JRF and removing Poverty in the UK

Some issues are just so important that you need to give them your attention.  Recently I spotted an article on the Joseph Rowntree Association (JRF) website which caught my attention about tackling poverty in the UK, but today this has been brought more keenly into focus by a report issued by the National Audit Office highlighting the failure of the benefit sanctions system in the UK.  The failure of sanctions is not exactly surprising, but the affirmation through the NAO report highlights again the need to tackle poverty in the UK head on.  It’s shameful that a developed nation such as the UK in the 21st century should even have an issue around poverty, so the work from the JRF recorded in their report – “We can solve poverty in the UK” – is worth a lot of attention.  It’s my #longread for the week.

Starting up Facebook Workplace

We’ve dipped our first toes in the water this week with the new Facebook Workplace. A private, group based, Facebook provided online space which we’re going to use as our company staff communication tool.

Up to now we’ve been using private, P2/O2 themed WordPress sites that I’ve built and managed for the past few years, but which have seen reducing connections with staff as our workforce evolves.

There have always been other options – Yammer and Slack being two more specific one’s I’ve played with. But this new Facebook product seems to be the closest to what we need.

So after it being launched in the UK, I requested our site and it’s now live and operational. First staff on board and first conversations taking place. We’ll see how it proceeds…

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Personally I’m quite a hater of Facebook and the negative influence it has on society, but after investigation, this – quite separate – tool seems to have the right approach for what we need. There are some challenges – no way to embed a Google calendar or create ‘pages’ of information for example, but the positive benefits of me not having to build or maintain the staff website specifically will hopefully outway the niggles. Anyway, watch this space for further feedback and progress as we play with the new tool.

MapIT

Been back to building a set of maps for a new project.  And two of my recommended tools are:

Google MyMaps (powerful but with an annoying limit of 10 layers which means me needing to split maps unnecessarily)
and the excellent tool from MySociety (open sourced society!) called MapIT. A great source of UK map data – especially KML versions of authority boundaries which was what I was after!

If you’re mapping, take a look at these tools.

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how to: make one page into two…

Problem: With a one page poster I wanted to print two copies (approx A5) per A4 page to save paper. Now normally you could do this with a print driver at the point of printing. But wanted to save/send this image to someone else, and tried to do it all from an iPad/iOS.

Solution: Working from an image in Photos (app) convert to a one page .pdf via PDF Converter (app). Use PDF Expert (app) to duplicate that page. Now print the two page .pdf via PDF printer (app). Rather than print to a physical printer, print to a PDF printer which allows you to specify two pages per sheet, scaled to fit. Save the resulting .pdf which now has two copies on one sheet for future use.
This is a general process to get used to on iPad’s which seems complex but in reality is straightforward if you have the right apps and the right approach. Many iPad/iOS users I find think in single steps rather than multiple. But if you can think through multiple steps this makes more possible.
Postscript: might be interesting to automate something like this using Workflow (app) or similar, but I’m not sure how possible that might be. …off to investigate…

how to: extract text

Problem: needed to reproduce a document that we only had a scan of (without retyping it). Needed to find a way to extract the text.
Solution: essentially needed a tool to do OCR on the scan/photo to give us the raw text to recreate the document quickly.  OneNote to the rescue. Add the image/photo into a OneNote, right click, “copy text from image”, then paste as text. Bingo. OCR built into OneNote worked a treat.  Need to remember this solution for next time!

1 Billion Stars

NASA released a photo of 1 billion stars in the Milky Way courtesy of Gaia. Quite an achievement. It’s the scale that’s staggering. The billion stars is probably far less than 1% of the stars in our own Galaxy. Which is one galaxy of billions in the universe. (One universe of many?). The universe is a big place.

That we can even study this or comprehend it is impressive. We can do the science, do the maths, do the engineering and test ideas. Inspiring and worthwhile to keep a perspective on things…

Hello Canva

I just made a poster using Canva.  Took no time at all and I’m very happy with the result.  Rather recommend Canva and looks like I’ll be using it quite a lot from now on…

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CloudMagic is now Newton

So the email app CloudMagic has just become Newton, expanded its functionality and at the same time dropped into a premium priced product at up to £40 per year. And lost me (and many others I fear) as customers and users.

CloudMagic has been my go to email client for a while now. Beautiful design. Flexible and powerful functionality. IMAP support. Lots of quick time saving functions. And works on iOS and Android alike.

So to go premium will cost me £90pa (fees for iPad and Android).

And as I can get everything that Newton does for free via Spark on the iPad, that’s where I’m headed.

I believe in paying for products that work and for buying into tools that I value. But the jump from free to £40 for an app when the marketplace supports free apps that do the same and paid apps that do most of the same for a fraction of the price was always going to be a challenge. We need to understand better what we expect for free and what we need to pay for. But providers also need to think carefully about user loyalty and price points before jumping in.

Goodbye CloudMagic (sadly). Hello Spark. I’ll be watching Newton keenly over the months to see how their pricing strategy works.

[update: hats off to CloudMagic for reacting to user feedback quickly by following up and explaining via email what they are up to. Nice to be kept in the loop, but no changes to the pricing strategy (which will probably keep them afloat in the long run, but might drop them off some customers short term.

