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NPC Labs: Why we’re embracing open working at NPC

By Alex Green 14 January 2020 5 minute read

What is NPC Labs?

As we kick off 2020, we want to share with you a new way of working with NPC on data and digital projects. NPC Labs is a sketchbook, drawing board and very ambitious to-do list all rolled in to one. A place where we can think out loud, debate new ideas and move from thinking on our own to thinking as part of a wider community. It’s also a way for us to share what we’re learning from our digital and data projects as we go, so others can build on it, learn from our mistakes, give feedback and improve where we are heading.

And we’ve already begun. Phase 2 of the My Best Life Programme, our collaborative work with leading youth charities to build shared digital solutions is already running openly on the NPC Labs site. We’ll be adding more digital and data programmes as they get started this year, and we’re opening up our long list of potential digital and data projects. If you see one that sparks interest then just add a comment or drop me a line.


Why work in the open?

Working in the open isn’t a new idea. Lots of people have already embraced working open, from the Government Digital Service to Mozilla. If you’re curious, then the 12 principles of the Open Manifesto is a good place to get started.


Working open is more of a slider or dial than an “on/off” switch. At a given point in time on a given project, you might collectively agree to work in a range of different gears or levels of open.

Matt Thompson


Working in the open isn’t about creating the performance of transparency without the substance. Nor is it about endless opinion sharing, adding more noise to an already noisy world. Sometimes we will need to think a bit more carefully before we share things, and sometimes we’ll need to make sure we’re ready to listen to the answers that come back. We’ll also need to make sure we’re protecting the privacy and security of the organisations and people we work with.

At NPC, we’re hoping that NPC Labs will help us work differently with the rest of the sector, while also nudging how we work ourselves.


Working open changes how we work with others

Working in the open reframes how you interact with the wider world, helping you to move from ‘doing for’ to ‘doing with’.

By opening up about what we’re working on, and what we’d love to be working on but haven’t got started on yet, we hope we can find new opportunities for ‘doing with’.

By cutting some of our barriers to collaboration, we want to get more out of our resources and strengths to achieve more together.

And by increasing our channels to engage with people who are as passionate as we are about improving the charity sector, we hope to build momentum behind some of the big challenges that are too great for any one organisation to tackle alone.


Working open changes how we work

Working open also changes how you work yourself. A major driver for us adopting openness at NPC is to increase our focus on agile working and rapid delivery. It also to helps us resist the natural human tendency to wait until we’re really confident about what we’ve learned before publishing a glossy report on the subject. Instead we want to start the conversation sooner and expand the space for testing and learning.

Of course, an organisation can become more iterative and agile without working in the open, but there’s nothing like a commitment to publishing weekly notes to really keep you honest. And that honesty isn’t just about keeping project delivery on track, it’s about being honest with yourself about what you’re actually achieving, what you know and what you’re still working out.


Moving from organisation to sector

One of the first things we’ve started sharing on NPC Labs is our pipeline of ideas for digital and data innovation. But for a charity that needs to fundraise on the basis of its ideas, sharing everything openly can feel particularly challenging. If we’ve put all our ideas out there, then how can we write an application saying that only we have this special insight and idea? And what if someone else takes our ideas and pitches them first!? I can hear the collective gasp of horror from a hundred Heads of Fundraising already…

But, wait a minute, isn’t that exactly what we should want to happen? If someone is inspired by what they read on NPC Labs to raise money, pull a team together and deliver a great piece of work that improves the sector, then surely that’s our objective achieved. And it’s not like there’s a shortage of work that needs doing. Just like NPC, I’m sure every organisation has got a very long list of potential projects in the backlog. So instead of thinking about how we deliver impact as individual organisations, we need to think about how we can each enhance the impact of the sector as a whole. And the fastest way for us to do that is to be as open as we can be.



We need to think about how we can each enhance the impact of the charity sector as a whole. And the fastest way for us to do that is to be as open as we can be. Click To Tweet

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