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Tackling barriers to digital change for staff and volunteers

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If you want your organisation to succeed with digital, it’s really important to get staff and volunteers on board.

Reasons staff and volunteers can struggle with digital change

Staff and volunteers may not engage for the following reasons.

  • They're reluctant to learn something new because they’re familiar with the current technology so they want to keep using it.
  • They worry about getting it wrong, and not doing a good job.
  • They’re wary of being asked to do more work, and sceptical that digital solutions will help.
  • They’ve had a previous bad experience, and they fear the new solution may not work.
  • They think digital change may interfere with their way of working.
  • They simply don’t see the need for change, if things are already functioning well.
  • They feel threatened by the process and worry that jobs are at risk.

All of these are reasonable concerns and it’s important for digital leads to engage with staff teams, and address them.

Read more about barriers to digital inclusion in the Digital Inclusion Toolkit.

Things you can do to make digital progress smoother

Here are some ways to get staff and volunteers on board, as recommended by digital leaders at small and medium-sized charities.

Understand the culture

Change happens differently in every organisation, and you need to know how it works in yours. It’s good to know how staff like to learn, and how information moves about the organisation.

Understand how people work

Start with a practical understanding of people's roles - what they do, how they do it, why they do it, and what frustrates them. This will help you make sure any new digital tools or processes will add value to people's jobs. It will help them trust that you've thought about this.

Find the most influential people

Find your digital champions. People who have influence, not necessarily the most senior, and they may even be your biggest sceptics. Understand their motivations and pain points, and work out how digital can help them. If they become advocates for your way of working, things will go much more easily.

Involve people early

It’s really important to communicate with staff. When you’re introducing new digital systems, it’s easy to get caught up in technical processes and external research. Digital often starts off with intensive work on one system, in one corner of the organisation, involving only a few people. It’s never too early to talk to everyone else, and explain what’s going on.

Co-design with staff and volunteers

Involve staff and volunteers if you want to succeed. They are experts in the people who use your services and in their organisation. They’ll have strong views about how services should be run and they have to use the technology.

Our article on dealing with unconscious bias has a starter guide to co-design.

Give them the evidence

Staff want to know that you’ve done your preparation. Many will have seen IT projects fail in the past. They’ll be worried about the implications for service users and about excluding people, and leaving vulnerable individuals without support.

So show them the user research, and this will go a long way to reassure them.

You can also get support from other places. Show staff that you are following processes that have worked in other charities. Or get support from external experts and consultants who can back up what you’re saying.

Don’t dismiss concerns

Digital leads work hard on new services and systems. It can be easy to get defensive when those systems are challenged or questioned. There are many reasons why staff reservations are reasonable and valid. Digital often brings with it big changes and it can have significant impacts. Challenge may feel like a personal criticism of the digital lead, but it’s very unlikely that it really is, and it’s important to remember this.

Get a small win

It’s much easier to get people on board if you can show that it’s already working, and we recommend starting small. It’s much easier to make all the mistakes when doing something small. Once you have a handful of happy users in one corner of the office it’s easier to persuade others to get involved.

Make your motivations clear

It’s easy to be mistrustful and think that decisions are being made to save money and not to deliver better results for staff or users. If you can show that change is happening for the right reasons, staff will show much more trust and engagement.

Test and change

Things won’t be right the first time. They never are. The whole philosophy of digital says that it’s important to test things, make changes, and iterate frequently.

With staff, this is an opportunity. If you listen to what they tell you, and do something about it, then they are far more likely to engage with you next time. You’ll have a better service too.

Next steps

Here are some useful resources that could help you get started.

Last reviewed: 02 March 2021

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 02 March 2021

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