February has brought more bad weather, so it's a good time to sit at home and think of strategies. We're coming to the end of a project to renew the Regional ICT Strategy for the VCS in the North East, a project supported by Voluntary Organisations' Network North East (VONNE) and the Regional ICT Champion.
It's quite difficult to write a strategy for a subject like this: ICT is not an objective in itself and therefore the central vision is often a bit foggy, while the way in which we can support the use of ICT is limited by resources and intentions. I think we've produced something which not only satisfies most people, but also gives some direction to future work - see for yourself on the VONNE website
We tried to identify an overall objective which encapsulates what we're trying to do - there's a certain scepticism about new technology in the voluntary sector, perhaps partly because it's seen as being a very people-orientated area. So the idea that we're all going to use out iphones all the time is unlikely to be attractive. On the other hand, there are many areas where IT could help the VCS doing what it does best: social media represents a new way to engage young people, for example, but very few voluntary organisations are even starting to use it effectively.
To produce the strategy (having agreed a general direction) we worked in two phases. Firstly we tried to identify what the barriers are at present to using IT more effectively, and to group these together. They vary a lot from ones of attitude (it's not for the VCS, it's only important when it goes wrong) to physical infrastructure (broadband access in rural areas, ability to buy equipment for refugees groups). Working with these, in the second phase we tried to define a set of generic approaches to solving the problems based on what we've done so far - and what has succeeded. These ideas have to be tempered by lack of resources and the inability or unwillingness of most clients to pay a realistic rate for services. So it's not just a question of saying what services are needed and hoping that someone will set them up, but also looking at imaginative ways doing things (pilot and demonstration projects) as well as research and lobbying.