Not for profits and ‘digital’

I went to Barcamp NFP a couple of weeks ago. It was incredibly refreshing to see so many people working so hard to bring their organisations up to speed and to share things that work with each other. A special word of thanks to Laila (@spirals) for organising such a fantastic day. On a personal level, it was absolutely lovely to bump into old colleagues and catch up on what they’ve been up to.

At the risk of reiterating the points I (and a few others) were making on the day, there was one huge thing that came out of it for me:

Don’t reinvent the wheel.

A lot of the conversations, especially around communications online and ‘tone of voice’, were reiterating the conversations in UKGovCamp in 2012, CommsCamp in 2013 and every TeaCamp that I’ve been to on the “digital press office”. People in local and central government have had (and in many cases are still having) these conversations. There are huge resources to draw on in coming to decisions about this. Everyone, from local councils to the Foreign Office, has had to work out some variation of this debate and more often than not, they’ve blogged about it. Read the debate, and add to it, the issues that everyone seems to be running across are not that different.

A lot of conversations focused on user needs, and that was encouraging. However, many of the attendees talking about this subject were unable to gain traction with this way of thinking in their organisation. Many people complained about CEOs demanding apps*, or saying “we can do agile, but only with a fixed price and delivery date”, which reminded me again that these issues have already been solved in other areas of the public sector. The persistence of these issues perhaps hinges on a lack of awareness of the current digital landscape in senior staff and decision makers…

*On a hipster point – an app? So 2009


  1. Using open source stuff isn’t magically cheaper because it’s open source. It’s cheaper because you can share resources and code.
  2. Github is a really powerful tool for open source development. It would be great to get something similar to for charities and other NFPs.
  3. Groups like Lasa exist to share tech and expertise in the social welfare sector. Organisations like this exist in many sectors; we should be supporting and contributing to them.
  4. If you really need to make something bespoke, open source it, so that others can benefit from your work.


  1. “We need an app” 
    No you don’t, and I can probably prove it with experiences from other people with even more money and resources than you.
  2. “I had to write a digital strategy”
    Erk. There are loads of ways to do this, but the best are business strategies that are digital, living and responsive to change. As soon as you print it, it is out of date.


  1. Agile/user centred design isn’t too tough to explain to senior staff. The GDS service design manual gives you the bones of it and if you want, you can take the github repo and fork it for your own organisation or sector.

The core lesson I took away from Barcamp NFP was that we should all be sharing things beyond barcamp, teacamp, ukgovcamp, or any other event we go to. Most importantly we need to remember that knowledge sharing needs to extend further than just the digital team: decision makers and CEOs still aren’t getting the good news.

While of course we’re here to talk to anyone who wants to do agile digital projects, if you want to get to grips with some of these conversations and bring a different perspective, then you should go to things beyond just charity events. Sector events can easily turn into an echo chamber, and having diversity of experience brings a breadth of approach.

Hope to see you at TeaCamp, UKGovCamp, AgileTea, LocalGovCamp, CommsCamp and more!