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Voluntary and Community Sector Internet Task Force

Updated 14/11/01

The Internet Task Force is being launched on November 29th. Watch VoluntaryNews.org.uk for updates and check there for other material. This document also available in the 'original' Word format. Also see the Virtual Promise report from which this project came.

To contact the Task Force, email co-chair Joe Saxton: joes@futurefoundation.net


The report and plans from the Future Foundation

Introduction

The Internet is one of the most powerful drivers of change for society as a whole in the 21st Century.  The UK Government has a goal of becoming the best place in the world for e-commerce, and all Government services are targeted to be online by 2005.  The impact on business is no less fundamental with whole industry sectors from recorded music to travel, being fundamentally changed by the Internet.

The potential impact on voluntary and community organisations is no less dramatic.   The Internet impacts virtually every part of a charity or community organisation's work: from fundraising to finance, from campaigning to internal communications.  Indeed because so much of the two sectors' work is based on intangibles like ideas and information, attitudes and awareness the Internet is probably inherently better suited to the work of not for profit organisations than it is to business.

The evidence to date from the Virtual Promise report (www.virtualpromise.net) and other research is that the voluntary and community sectors are not making the most of the power of the Internet.  It is to close this gap between the potential of the Internet and its actual use in not for profit organisations[1](1) that the Voluntary and Community Sector Internet Task Force is being created.

Purpose and style of the Task Force

The purpose of the Task Force is to maximise the benefits of the Internet for voluntary and community sector organisations.

The Task Force aims to do this by providing a catalyst for development in a variety of ways, for example: by cross-fertilising ideas, by lobbying key decision makers, by securing funding for key projects, and by helping organisations collaborate on projects of common interest.  Where-ever possible, the Task Force will work by being a catalyst for action and persuading others to act.

The work of the Task Force divides into two blocks: the core activities and the specialist activities.  The core activities are those that the Task Force will address first and foremost. The specialist activities are those that the Task Force will address once people with the right expertise and interest have been identified and recruited. This will help to keep the core group focused on the core issues.


Core areas of Task Force activity

Liasing with Government

One of the most important roles of the Task Force is to liase with Government and where appropriate to lobby for change on Internet issues.  The Voluntary and Community Sectors already link with a range of Government departments in relation to Internet issues.  The role of the Task Force will be to make sure that the Government has given sufficient attention and resource to the sectors in its Internet plans in areas such as UK Online and capacity-building for service delivery.

Developing information, standards and training

The difficulties that voluntary and community organisations, particularly small and medium size ones encounter in the development of their Internet capabilities are acute.  There is limited training, patchy online resources and very few printed materials for any organisation that wishes to learn from the experience of others.  In addition, there are no well-known standards or guidelines that organisations can use to understand the legal implications or to develop an online community (to give just two examples).  The role of the Task Force will be to persuade others to create these resources (and where appropriate to find funding).

Promoting the benefits of the Internet

The Internet is still viewed with scepticism in many parts of the Voluntary and Community Sectors and in others, it is seen as just another communications tool, like the mobile phone or the fax - useful but not revolutionary.  The role of the Task Force will be to inspire organisations and individuals within the sectors about the breadth and depth of benefits that the Internet can bring.  In particular, trustees, directors and chief executives will be the focus of this energy as research has shown they remain the most sceptical.

Bringing partners together

The Internet is a fertile area for partnerships.  Many organisations can develop substantially more powerful Internet resources through collaboration, than by acting alone.  In many cases organisations in need of services are not aware of those who can supply them, while emerging companies may struggle to make a living despite a desperate need for what they provide.  The role of the Task Force will be to help put people in contact with each other, and in some cases to engineer particular partnerships towards a given end.


Specialist areas of Task Force activity

Research on Voluntary and Community Sector use of the Internet

While some research on use of the Internet by not for profit organisations exists, there is still a need for much more.  This group will gather knowledge about existing research projects, look for research needs and try to co-ordinate research to avoid overlap.

Using the Internet to increase effectiveness and cut-costs

One of the biggest potential impact of commercial and not for profit users of the Internet is to cut costs: by streamlining processes, empowering customers and improving competitive tendering.  While the commercial sector has been able to make significant savings in this area, the evidence is that not for profit organisations are not yet utilising the potential (for example in the area of online job applications).  This group will try and gather examples of best practice and cross-fertilise expertise.

