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Ashgate Hospice > Third Sector Podcast: Ashgate Hospice’s Matt Corbishley appears on popular charity podcast talking all things tech 

Our Deputy Chief Executive, Matt Corbishley, appeared on the weekly Third Sector Podcast, which focuses on charities and non-profit organisations across the UK.

He spoke about how the hospice was embracing modern technologies and how it was benefiting everyone associated with Ashgate Hospice.

In this blog, he discusses some of the subjects spoken about during the interview in more detail; alternatively, check out the podcast online or various streaming platforms.


How does Ashgate Hospice approach the use of technology and what does it look like?

Whilst it’s quite common in my experience for IT functions to sit within the Finance department, the Ashgate model is slightly unusual in that our tech function sits within a wider portfolio alongside our People Services and our Marketing and Communications teams. Whilst the ‘nuts and bolts’ elements of IT, and the important behind the scenes infrastructure are critical – our adoption of technology and exploring new ways of working with digital solutions is really all about people and culture.

Part of that includes an explicit recognition of the support needed with building confidence in digital skills and literacy. Our Learning & Development and Communications teams therefore work very closely with our Head of IT and service leads, as we know that we have a gap to close in this area.

At a more strategic level, we are trying to create a learning culture where people feel they have permission and the resources to explore new technologies and ways of working. We’re trying to create the conditions which allow our people to develop a digital mindset.


How does the hospice explore new tech in the absence of an in-house specialist team?

There are pots of trust and grant funding out there to support charities like ours with their digital and tech journeys, and one of the things we try to take advantage of at Ashgate are fully funded digital apprenticeships. We knew this was an area we wanted to explore and so when the offer of these places came to us via our national membership organisation, HospiceUK, we jumped at the chance to offer places out across our existing staff and successfully applied for three people to undertake year-long apprenticeships. As they approach the end of that year, we have committed to giving them the time and autonomy to work together initially to utilise their learning on tools like PowerBI to develop a consistent approach to board level reporting. We’ll also explore automation to help improve efficiency and provide greater insights to inform business decisions.

Another way in which we have explored new technology has been through the support of expert third parties. Some of this is paid for but some has been pro-bono support. I think it’s really important to recognise that “we don’t know what we don’t know”, so seeking that input from third parties – in our case we work with an IT managed service provider – is essential to open our eyes to solutions and options which we just wouldn’t otherwise be aware of.

I think finally, there’s a real opportunity for collaboration with universities for charities of any size to work up funding bids to explore how tech can solve some of our thorny problems. This isn’t about using tech for the sake of it; it’s about harnessing both funding and expertise of others to help us reveal and explore the potential solutions and enablers that we’re not currently sighted on.


What examples can you provide regarding tech usage and innovation at Ashgate Hospice?
Using AI

We didn’t start with an AI strategy, we started with a small number of teams and individuals exploring and being curious about what it can do for us, so it’s been a bottom up rather than top-down development that we have encouraged.

Because we have that safe learning space, those people have been able to share their experiences with us, and others, so we have a good handle on where it’s now being used as part of our day-to-day business along with a good understanding of the current benefits and the pitfalls. This includes for example our Marketing and Communications teams for creating images and copy for marketing and socials, as well as in our people teams to help with job descriptions and adverts and to pull out key themes in anonymised data sets.

Data security is of course a big concern where AI is being used, but because people were able to tell us what they were experimenting with, it allowed us to put in place some simple guidelines to ensure they can continue to do that safely.

VR headsets

This is something a number of hospices have already harnessed to improve the patient experience, but it’s a great example of where we have realised an improvement through technology. We’re at the point now where we’re about to deliver staff and volunteer drop-in sessions, where we will virtually transport staff to their favourite places across the world. We then plan to start with our Day Services patients and create postcards from the places they visit.

The next steps will be to add VR as an additional service for our in-patients – this could involve “travelling” to a favourite holiday destination that holds meaning for them or using calm spaces to help them relax. Alternatively, patients requesting spiritual care support could visit a place of religious significance that they are unable to get to in person, or our Children and Young People’s team can use this for gaming – the possibilities are endless!

In terms of the challenges, it’s about accepting that we might not get it right first time. Failure and learning are part of the process, and if we’re serious about encouraging a digital mindset and exploring the art of the possible, we have to have a culture in place where people feel safe to share ideas, make mistakes and where they know they have permission to be curious and try new things.


What are the key learnings from your experimentation with new tech that other people might benefit from knowing?

Try not to make assumptions about what the right solutions are, take time to really understand the challenge or problem and to understand what the available options are. Technology is evolving at an exponential rate, so what may have appeared to be an obvious solution 18 months ago may no longer be the case. This is where strategic partnerships with third party experts can really come into their own; they can help bring into focus the solutions that might otherwise be held in the ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’ space.

I would urge others to do what you can to encourage a culture of curiosity and learning and follow the energy. Our organisations are filled with people who are passionate and knowledgeable where digital skills and technology are concerned – and they’re not necessarily in the places where you might expect them to be. We can then choose to invest in them to allow them to explore further, to form project and implementation teams, and to help build the digital skills and confidence of others around them.

Finally, don’t underestimate the amount of communication and support needed when implementing new technologies. Whatever the development, whilst some will embrace it, others will be worried or unsure. We need to make sure no-one is left behind, whether that’s a staff member or volunteer, or a client, service user or patient. Developing an explicit Digital Inclusion policy; something we’re in the process of doing at Ashgate, should help identify where we’re at risk of losing people, and therefore how we can work with them and support them to prevent that from happening.