Navigating ambiguity (or … crap, how do we get to a clear view of the problem)

Since joining the world of consulting I’ve learnt a highly valued skill is the ability to navigate ambiguity.

When dealing with big complex questions it’s so easy to get lost, or to attempt to find too many answers which don’t actually provide much value and simply exhaust your resources in the process.

I think anyone who has worked in digital for a while has at least some innate skill and comfort with dealing with the unknown, but lots of people don’t and so it’s singled out as something that differentiates a good consultant.

Good news is there are a number of different approaches you can use to structure a problem and prioritise the most useful answers to seek out. For example:

  • Root cause (or problem framing) trees and driver trees are useful in breaking down a problem or set of factors.
  • System thinking helps form a shared view of the interconnecting influences which could be investigated further
  • Design thinking gets you back to ‘basics’ in examining behaviour of the actual stakeholders to identify the real pains felt, and gains sought.
  • Sometimes it’s as simple as forming a set of hypotheses and prioritising these in a trusty 2by2 grid of ‘uncertainty’ against ease of validating/testing.

Ultimately, what I’ve learnt is it’s easier to abstract to a level of clarity if you can helicopter above the detail, at least at first. Only when the key individuals share a common reference point, and therefore language around the problem, can you clearly navigate that pesky sea of ambiguity.

Hopefully that was useful – let me know!

I will also consider requests ūüôā

What’s it like to go from nfp to a big four?

It’s been a while; about two years or so!

In that time I‚Äôve gone from a tech startup focused on the non-profit sector to a big four focused on… well everything if you choose to seek it out.

Recently I caught up with a non-profit contact that made their own career move and we started to swap stories about the lessons we‚Äôve learnt. Here‚Äôs a few on the ones that can be shared in public ūüėČ

РIt’s not easy; picking up the lingo and adjusting to the nuances of different culture is always something to grapple with in a new job, switching sector magnifies this. This of course makes it a brilliant opportunity to learn

РEvery organisation feels like it has something it’s missing and something to prove, even if from the outside it doesn’t appear that way

– When there are multiple people with the same job title your personal brand is key, focus on finding ‚Äėyour people‚Äô. This is of course helped by an authentic personal brand

– ‚ÄėMaking a sale‚Äô isn‚Äôt my style; it‚Äôs not good for you or the client, invest in a joint project or venture which brings common value and interests everyone involved

I’ll keep it short and sweet for this first foray back into blogging. Hoping to do more very soon.



digital capabilities and attitudes by age and region

This week I attended the launch of Lloyds Bank Consumer Digital Index. There are some fascinating findings related to financial capability and its link to digital skills. But the two things that stood out as more broadly useful were prompted by questions from the audience:

What are we doing to improve digital capabilities across the UK?

I’ve always been conscious of regional variances in digital¬†capability¬†but the study data appears show that’s its not a major¬†issue anymore. Instead we have to dig deeper into the factors involved in¬†creating¬†inclusive digital services. Poor user experiences and communications were two of the areas flagged by Martha Lane Fox and the other panel members as barriers to digital skill adoption.

Regional digital skills and financial skills: LBG Consumer Digital Index

What are we doing to enable older generation to access digital services?

This was a little more contentious as the panel called for a focus on those that will engage rather than sinking time into those that will never engage within their lifetime. The panel were driven by the finding that there are hard to move negative views among non-adopters such as some over 60s. With digitally excluded groups a more effective approach suggested is to work with the network of individuals around them to provide indirect access to digital services.

Attitudes to digital amongst over 60s: LBG Consumer Digital Index


corporates with purpose

Recently I was lucky enough to get back together with fellow Marketing Academy Alumni for some thought provoking talks and sessions around the theme of purposeful marketing.