The power of digital TV and convergence with the Internet

Within a decade, all TV in the UK will be digital.  With this transformation comes the potential for every house-hold in the UK to have access to email and to the world wide web.  This convergence of the TV and the Internet offers a myriad of challenges and opportunities for voluntary and community organisations to develop relationships with new and old audiences as never before.  The role of this group will be to try and develop a much better understanding of the potential of digital TV and how it can be used, and to spread that knowledge across the sectors.

Campaigning and advocacy

The Internet has facilitated the development in campaigning and advocacy in a myriad of ways. Not only has it created viral campaigns with the power to crash the White House server, but it has also allowed much more knowledge to be put in the hands of users, and for users to communicate with each other much more easily.  This group will develop the use of the Internet for campaigning and advocacy and develop best practice ideas and standards.

Fundraising, e-commerce and income generation

Fundraising and e-commerce is probably one of the most developed uses of the Internet particularly for larger charities.  The existing efundraising forum is already carrying out many valuable roles, such as cross-fertilising experiences and the development of new ways of giving.  This group's role will be to keep a close link between the role of the efundraising forum and the Task Force.

Marketing the Internet

Many organisations deploy considerable resources developing their Internet capability but struggle to market it properly. Other organisations develop the Internet as a substantive internal and external communications tool using very limited resources.  This group will look at how organisations can maximise the value and power of their Internet resources.


Suppliers and services

A vibrant and dynamic ecology of suppliers and services is a vital ingredient for developing the use of the Internet among voluntary and community organisations. Voluntary and community organisations have specialist needs both in terms of functionality and in terms of cost and flexibility.  This group will act as a mechanism through which suppliers can develop partnerships, look for funding and learn from each other's experiences.

Citizenship and governance

The Internet can make the processes of community and voluntary organisations more open and transparent, by increasing the ease with which people can ask questions, respond to consultations, or become involved in the democratic processes.  It can also let people offer their services voluntarily, as trustees, fundraisers or volunteer advisors, and be matched with those organisations who want those services.  This group will look at how the Internet can be used to improve the involvement of individuals (usually as volunteers) with the voluntary and community organisations they support.

Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland

The political and legislative regimes in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are now different from England.  Likewise, the specific needs and context in which voluntary and community organisations are using the Internet is also different.  Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will each have a group to look at the specific issues for that country.

Meetings of the Task Force

The Task Force will hold two kinds of meeting.  The first is a bi-monthly Forum (known as the Volcom Internet Forum) which anybody can attend.  The format for the Forum will be to have one or two presentations from people or organisations and then a period of time for networking and making contacts.  Initially the Forums will be based in central London but we want to explore initiating similar kinds of meeting in other cities in England and in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  The first meeting of the Volcom Forum will be in January 2002.

The second kind will be more structured meetings to discuss how aspects of the Task Force agenda are progressing.  The purpose of the meetings will be to get feedback on the range of areas within the Task Force's work, and agree any ways that issues need to be pursued or developed.  These meetings will be open to anyone but are primarily for the members of the Task Force looking at the core issues, and those who have taken on the specialist areas.


Composition of the Task Force

There will be around ten members of the main Task Force working on the core areas. There will also be the individuals who are convening the specialist areas. The individuals involved will be announced at the Task Force launch on 29th November.

Chairs of the Task Force

The Co-chairs of the Task Force are Joe Saxton and Caroline Pile.  We researched and worked on the original Virtual Promise report and this task force is a result of the results of the report and the feedback from community and voluntary organisations. However once the Task Force is up and running it is our intention to stand down as Co-chairs, ideally by the end of 2002. This will allow us to focus specific areas of Internet use that we are keen to develop. We believe that the two Co-chairs should then be taken up by people who more clearly represent the needs of community organisations and of voluntary organisations respectively.

Task Force Secretariat

There is no specific secretariat for the Task Force.  If funding is available we would like to appoint a secretariat.  Until then it will be done by those with the time and energy to spare.

Funding and resources

It is not the intention or desire of the Task Force to develop substantial resources in its own right.  In its role as a catalyst, the Task Force will work to secure more resources and success to help achieve its objectives, but wherever possible working through third parties.  Resources are needed for the development of the website, the hosting of the Volcom Forum and the secretariat.  These will be obtained as needed and offers of support are always welcome.

Joe Saxton and Caroline Pile

October 2001



[1] The term not for profit organisation is used synonymously with voluntary and community organisations in this proposal.