Digitisation and The Future of Accountability Reporting

February 04, 2019

By Sara Carter, 

Sara Carter is co-founder of Enlightened-Digital.

sarac@enlightened-digital.com

Kumi Naidoo, the current Secretary General for Amnesty International, wrote in a 2003 address to the UN that “The age of ‘blind faith’ in institutions is over. We have entered the age of ‘accountability’: the processes by which institutions are made responsible to external audiences and constituencies are now the subject of intense and ongoing attention.”

Nearly 20 years later, those sentiments still ring true. The ill-defined bounds of the internet, coupled with the increased use of online resources as the basis for public opinion, means that it’s incredibly easy for organisations to misrepresent their governance or financial information-even unintentionally.

The good news is that in recent years, there has been a push for digitised, transparent standards of reporting. This post outlines some key trends, as well as some of the inherent benefits of moving away from legacy reporting.

What is digitisation?

According to a recent report on digitisation and consumer behaviour by Ernst & Young, the adaptation of new technology usually takes place in an “S-curve”, with increased growth spurred on by the support of early adopters. With each iteration, both the rate of new technologies hitting the market, and the spread of adoption are increasing. To put it into perspective, Ernst & Young commented that “it took more than 70 years for telephones to reach 50 percent of household penetration, compared with 28 years for radio, and 10 for internet access.”

The digitisation of everything – Ernst & Young

The most recent cycle of technological innovation promises to further close the gap between early adoption and ubiquity. One of the more common emerging themes is digitisation; or the act of converting images, text files, videos, and others into versions that can be stored and viewed online, specifically encompassing archived records and creating new reports in a digital format.

This might seem like an easy task, however, most industries are only 40 percent digitised, despite the penetration of software and other technologies into fairly cutting-edge sectors like media and retail. It’s clear that there’s a way to go until full adoption – where software platforms and other digital tools will be developed to help CSOs move their accountability reporting online.

Benefits of digitisation

The digital shift comes with a few key advantages, especially for CSOs looking to drive even greater impact to their strategies and initiatives.

Greater focus on data-driven reporting and decision making

The rise of the “data economy” has prompted organisations to scramble to grab hold of their data analysis in order to stay on top of current trends, understand their audiences and plan for the future. One bonus of moving to a digital platform is the abundance of supporting tools for data analysis and report generation which helps CSOs target their activities more accurately and understand the impact of their work.

Data is the backbone of any accountability report, but also offers CSOs a more streamlined approach to planning transformation. Having access to real-time data means stakeholders can take an unbiased look at the inner workings of their organisation, measure their progress against set goals and pivot if necessary with evidence-based decision making. Additionally, publishing easy-to-understand governance reporting using modern tools helps to keep CSOs increasingly more accountable to an online audience.

Increased engagement with target audience

CSOs can communicate better with their key stakeholders if they have all reporting and workflow functions in one place.  In an age when business is conducted online with increasing frequency, the need to engage digitally also increases.

According to the 2018 NGO Technology Report, 95 percent of participating non-governmental organisations (NGOs) agreed that social media is effective for online brand awareness, although only about 30 percent had an actual written social media plan. Additionally, 72 percent stated that they accepted online donations, a five percent increase from the previous year.

Nearly half the organisations surveyed reported using customer relationship management (CRM) software to manage their relationships with stakeholders and donors, which may be more indicative of future trends. The majority of organisations using CRM software also reported using cloud-based solutions, pointing to an increase in off-premises or web-based management software for CSOs and NGOs. Not only are these platforms convenient for connecting organisations to their audience and helping build a cohesive strategy, they often also operate on a “pay-as-you-go” principle, making them a cost-effective option.

Improved operational efficiencies

Creating a centralised hub for documents and other information, as well as automating certain administrative tasks such as filing, scheduling appointments, and creating proposals, helps to increase the overall efficiency of an organisation. Agile responsiveness means that stakeholders can shift focus to higher-level tasks that affect the bigger picture; which is especially important for organisations with limited resources.

How to digitise

Moving knowledge from legacy systems and paper filing processes can seem like a daunting task, especially for larger organisations or ones that are limited in resources. There are a few key pointers that might make it easier, however.

When choosing a software solution, an organisation should consider some of the following: consider the product, consider the existing process, and consider the purposes for adopting the product in the first place. Good questions to ask include:

  • How do I currently accept donations/ market my organisation? How exactly will this product streamline those processes?
  • Will this product be intuitive to implement, or will I need help?
  • Will this product require me to sign on for long-term IT services?
  • How expensive is this product?

Asking questions like the above help CSOs avoid signing on for software that doesn’t fit their current needs, which can be an expensive mistake. The good news is that many cloud-based software solutions operate on a “pay-as-you-go” model, which means that organisations can find cost-effective digitisation solutions that grow with them as they scale. Additionally, it’s important to consider keeping the number of logins across different systems to a minimum, from a security and efficiency perspective. If an organisation can centralise their record-keeping and business processes under a unified software solution, they’ll have an easier time down the road.

Digitisation both in terms of record-keeping and software implementation for daily workflow and strategy holds significant advantages for CSOs moving into the future. It will also help hold them more accountable. Data accuracy, as well as more accessible reporting documents, mean that it’s harder to discredit a CSO operating as they should, and even harder for organisations to hide mismanagement and unsavoury practices. Although the online world holds many challenges, it has the potential to greatly advance the agendas of advocacy-based organisations in the years to come.

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Accountable Now

Accountable Now is legally registered in United Kingdom at Amnesty International, 1 Easton Street, London WC1X 0DW, UK under the name International NGO Charter of Accountability Ltd.

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