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Friday, May 4th, 2018

Do we need a Digital Code?

Charity Digital Code LogoI am nonplussed by the news that ‘a steering group has been formed’ to create a digital code of practice for charities in an attempt ‘to close the digital skills gap in the sector’.

There is an incongruity here. According to the Collins Dictionary, a ‘Code of Practice’ is:

A set of written rules which explains how people working in a particular profession should behave.

So, what is this exercise, an upskilling or the imposition of a rulebook? They sound very different to me, particularly as we sit reeling from the challenge of assimilating a triple whammy of ‘Practice’ from Regulators already this year through the New Charity Governance Code, the Code of Fundraising Practice and GDPR!

As the news release reveals, this wheeze has been dreamt up by a round table of civil servants and umbrella bodies, funded by Lloyds and the Co-op Foundation and is being led by digital social entrepreneur Zoe Amar.  The latter has done some good work. The toolbox she and her colleagues created for Skills Platform, aimed at disseminating improved social media skills into the sector, is good stuff.

Further resources of this quality aimed at fostering digital skills more broadly in a sector that is generally weak at it would be welcome.

There are, though, some pretty fundamental questions to be asked. The first is whether ‘doing digital’ in the charity sector is that greatly different to ‘doing digital’ in any other sector, and whether the charity sector really needs investment in its own separate digital skills development armoury.

The second is whether those organisations which are really, really good at ‘doing digital’ are where they are because they can afford a combination of young bucks with IT and media skills garnered in three year university courses compared with which charity sector efforts will always look like ‘amateur hour’.

But the biggest question of all is that of language.

The celebrated psychiatrist, Eric Berne, in his Transactional Analysis model distinguished between parental behaviours which are ‘controlling’ and ‘nurturing’.

The former stands above the child, puts it on the naughty step, demands obedience and risks rebellion. The latter sits beside the child, generates trust and engenders adaptation.

Few will argue that the level of digital skill in the sector is much better than scant and that a shot in its arm is a necessary and laudable goal. But, the steering group has some challenging questions to ask itself about the art of the possible and the tactics to pursue for success.

And, please, can we headline it with the language of nurture and not that of control?