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How UNICEF UK transformed their online strategy

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Laila Takeh talks us through UNICEF UK’s online transformation journey, and how the charity made digital an integral part of their organisation.

In 2010, UNICEF UK recognised it was punching below it weight when it came to digital. We had disparate resourcing of digital, and the two different areas that held digital specialists had competing objectives. So the charity decided to create the Digital Hub, and recruit a digital champion with a clear remit to lead the digital change journey.

Pulling together

When I joined as that champion in 2011, the digital specialists had been located in different departments, with different priority objectives. This meant they were often pulling in opposite directions, and there was some tension as a result of this. We wanted to pull everyone together into a single team, with each team member aligned to a single purpose, thus diminishing any sense of there being 'sides' within the team.

We revised our five-year plan, making digital a core organisation strategic priority. That’s where the hard work really began.

The ‘hub and spoke’ model

We wanted to position the digital team as a ‘hub’ - a trustworthy centre of excellence that could partner with other teams (the ‘spokes’) in pursuit of their objectives. This required an emphasis on longer-term envisaging and related tasks. This in turn meant saying 'no' to some immediate opportunities, which was very hard for everyone, especially for my team and me, who as digital specialists who were more used to quick wins. But we knew it was a worthwhile investment in the charity’s future.

In the early days, it was challenging for people to get their heads around the ‘hub and spoke’ model. However, we knew it was truly the only way to navigate the classic barriers to digital transformation (i.e. getting caught up in debates about 'where digital sits’, and being seen as internal competitors, which reduces digital ownership and motivation in other teams). We tackled this confusion by establishing 'Contact Management’, whereby each team in the organisation was provided a single contact point in the digital hub, who met with them regularly to focus on digital change matters.


Building outwards

Once the ‘hub’ was established as a core team, the next key task was to build knowledge and skills across the organisation. We did this in a few different ways, including team skills audits, regular ‘lunch & learns’ from external speakers, and the creation of a digital skills matrix - a training programme designed with stakeholders specifically to be modular, with different levels per skill area, so each individual team or person can choose the best fit for them.

This approach was designed to work with the broad range of knowledge already in the office - from technophobe to home website builder - and the organisation’s wide spectrum of business and role needs. The team continues to deliver training sessions against the skills matrix on a rolling basis to this day.

Alongside this people-orientated capacity building, we also had to focus on the tools and processes that help empower non-digital specialists. We’ve started replacing significant legacy tech with friendlier, more accessible tools. There's still more to do, but UNICEF UK has already gone from email marketing and web editing being the confines of the few to being in the power of many trained and supported champions across the organisation.


Embedding digital in everything

When thinking about building enabling processes, We went much further than just the tech. We recognised that digital needs to be woven into everything, until it simply becomes default.

It was clear that to create maximum impact, planning processes and HR processes were high priorities. Working closely with the leads of these two processes, we embedded digital aspects into both. Examples include delivering digital workshops and guidelines in our planning processes, and including digital competencies and change willingness in recruitment and job descriptions.


Three hats

Of course this all sounds a bit removed from the day-to-day operations of maintaining a website and keeping search ads optimised, etc. Keeping the basics running while delivering a digital change programme is essential (albeit challenging) as falling behind on the basics sends the wrong message, and quite often the quickest wins are doing the basics brilliantly.

To tackle this challenge, we defined the roles of each individual in the digital team as being made of three parts: change agent, contact manager/strategist to one or more different teams, and a specific channel specialist. Wearing these many different ‘hats’ in your day job isn't easy, and there's still work to do on improving, but it means that team time can be used as efficiently as possible, and that every digital team member continues to develop their skills.


Bearing fruit

After two years, we carried out a review of progress. It showed we had significantly progressed, with some key outcomes - such as major growth in site traffic, grassroots integration of digital in a number of teams, and some standout activations and projects like Own a Colour and Pinning Their Hopes.

It also showed that we were ready for the next stage of the journey - and that’s what is being worked on now. That’s the thing about digital change: by standing still you’re moving backwards. The sooner you embrace the treadmill and accelerate the better.


Laila Takeh was Head of Digital Engagement at UNICEF UK from 2011 until 2014. She is now CMO of Raising IT where she hopes to amplify her impact and help the sector to truly realise the benefits of digital. You can find her on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

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