This week, 1st to 7th of June, is Volunteers Week, an opportunity to celebrate and recognize the value that volunteers contribute around the country.
I thought this was a great opportunity to reflect on Twine as a part of Power to Change’s activities to support Community Business, and volunteers, and some of our journey so far.
Local communities are increasingly having to take things into their own hands.
Whether its establishing or maintaining amenities and facilities they rely on, or looking after the things that enhance the quality of life for local people. Often, the vehicle for achieving these goals and organizing a community is a community business.
Power to Change was established to provide a source of funding, advice and support for these crucially important organisations. We very quickly noticed how technology could play a larger role in their management and decision-making processes. Seeing a lack of provision, we then sought to establish a technology platform not only to collect data in key areas but to share data and experiences between community businesses (CB).
The result was Twine. For those of you who have been here for the duration, you’ll know we’ve done a lot of different things since pen was first put to paper to outline what Twine would be back in 2016.
The journey has been an interesting one, and it looks like it will continue to be an interesting one into the future.
Some of the key learning points we’ve picked up along the way:
- Some CB’s tend to rely on records which are paper-based and feedback mechanisms which are anecdotal.
- Digital tools are often seen as valuable, but finding the “right” one is either impossible (because CB activity is unusual) or very difficult.
- CBs can struggle to find people with the digital skills they need. This isn’t surprising considering that some CB’s operate in areas of significant deprivation.
- The process of doing this digital work takes a lot of time. Choosing platforms, implementing it, training staff and so forth are a drain on resources many CBs can’t afford.
- Often, a limit on resources is a struggle which CB’s regularly face.
- Most CB’s want to be able to stand up for their communities and prove their social impact. To funders, to local authorities, to anyone and everyone!
It’s not surprising then that volunteers are such a key part of community business activity. I’ve been told multiple times (just as it should be) that the value of volunteering to a community business is not just what the volunteers do, but how they are growing their skills, becoming more resilient and gaining valuable experience.
Our hope is that some of the above challenges are ones which Twine helps community businesses overcome. With the volunteer app, we aimed for to put the power of logging hours in the hands of volunteers themselves. It’s a simple smartphone app with a familiar calendar interface and one-button operation. Anyone who owns a smartphone will find it easy to use.
For staff members, with greater transparency than ever, they’re able to balance the efforts of their volunteer team and focus on other key tasks which aren’t paperwork.
The visitor app was the newest addition to our toolset, and was built with the idea of capturing footfall in mind. With service users, visitors, however you may term it; there is value in knowing who is using your business and why. It lets you plan your services, understand user journeys and again, prove impact. We’re hoping to add more data fields to our visitor app soon based on community business feedback. For example, how far has a particular person travelled to use your services?
We’ve aimed to find a space below “too expensive” and above “not suitable”, a middle ground of easy enough to use and powerful enough to benefit CBs. We think we’ve found it with the volunteer and visitor apps, and the data dashboard.
Twine’s volunteer and footfall tracking apps are just the start of a potentially comprehensive range of digital tools that could help community businesses optimise their resources and enhance the contributions they can make to their communities.
Together, we can prove the value of digital technology to community businesses and the important role it will play in enabling the sector to fulfil its goals and serve communities to the utmost.
We’re really proud of where we are today. Thanks for being part of the adventure!