Earlier in June, My Best Life organised an online “Demo Day” with three other youth app providers: MeeToo, Local Village Network (LVN) and Youth Card. The aim of the day was to learn more about each other’s apps, think about the similarities and differences between them, and consider ways in which we might work together in the future.
Opportunities for Collaboration
In the first part of the Demo Day, the four youth app providers gave short presentations introducing their apps. After this, we had an in-depth discussion building on the features of our apps and the potential to collaborate.
A key topic of discussion was the data we had on our apps and how we collected it. This was linked to a conversation about branding. Each app has its own USP and is valuable in its own right:
- MeeToo focuses on mental health and peer support;
- LVN collates opportunities and helps young people build networks;
- Youth Card offers ‘perks’ from discounts to work experience; and
- My Best Life tries to make it easier for young people to find things to do in their local area.
We know from our research that young people like to have a choice, so it’s good to have a variety of apps that appeal to different groups of people with different needs. The idea of merging all four of our apps into one amorphous unit wasn’t attractive to anyone.
Having said that, we wanted to avoid duplication in our content, which would just be a waste of resources. So we talked about sharing data as a way to minimise this. That could mean sharing our research—for example, My Best Life could link the others to our research on how to design an app that’s appealing to young people, and LVN could update us on the focus groups they’ve held with young people.
Sharing data could also mean sharing our software or tech tips, such as how to progress from working with static data to working with live data. Another possibility would be sharing information about listed services, so that young people would choose a format that works for them, but still see the same activities whichever app they downloaded.
There’s an opportunity to use data to raise awareness of what’s going on in our local areas, in terms of issues such as mental health or youth violence. If we talk to each other about our usage data and begin to notice similar trends across the apps, we could put together a map of need that would help us decide what we should be building or upgrading. It could also be used as a tool for campaigning, to encourage agencies in those areas to do something about the issues we’re noticing.
From our conversations, we noticed that there might be an appetite for a more formal network of youth providers. Just as the Fair Education Alliance is a group of organisations working in their own different ways to make education more accessible, so we could have a group where organisations working in the youth space can collaborate.
Besides data, there were other features we thought would be worth sharing with each other. Firstly, measuring the success and impact of our apps will be important, so shared learning around evaluation—including how often the apps are used, and in what ways—would be of interest. For example, My Best Life has already gathered quite a few insights about the look and feel of an app and what is appealing, which could be useful more widely. There could also be a partnership around best practice in technology, looking for high-quality developers with reasonable prices.
Secondly, we need to think about how we raise awareness of our apps. There’s no point having a good idea if other people don’t know about it. Perhaps if the four of us combined our voices, we could push our services out to a wider audience. However, we also need to be clear about the differences between us, to manage expectations and ensure that young people have an understanding of the apps’ roles.
Limiting Factors to Overcome
Moving beyond our own organisational aims
While everyone at the Demo Day seemed open to the idea of collaboration, we recognised that there would be challenges associated with this. Chief among them was the messaging we would put out. We wanted to avoid being compared with each other and labelled as ‘just another app for young people’, as that would gloss over the fact that there is a legitimate need for all the apps. Good advertisement will be crucial to raising awareness of our services and making people care about them.
We’re all working towards similar goals, and we all want to put young people first, so it makes sense to bring our resources together. But no-one in the group was keen to lose the identity they’ve built from the ground up. In our discussions, we recognised that it can be difficult for wider collaboration to happen when people feel they have to prioritise their own way of doing things and growing their own product. More specifically, some organisations might be reluctant to share anything that would otherwise give them a competitive edge with funders.
Another key challenge we identified was funding—in terms of both what we fund and who funds us. Advertising and marketing are essential for people to know about these apps, but they also cost a lot of money and use a lot of resources.
A question was raised about how many funders would want to fund us in collaboration rather than as individuals. Funding in the charity sector is very competitive. Where there’s a tendency for funders and local authorities to throw their support behind just one organisation of a kind (perhaps due to budget constraints), it can lead to competition between similar organisations for limited resources. People are put off working with each other when they’re fighting for the same pot.
To address this, we had an idea to run another session, similar to the Demo Day but in a condensed format, to talk with funders about our apps and how we might work together. Communicating with funders and bringing them along on the journey could help to secure support—there may be a space for us to advocate for funders to cover collaboration. Alongside this, we might have to think about ways of bringing money in from a wider range of sources.
There is clearly an attitude for deeper collaboration, but that would require resources and a lot of work. Unlocking that resourcing could be a challenge. Instead, while we wait, there may be a series of mini-collaborations emerging from the Demo Day, rather than a large four-way undertaking. We’re all thinking about small, focused interventions, and how to maintain the diversity we have across our apps. We will definitely be keeping in touch with each other and continuing these conversations.