant the seed of thinking, the equivalent of a pitch session for an idea of the possibilities in the counter party”.
The next date is all about understanding what they want out of it.
If the bigger company is looking to bring new products online, something like an open innovation programme would be a suitable tool, but if they just want to get the organisation thinking about “cool stuff”, a hackathon might be perfectly suited.
Growing at scale
While having a good idea is great, scaling up is difficult. Alexandra Eavis said for Alcove, social media has been a huge help.
“You’d think that social care is not very sexy, but we’ve been trying to flip that on its head. We have quite a fun social media approach,” she said, and its Instagram feed is full of hashtags such as #growingolddisgracefully. “It’s all about smashing stigma,” added Eavis.
Attending events and tapping into its network of “Alcove advocates” also helped. “A lot of this is word of mouth, so having case studies and the benefits clearly laid out for different groups is important,” she added.
At the Tinder Foundation, the organisation already has a national footprint, but the grapevine effect has also helped.
Working with large corporates, such as Lloyds Banking Group, where the Tinder Foundation is collaborating on a project to train 20,000 of its staff to become digital champions, has also sparked interest.
The Trampery, the Tinder Foundation and Alcove have all been shortlisted as finalists in the Digital Leaders 100 Awards under the category of Cross-Sector Digital Collaboration of the Year.
Computer Weekly is a media partner for the Digital Leaders Awards