This research explores how community businesses rapidly adapted to deliver important community services through digitalised means in light of the pandemic.
The research was funded by Power to Change and Digitally Enhanced Advanced Services (DEAS) and carried out by researchers from the University of the West of England. The researchers use digitalized servitization theory to frame findings from semi structured interviews with 24 community businesses.
- The cost of adapting business models to digitalised services was not identified as a barrier – many utilised free and cheap resources.
- Partnership working became ever more important in meeting the needs of the community during the pandemic.
- Competing community based organisations instead worked together, utilising each other’s strengths to serve the community.
- Leaders questioned their service delivery and thought about ways that they could innovate and adapt their business model to incorporate digitalised services.
Such services offer low cost solutions to meeting the needs of communities and monetising these services may help to ensure the long-term economic sustainability of many businesses. Social distancing highlighted the need to strengthen backroom digital services, e.g. contactless payments and Wi-Fi improvements within the community business.
Implications for policy and practice in the report:
- Support is needed for community businesses and their beneficiaries who are affected by the digital divide in terms of access and literacy.
- The flexibility of funders, commissioners and policymakers is crucial to enable community businesses to continue to adapt and deliver key services at a hyperlocal level.
- There needs to be support for the continued development of community businesses’ digital services. This will help ensure their long term sustainability and will in turn benefit those they serve.
- Community businesses would benefit from training, access to expertise, digital infrastructure and opportunities to share good practice to maximise the benefits of going digital.