One of the talks was from a CMO of a large drinks company and was followed by various discussion topics. Here’s a few of the stand-out points I jotted down:

  • Its not about marketing to consumers, it‚Äôs about mattering to more people.
  • Clear sense of purpose is a guiding star that helps all things ladder up to delivering more engagement
  • World today:
    • About discovering a truth and getting it to be shared.
    • No longer define audience as consumers, we are talking to people.
    • Purpose a key part of mattering to people.
    • Many more customer touch-points means you need a stronger organising thought.
  • Stengal purpose study showed meaningful brands grow faster.

What’s does this mean for charities?

With much of what was shared easily being¬†something a charity could¬†say it¬†reinforced for me how¬†the landscape has changed.¬†There’s no doubting the trend of corporates further aligning themselves with¬†social good and, at least in some cases, investing in¬†meaningful social good¬†activities.

Of course having a purpose doesn’t always equal doing social good but this isn’t always clear to (or cared about by) mass audiences.

What is clear is that this trend amounts to heightening pressure for charities to focus on the things that make them unique. This could mean transforming in lots of different ways in order to do this better, and also differently to commercial companies.

When the public see your brand in the same frame as more highly resourced commercial brands it could be far too easy to be drowned out.

digital transformation KPIs: myths and meaning

This week I spoke at the NCVO Trustee conference in a session on¬†digital transformation, with my particular bit being on the practical angle of measurement. It was a great session with talks from Megan Griffith Gray,¬†Patrick Nash and Kay Boycott highlighting the need to view digital transformation not as a subset of Comms, and not as “Digital”, but instead¬†as Service Transformation.

My favourite bits included when Kay challenged the audience of Trustees to educate themselves and stop dismissing digital strategy as something they can delegate purely to junior staff. Seeing Patrick highlight the proven 70% Р80% savings possible in using technology to support delivery of services also made it to my highlights.

When it came to talking about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), we¬†asked the audience of around 40 to raise their hand if they were exposed to their digital KPIs as trustees. Sadly an awkward absence of raised hands¬†followed. It’s not often I’m left that speechless…

Moving quickly on, I spoke on a few myths and meaningful factors to¬†be aware of. Here’s the top-line points:


  • Big numbers¬†matter
    • In their own right big numbers are misleading, having lots of traffic or social media¬†followers means nothing if¬†people are not actively engaging and doing things that contribute to your charity goals.
  • Improved results are always good
    • Seasonality and external environmental factors could be causing peaks which have nothing to do with any actions your charity has taken. While this improvement might be beneficial, it isn’t always an indicator you’re doing more things right.
  • Digital needs its own KPIs
    • Everyone owns the performance, not just the digital team. Equally digital should be woven through all you do as we live in a country where digital is embedded in our lives. Measures should no longer sit in a silo and¬†be¬†the interest of¬†the few ‘experts’.


  • Outcome driven
    • Start with understanding your audiences and what will genuinely impact them and your related charity goals. Measures like ‘opportunities to see’, ‘page views’ and ‘impressions’ mean nothing unless you can prove impact within or for your target audiences and mission.
  • People and culture
    • Building capabilities within your team is critical, you can’t assume younger workforces automatically have workplace appropriate¬†digital skills. Taking a phone call personally doesn’t directly translate to what works professionally, this is the same with digital skills. Baselining and monitoring¬†skills and personal development is key to encouraging and supporting digital transformation.
  • Shifts
    • What you really need to pay attention to is shifts, and aim to track this over time. Benchmarking your results and spend against the external environment will help you understand performance and whether you might be lagging behind. Using stats like the Ofcom Communications Market Reports can help define¬†whether you should be investing in other areas¬†based on consumer behaviour.

The session ended with a quick Q&A which exposed enthusiasm but a shared concern about getting the right help and resources. Personally I feel its too easy to use these challenges as excuses to¬†brush aside change as unobtainable, but I’m hopeful this room of Trustee’s will start to change things.

should you always show a donate button?

In a recent strategy session I was leading with a charity we hit upon a debate the team had been having for the last few months of thinking about their new website; should the donate button always be on?

