Why collaboration and partnerships are vital for success in digital: our lessons from the Explore programme

We hear from Equation, a small charity which took part in CAST's Explore programme, about the benefits of collaboration

Equation is a small charity that focuses on domestic abuse. Last year, we entered the Explore programme, which helps charities make progress at a relatively early stage of their digital journey. We wanted to improve our digital offering for the children and young people (CYP) we work with.

But we didn’t just leave the programme with a clear idea of a digital solution to our problem. We also left with newly formed relationships.

CAST has put together a list of ten design principles to help charities create strong online services, and one of them, in particular, hit the mark with us - collaborate and build partnerships. This is an article about how we did that and why it’s so important.

We learned a lot about the power of collaboration as a tool to strengthen digital capabilities - and our charity as a whole. As a domestic abuse charity who regularly work in collaboration and partnership with others, we pride ourselves on being open and flexible but the Explore programme allowed us discover new ways of doing this.

The beginning

Looking back, one of the most beneficial aspects of Explore came at the very beginning. CAST suggested that we get together all our internal stakeholders and book in stakeholder meetings for the next 12 weeks. 

So, my first step was to decide who my internal stakeholders were going to be. Naturally, as the programme was going to involve one of our CYP projects, the CYP team seemed like the obvious choice. After reading the guidance from CAST I decided to spread the net a lot wider and thought very carefully about the different roles and skills of the stakeholder team I wanted to create. 

The team we assembled included

  • Frontline workers who work directly with the young people we work with
  • A member of the marketing team
  • The finance manager
  • One of the trustees
  • An admin support worker for CYP
  • Myself as CYP coordinator and someone with a background in education
  • A member of the fundraising team
  • A senior manager. 

This team incorporated a range of skills, backgrounds and opinions which would add to our overall success of the programme. All were excited and flattered to be asked.

Having the commitment and engagement from these stakeholders from the very start, I had immediate buy-in, and this proved vital for the successes we had.

Other participants and organisations on the programme

One of the most enjoyable parts to the Explore programme was to not only go through the well-structured programme ourselves but to also to hear others’ experiences along the way. It was an unexpected perk to see the same faces every few weeks at workshops, listen to their playbacks after each phase, hear their weekly updates and posts which contained successes and challenges on the community noticeboard, and work with them in peer mentoring sessions supported by CAST. 

There was a real sense of ‘we are in this together’ and we felt a real sense of community despite all working from behind separate computer screens in our homes and offices! During this programme we formed new links with two other domestic abuse charities. They were investigating different problems to apply their digital solution to, but they had a similar understanding of the challenges we face as an organisation - especially in current times. In addition to the prescribed meetings and sessions, we decided to meet separately to share and learn from each other and discuss how the programme was going for us all. This was helpful, rewarding and comforting. It’s led to continued relationships and opportunities. 

One of the organisations wanted some advice and support with their evaluations of children’s projects, something which we have done successfully for a number of years, so we made a connection between ourselves and a member of their team to support with this. 

And more recently I was able to find some help for my colleagues who work for the support service for men experiencing domestic abuse. They were looking at what online support they can offer the callers into the service. I was immediately able to put them into contact with someone who I met on the Explore programme who had done something very similar. These links and contacts gained along the way were an unexpected benefit. As an organisation we will continue to build and work on these new links and relationships.

Our digital solution and the connections it led to

The “discover” phase of the programme was incredibly useful for us. It helped us to refine and define our user needs statement, gain a real insight into what our users want and need, and really focus in on what we wanted to achieve. 

The stakeholder kick-off session for the “define” phase of the programme was equally beneficial. It became even clearer at this stage that by choosing such a wide range of stakeholders, we were able to generate a wealth of ideas for our solution. These ideas were discussed, prioritised and explored until we settled on an idea we thought would give us the best solution to our problem. It was then, not long after at a prototyping workshop with members of the CAST team, where I was informed of an organisation which was working on a similar app to the one we had in mind (although they were targeting a slightly different user group). 

After hearing of this, realising the idea we had come up with was not as unique as we first thought, I decided to get in touch with this organisation. To my surprise and excitement they responded quickly and were keen to hear about what we had been doing so far in our digital design journey. We arranged a meeting and we were soon discussing our respective projects. This meeting was a fantastic opportunity for us both to hear more about the other's ideas and work, the point at which we were both at in the process and to share any learnings we had made along the way. The other organisation were a lot further along in their journey and had also taken part in a similarly funded design process. We quickly realised that our ideas, albeit similar in concept and meaning, were not going to compete with each other but would in fact complement. A new and important relationship was established - one that we will continue to work on as our app is developed further.

You get what you give

It is easy to list the numerous benefits the Explore programme has given Equation. It has changed the way we think about and approach design projects and development. It has given us skills and tools we can apply more widely. And most importantly we left with a digital solution and design idea - one that will  help the children and young people we work with access information and education, and support them to have healthy relationships and cope with domestic abuse. 

In addition to all these benefits, we formed unexpected relationships and found opportunities for future collaborations with like minded organisations. The programme allowed us to meet different organisations and establish links and relationships that will hopefully continue to develop in the future. Below are my key learnings from the entire process.

Embrace it - believe in the programme, the learning, the sometimes uncomfortable and confusing journey.

Trust in the process - it will all come together in the end.

Make the most of it - Make time to dedicate to the programme to get the most out of it, attend all meetings in person if you can. You get so much more out of it by participating than watching a recording.

Connect and share - Take the time to share your learnings with others. You never know who you may help and what connections this may initiate. Make connections when they present themselves and be willing to put yourself out there; you never know what it may lead to!


Emma Hill is Children and Young People Coordinator for Primary Schools, Equation.