Before I launch into an enthusiast’s account of our progress thus far with setting up our systems, a couple of noteworthy events; firstly, a webinar last week with members of Locality, who generously gave up an hour to talk through the slide I shared in my last post. It was reassuring that they were broadly in agreement with the ‘whats’ and the ‘hows’ we identified, and beyond that, really helpful to get the benefit of their particular experiences with social investment. I was most struck by a comment that the sentence following ‘Plain Language’, didn’t feel plain in itself! They agreed with the point (that we should take sustainability and trading as starting points, rather than social investment), but felt that this was separate to the challenge of expressing ourselves in simple, accessible terms. Simplicity being, crucially, in the eye of the beholder. Secondly, I was really enjoyed being part of a panel at Critical Mass on Monday: many thanks to my fellow panel members and the audience for a great discussion (and for their indulgence of my strident opinions about Maseratis…). It was also a particular thrill to take the stage in the Faraday Theatre at the Royal Institution – hallowed boards indeed.
And so to Salesforce – for the uninitiated, this is a commercial CRM system, which offers (through its Foundation), 10 free licences and other discounts for not-for-profit organisations. For Access, it was an obvious choice, not only because we can use the core platform entirely for free, but also because it is used by Big Society Capital, and making our systems talk easily to one another will be a big plus for us both. We have also been fortunate to have the support of Salesforce’s Ignite programme, a team of their own experts who support clients to build better systems, exploiting all of the latest developments in their software.
In our case, they took us through a two day workshop, which took place a couple of weeks ago. Day one saw our administrator Tom and I – along with colleagues from Kent Community Foundation, Homeless Link, Locality, Big Society Capital, SIB, Power to Change and NESTA – taken through a ‘discovery’ process. This involved us mapping out what we wanted our system to do, and specifically, how we might use Salesforce’s ‘communities cloud’ to give our intermediaries, and their investees, the ability to submit data directly into our database, view reports and analysis, and communicate directly with each other. As you can see from the pictures below, this was an interactive (and colourful) process, and one which wouldn’t have been anywhere near as valuable if we had tried to do it on our own: defining personas for potential users is a more grounded exercise when you have a few of them in the room!
Day 2 was more focused on bringing the rest of the Access team into the conversation, playing back where we had got to on day 1, and planning our next steps. We also looked in detail at the system Big Society Capital have developed, as it clearly made sense in many cases for us to use the same terminology and structures, to ensure our system is able to produce clean, ‘digestible’ data for their use (and vice versa). It was a really invigorating and practical experience, setting us up with a clear vision for what the system could and should do, and equipping Tom and I with enough detail to start building.
The discussions on day 1 also opened up a wider opportunity – to raise expectations across the sector, about what systems can do for us, and the relationships we need to have with our systems to ensure they’re relevant, functional and user-friendly. Salesforce is a really powerful platform, and lends itself to building flexible systems which can adapt to changing needs, but we agreed (SF employees included!) that over the 10-year lifespan of Access, the one thing we can be sure of is that technology will change dramatically. Salesforce may well be one amongst many excellent options, or indeed have been superseded by ‘the next big thing’.
What will remain, however, are the fundamentals of system design and use: we must understand what they do, and why, and be able to amend them quickly and easily as our needs change. We established a collective ambition to move the social sector towards that better place, and agreed that Foundations such as Access can have a big influence, both in how we develop our system, but also in the support we give to our peers, partners, intermediaries and investees. So as well as beavering away on developing our own system, we’ll be working with the interested and the willing on such ‘system advocacy’. Watch this space….