Why ‘light touch’ data and tech support matters
In 2016, we launched our light touch support programme (LiTS) based on a hypothesis: targeted research and advice to social change agents can enhance effective and responsible use of data and technology. Last year, in partnership with Ford Foundation’s Internet Freedom programme, we continued to test this hypothesis by offering pro bono support to over 100 partners across 32 countries. We also built processes to streamline our support and assess its value.
LiTS is demand-driven support that is quick and targeted. It is flexible, and it ranges from: an informal conversation to a scheduled series of calls; support on a specific project idea to recommendations on organisational operations; advice on technical tools to political considerations of data use.
We are telling our LiTS story as we continue refining LiTS interventions and identifying their value. We hope it’s of use to other support organisations, who might share this challenge of disentangling the effects, causes, and values of their interventions.
So here’s what we did with LiTS last year, and where we plan to take the programme in 2018!
The LiTS Evolution
2017: Process design, data collection and review
In early 2017, we set out to better understand who we support, what they need, and how they use our support. You can find an overview of LiTs here, which is a home for these details and the future growth of the programme.
To develop this overview, we began with documentation and data collection. We spent much of the year building and implementing tools, including: a partner feedback form, an internal experience tracker, a library of ‘best’ support and an internal guide to coordinate between our interdisciplinary team.
In deploying these tools, we determined some key components of a successful LiTS, including:
- A clear intake process to understand the context, including the organisation itself, the project, and the request
- Information-gathering through asking questions on a particular challenge or idea to inform targeted recommendations, matchmaking or advice
- Resources, research and advice to guide a partner’s next steps
- Openness – both on behalf of our team and the partner team – to reflecting openly on process and strategy
We also examined LiTS experiences that were particularly successful. A few examples are:
- Providing concrete suggestions to improve the design of a website for a marginalised group of users with specific security needs
- Taking an ambitious commitment to making public finances open and turning it into a manageable – and still impactful – analysis of a specific budgetary dataset
- Sharing resources for developing a repository of legal challenges related to surveillance
- Compiling resources, including translation of specific services into Spanish, for an organisation to self-diagnose their digital threats
Finally, we identified the substantive areas where our data and tech support was requested most often. These included: crowdsourcing and mapping, fiscal transparency, legislative monitoring, human rights, digital security, influence mapping, and sustainable development goals (SDGS).
2018: Data analysis and strategic programming
Now that we’ve gathered baseline data, built mechanisms to continue collection, and confirmed (with added specificity) what we support and how, we are putting our energy into deep data analysis. We want to know what our touchpoints are (when, how, and why partners request our support), and the value of them (how our partners use our support).
To start, we are identifying the moments in which our interventions are particularly valuable. We’ve observed that the stage of a project or organisation lifecycle at which a partner receives support can critically affect the type of change achieved. For example, if a partner receives a list of comparable platforms during their project design phase, it can change the trajectory of their work. They might avoid unnecessary duplication of work. The key moments where interventions can be particularly impactful are:
- Ideation – when we act as a sounding board for early stage ideas, and offer tips or resources to refining them
- Project design – when we guide ‘what-if’ thinking to clarify theories of change, and pair it with specific technical guidance to incorporate appropriate technical elements into the scope of work
- Growth – when we offer a combination of writing, strategy and partnership support to raise funds and grow human resources
- Organisational policy – when we learn about operational models (for example, on impact assessment or knowledge management), and ask pointed questions to help define objectives and priorities for designing organisational processes
We’ve observed that the stage of a project or organisation lifecycle at which a partner receives support can critically affect the type of change achieved.
We are excited to explore further, and to share what we are learning about our “value contribution” – our role in supporting the impact that our partners create – in future posts.
For now, we’ve enjoyed taking a close look at our LiTS support, and it has led us to a number of strategic decisions. One of these is that we will be experimenting with targeting LiTS on specific challenges and emerging needs. We will announce these targeted LiTS areas as they arise, and encourage partners working on related issues to get in touch.
To begin, we are calling on partners in Latin America who are working on elections-related projects to reach out (más información en español aquí). We are happy to talk, so schedule a call!