The fundraiser at the charity had shared some study or other (I’ve asked for details – please comment if you know them) which said a donate button on your home page and header¬†wasn’t a good idea and actually put off visitors rather than allowing time to build engagement before making an ask.

Cutting to the chase; I disagreed.

A clear ‘always on’ donate button is like a steering wheel in a car, it’s an expected part of the furniture your visitor¬†needs to see to know they’re in the right place (a charity website) and to get involved if they want to.

With every part of your website now a potential homepage, because any user could land anywhere on your site from a search, you need to ensure there’s something that clearly communicates what you are and a donate button is a good shortcut – a badge for charities.

If you’re a heavily service orientated charity you should of course¬†consider the weighting of the ‘call to asks’ across your site. Focusing on servicing the people you’re there to help is critical, without question, but like all things in life – awareness comes before action.




barcampnfp 2015

Barcampnfp 2015 end of day group shot by @netsmith

Barcampnfp 2015 end of day group shot

Hello, long time no see, sorry!

This year seems to have really flown by and I have a few different blog posts stuck in my head ready to get out. The first one being to share all the great stuff we learned from this year’s Barcampnfp.

Held 8th April 2015 in the ultimate shabby chic east London space (thank you Top Office Machines) we again had around 100 non-profit interested tech and nfp staff come together to network and learn.

How did the day work?

barcampnfp session card photo by Gaby JeffsFor those of you that don’t know already; Barcampnfp is in an unconference format, where the only thing set before the day is the venue and times. A blank timetable is posted on the morning of the event so that every participant has the chance to propose sessions. The event truly is owned by the people who attend it – this way only the topics of interest to the audience actually become part of the day!

I’ve always slightly broken the rules of a traditional barcamp by having a defined theme (tech & non-profits) and curating the sessions rather than just allowing the timetable board to be filled up directly. Following the mammoth curation session last year I decided to try just letting the participants free like the traditional¬†format. To support this I creating more structured session cards (see pic) to guide people making suggestions.

The structured cards worked well but the curation was something participants said they’d like back next year. The curation was missed because¬†it helped¬†similar topics merge and gave the chance for people to be matched with someone who knows about a theme they want to learn about. Some great lessons to take on for the next event!

What did we learn?

Here’s a few of the high level things we learned:

  • Agile methodology is¬†becoming more adopted in non-profits, but contrary to common thought discipline and documentation is what really makes agile work.
  • Digital transformation is a¬†hot topic in¬†the sector right now, some organisations are completely in support while others aren’t. Either way there are¬†lots of ‘stealth’ tactics that can be put to¬†use by specialists without org support.
  • Engaging young people¬†requires great imagery along with¬†good stories. Just bite the bullet and use Instagram and Snapchat which is where these audiences are right now.
  • A/B testing is important but don‚Äôt test something that you‚Äôre not prepared to implement -¬≠ it might win!
  • Video can be done on a shoe string – raw and real stories work best in this case.
  • Measuring impact¬†is a challenge still being ploughed through – the AMEC framework can be¬†a great model to work with.

Check out the live notes from the day here and pictures here.

As always, let me know if you’d like to run a barcampnfp near you or get involved in the London events @spirals.

charities going backwards in digital maturity – should we blame the donors

This week Lloyds and Go On UK released their 2015 digital maturity report with the headline insight that charities are behind SMEs and going backwards when it comes to digital.

There’s some fascinating stats such as the % of digital skills across four broad skill areas (communicate, find things, provide information, transact). The study shows that charities come out worst in transact skills areas and, to be honest, I’m not that surprised.

Lloyds digital maturity report - graphWhile it’s easy to get into debates about the methodology used in the study, what’s harder to deny the fact that as a whole the charity sector has been slower to take up more digitally enabled transaction methods.