VCSSCamp 6

I spend a lot of time working with and experimenting with technology and then in turn, trying to encourage, enable and equip other people – essentially in small non-profit organisations – to make better use of that technology.  But sometimes you can get too close to an issue and unable to see whether you are using the right approaches or should be using a different tack.

So meeting up with others today in Birmingham for a VCSSCamp ‘unconference’ has been (again) a rewarding use of my time.  The discussions allow for sharing, for learning, for peer encouragement and more.

This year I don’t feel astounded by new approaches, but there was value in all our discussions and there were a good number of points for me to take away.

There’s always a range of digital tools to hear about – today’s top tool looks like Canva as a free, graphics publishing tool.  Definitely one I’ll be using and encouraging our team to play with.

There was lots of talk around Social Media (unsurprisingly), both on how to ‘listen’ and filter better on receiving social chatter, but also on creating new strategies.  This is timely for me, as we are working hard at the moment on using Asana to create an effective Editorial campaign coordination tool and experimenting with Hootsuite and scheduling posts more.  I’ll also look for ways to ‘follow’ our own Members social news better in the near future.

One session that fell flat was around Apps and App development in the sector. The consensus seemed to be that (with an exception of the well funded national and international charities), app development is really not happening, expensive, time-consuming, over technical and essentially not a good ‘return on investment’ technology.  This ties with my experience – it’s more than hard enough to get smaller non-profits to get their websites right without trying to get an app off the ground.  But at least having the discussion at VCSSCamp allows me the freedom to ‘park’ the App idea for the foreseeable future.

An interesting discussion was to be had around data, open data and linked data. It got technical and high-brow, but in essence data, when shared and combined, has a real power to transform understanding and potentially delivery in our sector. We had the sense though that we are at the point now where we were perhaps 10 years ago when proposing a move to websites for the sector.  Perhaps in 10 years time at VCSSCamp 16+ we’ll be talking about the successes of open data, but for now we’re at the start of this journey.

Hats off to open data pioneers, to DataCamps, to funders such as Big Lottery via the 360giving initiative who are opening up funding data and to others.  But our discussions highlighted lots of pitfalls at the moment. Technical skills, funding and resources, competition for results within the sector, ownership of data and more were discussed.  Getting funders to ‘push’ a need for open data sets to be a requirement from grant funded projects down to groups was one proposal that seemed to have merit. But overall, asking non-profits to do something so hard at the moment was perhaps a step too far for now. We need to work out what motivations we can find for non-profits to make these steps in the future.

I still see lots of potential in this – using real data to find gaps in local support and provision, perhaps avoiding duplication and finding new needs.  But this is the just the start of this technical transformation.

And a final area I personally spent discussion time on today was the area of governance, trustees and technology.  Trustee boards seldom get technical, nor really drive or lead on things IT.  So what to do?

We agreed on the proposal that every board should have someone (a Technology Trustee?) who ensures that technology is on the agenda and is led from the board. We also agreed that this is rare, unlikely and difficult!  The terminology was raised as an issue – IT, ICT, technology, digital. What to call it these days.

Sharing strong messages with boards about the benefits of technology is key. Perhaps using success stories from others when these can be found.  Making all trustees use email as a starting point was also strongly pointed out – to the extent that trustees that don’t use technology are doing a disservice to their charity!

We discussed that there is too much short term thinking rather than long term visioning and planning.  That there is also too much emphasis on the visible, front line work rather than back office stuff – which puts technology in a bad position.

A final approach to this aligned closely to work we are now doing.  Bringing younger people (under 25) onto boards.  This generation are digitally native and will bring a new and different perspective into the charities and non-profits.  So our Big Lottery funded Young Leaders project in Grimsby is going to be a great experiment in trying to do two things at once – increase opportunities for younger people to get onto charity boards, whilst increasing the technology understanding on boards with which they are involved.  I’m looking forward to seeing how this experiment unfolds.

There were even more discussions at VCCSCamp 6 which I was not party to, but everything learned today will allow me to think afresh about how VANEL and I support our local non-profit sector.  Thanks to the organisers for making today happen.

New charity site for Shalom

I’m very pleased that today we’ve managed to make the new website for Shalom Youth Project go live.

This has been one of our typical approaches to web development.  I build all the technical bits, do the design planning and implementation and project management, but the other large factor is training and supporting the group themselves to learn the skills necessary to edit the site themselves, add content, stories and so on.  It’s a cost-effective and collaborative approach and the charity/group learn skills and have ownership of the final site.

The site is WordPress (as always), uses the Themify Ultra theme and very much uses the Builder functionality – which in this case the client has really managed to get to grips with.  Most of the content and many design decisions came from them.  A great result all round.  Still needs more work but Shalom are happy with where we’ve got to.  And it’s also all down to one of their team who volunteered to do a sponsored run (in the rain, it turned out!) to raise money to pay for the site.

The websites I’m doing via VANEL are so much more about the process, the support, the training and the skills transfer and empowerment.  So pretty pleased this one is now live.

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www.shalchurch.org.uk