Automation and Leadership

Wherever you turn at the moment, you see news items highlighting the speed with which Artificial Intelligence and robots are changing our world.   We hear amazing stories about robotic arms that are helping children born without them; we see designs for self-driving cars that could be a feature of our future daily lives and we hear about the ethical challenges associated with algorithms built on inherent bias.

But in all of this, we hear very little about the way that automation might change our civic realm – our cultural organisations, for example, who bring alive creative experiences to their audiences and our charities and social enterprises doing incredibly impactful work in local communities.

As an Automation Fellow with the South West Creative Technology Network, I’m currently exploring how these kinds of organisations could benefit from using automation.  I’m particularly interested in how we equip the CEOs and leaders of these organisations with the skills they need to introduce and extend automation so that their organisations can have even greater social and cultural impact in the future.

As a recent CEO myself, I understand the many pressures and challenges senior leaders in not for profit organisations typically face – huge workloads; continual concern about financial viability and leading teams authentically and energetically at a time of constant change.  It can be a huge challenge to keep some free time (and available headspace) for new learning.  But I also know from experience that, if the CEO and trustees don’t understand the potential for digital transformation and automation they are unlikely to create the conditions that enable their staff teams to make the most of the opportunities either.

Now, as an Automation Fellow with the South West Creative Technology Network, I want to support and challenge my colleagues to grasp the nettle of automation – to put aside their short-term concerns and think strategically about the growing importance of AI, robotics and automation within the wider world and consider why they can no longer ignore its potential importance to the future of their audiences, workforce and business models.  Their involvement could bring much bigger benefits to wider society too – bringing an ethical and creative approach to an area which is still largely driven by commercial drivers.

I am talking to senior leaders within charities and the cultural sector and finding out about the barriers current leaders feel in gaining new knowledge and confidence in maximising automation.  It’s helping me build a picture of the sorts of interventions which could inspire, engage and help them feel ready to move forward.

My initial discussions have highlighted some early conclusions:

  • Almost all senior leaders in the not for profit organisations I’ve talked to admit that they know little about automation and its applications, such as Artificial Intelligence and robotics
  • All want to learn more and are particularly keen to meet technologists and other experts who can help them understand how automation might add value to their organisations
  • Few have an in depth knowledge of approaches such as agile working and prototyping as techniques which might help them explore the potential value of automation
  • Most think that automation may be of value for securing efficiencies in the ‘back office’; few are thinking about its potential to transform engagement with audiences, customers and communities

I’d like to know what you think about this important topic.   I’m interested in hearing from leaders who know a lot about automation and those who know very little but are keen to learn more.  If you would be willing to take part, please complete this questionnaire.

Look out for future blogs where I’ll be talking to leading industry experts to share their advice and insights and highlighting some great examples.  If you would like to know more about the South West Creative Technology Network and the Automation Fellowships, please visit .

Ciara Eastell is one of 24 Fellows currently participating in the Automation Fellowships developed and supported by the South West Creative Technology Network.  Ciara has had a long track record working in the public and not for profit sectors.  She runs her own consultancy company focused on supporting organisations and senior leaders through major change and transformation programmes.  Connect with Ciara on LinkedIn.