You can logic that this is due to appropriate audience focus; with older audiences being more likely donors and where average giving amounts are typically higher. To my knowledge the persistence of the printed cheque is specifically tied to charities lobbying for it to continue precisely due to this fact (happy to be corrected here if you know different!).

So should we blame the donors for charities being behind in digital?

Before I say anything else, the answer to this is clearly No. There’s a complex set of factors at play beyond audience fit; limited resources, expertise and affordable¬†technology.

Being a long time digital specialist in the sector I’ve seen the trials and tribulations of forward focused individuals (including many non-specialists). Individuals who’ve¬†tried to use¬†digital but been left feeling disempowered and receiving¬†warnings that¬†this would risk their long-time supporter engagement. Where you have limited resources and the technology isn’t easily available you do often¬†have to make a choice, and do it quickly based on assumptions.

Things have changed but they need to change more

With¬†SMS giving increased¬†in the last few years I’ve definitely seen a shift in charities thinking more about younger people. As ‘older donors’ become even more technically savvy this too has¬†increased the impetus in the sector.

Instead of the first assumption being ‘they don’t do digital’ a few¬†more decisions now come from the assumption ‘everyone is using digital and if we’re not there they’ll go to someone else’. However, having worked in some of the largest charities and now working with more different sized charities I can see there’s¬†a lack of equality across the sector. Not every charity has the resources, expertise and technology to have shifted.

I’m excited to be working on something that should help to change this, let me know if you want to know more.

the future of news?

This picture sums it up… either the future, or the hype of the future. This is¬†Periscope¬†–¬†a¬†new live streaming app launched today by twitter. Whatever it becomes, I can already think of¬†some great ways that¬†non-profits could use it.

new york explosion via periscope

digital analytics reminders from measurecamp

MeasurecampThis weekend I spent Saturday immersed in data and analytics at Measurecamp. I love a good unconference and this definitely is up there, brilliantly organised and lots of brain stretch, and of course I can’t not mention the free t-shirt and laser pointer.

I’m a complete advocate and enthusiast about the power of data¬†and testing. So much so I¬†made the business case, won the budget, and recruited a digital analyst in all of my last three workplaces. Plus an analyst role is on the cards for my current team at Raising IT too.

There’s a huge amount of material generated from the event¬†that I won’t try to replicate here. But¬†I thought what might be useful is a few of the top-line reminders¬†I took away:

  • Testing has lots of trip ups and myths.
    • For long purchase / supporter journeys they may have made their mind up before you even started your test.
    • It’s possible to test a gazillion things, but really you should only test the things you can actively influence and change.
    • You shouldn’t necessarily use all the results to judge a test, any ‘whales’ (outliers) should be removed to avoid skewing the conclusion.
    • Traditional models assume the environment hasn’t changed. You need an agile analytics approach where there is change to factor in.
  • Tools for digital analysis¬†have converged to greater or lesser extent.
    • Google analytics is very¬†powerful these days and what most people are using. I heard only a¬†mere mention of a couple of other providers throughout the day.
    • Tracking inbound phone call sources can be made easier through Twilio or Calltracks (and probably¬†others).
  • Integrating tracking in your CMS is still a bit technical and time-consuming.
    • There’s so many intricacies with integrating analytics correctly¬†that it kept coming up again and again. A few of the people I spoke to were frustrated that they spent more of their time on implementation of tracking than the analysis of the data.
  • Key performance indicators¬†need buy-in,actual¬†evidence is not enough.
    • You should only¬†publish clear actionable results that people are actively bought into viewing.¬†¬†This take out reminded me of test I did while¬†at one of my organisations. They insisted we printed the whole of the monthly web stats and display¬†them¬†on the notice board … it took a whole three¬†months before anyone returned the ‘claim a prize if you spot this’ slip!
  • Attribution models still need expert judgement.
    • Last click / first click / weighted or something else, you still need to make a judgement as there’s no clear-cut way to decide what’s best for your activity. Try it and shape it through use.