Some fantastic stories of digital use across the Scottish third sector. Read on to be inspired.
Important: Opinions expressed by Digital Pioneer interviewees are their own and don’t represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.
Irene Mackintosh, one of the Mhor Collective’s Directors tells us more…
Irene: Mhor Collective is a relatively new community interest company, specialising in digital inclusion, digital skills training and support. The team used to be part of national charity Citizens Online, but the funding landscape changed and so the Collective was born - just like a phoenix. While new in terms of our legal status, we’re older and wiser in experience as we’ve all worked in the field for several years, and we believe we know our stuff. We’re a scattered team based up in the Highlands - working from a range of gorgeous locations.
We work at various different levels – sometimes we provide frontline staff with digital inclusion training for their own specific client groups and digital challenges, sometimes we provide digital skills training and support for staff themselves to gain digital confidence which can then allow them to further support others as digital champions; and finally, we often provide community based learning opportunities for individuals needing a wee bit of extra support with their digital skills.
Irene: We have always used digital to achieve what we do, and indeed, part of the day job is inspiring others to do the same, encouraging folk to try something new – either as an organisation or as individual or often both.
None of us in the Collective is a tech genius but we’re endlessly positive about the possibilities of technology and always excited about sharing this with others.
Irene: We were motivated by a tremendous change in circumstance, moving away from a larger organisation and setting up ourselves. We had a real desire to stay close as a team despite the geographic miles between us, to share information and keep things as social as we could and to stay on top of things as they evolved. We needed both collaborative and task focussed free tools to keep us on track.
Digital was the very best way to achieve all of these things.
Irene: We’ve taken some of the tools we were already familiar with but made much more of them, replacing costed tools with free ones wherever possible.
Our key tools at the moment are:
First and foremost, Slack. If someone hasn’t yet persuaded you to get on board with this fantastic tool, I can’t stress enough why you should literally stop everything you’re doing and start using it right now! It’s essentially a productivity tool, which allows you to create a closed team and establish topic based ‘channels’ to focus discussion. Within these channels, you can collaborate on files, concepts, project planning and favourite holiday destinations. Perhaps most importantly, conversations are grouped together in a way that facilitates actual dialogue. Slack also links together with all manners of useful things like Dropbox, Microsoft apps, Trello, Google Docs and replaces team emails in a heartbeat. This means that email communication with the outside world is always a wee bit tinged with thoughts like, ‘this would be so much easier if you were on Slack’! You can’t lose Slack messages because they stay in the channel as a record, meaning you can always find that third version of a document you worked together on and see why you all wanted to change it for a fourth time.
Next is Trello: this is a grown-up but awfully friendly wee project management tool. It helps you list jobs to do, delegate tasks and create both panic button deadlines and longer-term timelines with milestones. It’s aesthetically pleasing (plenty of colour) and not challenging to get to grips with. It’s also easy to add in excuses as things go off-piste.
Appear.in is a new one on us. It’s essentially a face-to-face video calling platform but so much easier than any you’ve used before. It’s nice and clear for new users and seems incredibly stable. Full disclosure – one of our Collective team still wrestles with challenging broadband speeds, but appear.in, despite its brilliance, can’t avoid the impact of this issue.
Google Docs and Office.com: being too skint to pay for whole subscriptions, we’ve rooted around to find solutions for the every day and these are the obvious contenders. I mean who ever really uses all the functions of Word? These versions of all the usual MS Office elements on office.com are essentially skinned down versions of the full-fat ones, but with the added bonus of being free. And they’re collaborative-friendly, in a similar way to Google Docs. With both Google Docs and Office Online, you can work collaboratively on documents in real time.
A final note – all of these solutions interact beautifully, with Slack as the lynchpin. So far, we’ve not had a single compatibility issue and that’s without any external technical support!
Irene: We’re a collective, so the embracing of change was a whole group thing. This excitement at trying new things makes our digital evolution easier - we work in a headspace where we don’t approach new tools with scepticism, but instead try them out and move on if they don’t meet our needs.
Irene: Our digital changes have obviously impacted on us as a Collective, but because we’re in the business of sharing, we have already encouraged a fair few organisations to have a go with new tools. Lairg Learning Centre has started on Trello, the Highland Adult Learning Partnership has a Slack team, and we’ve spoken to a few organisations about appear.in for contact with remote clients as it has a lovely, clear and easy to use interface.
Despite the distance, digital pulls us closer together. There’s a huge element of social and informal discussion that goes on in our slack channels, which is incredibly important to us as a team. We used to have Friday Gin and Tonics via Google Hangouts – it’s time to reintroduce this!
Irene: Our key challenge seems to be using the Google Suite to its full potential - many of the applications leave us wondering how to use them properly. We muddle through with our google files, gmail and with hangouts but it’s a bit like building flat pack furniture without reading the instructions. You kind of get there in the end, but somehow you’re not quite sure how you did!
We’re still overcoming Google issues – learning by doing is always our motto. That, and asking folk who have it covered for advice and pointers.
Irene: Why on earth haven’t you used Slack yet?
Irene: Our plan is to keep evolving digitally – we absolutely love digital change. So the next digital change will result from a new challenge to meet, which requires a slightly different tool.
Irene: We’re currently part of an all round inspiring Whatsapp group - headed up by the ever awesome Ross McCulloch of Be Good, Be Social. Every day a new and amazing thing appears on there for us to try.
Thanks to Irene from the Mhor Collective for sharing how they’re using digital in the third sector. We hope that the digital tools mentioned and their approach have inspired your third sector organisation. Don’t forget to share it with your networks to keep the inspiration flowing and tell us what you think @digiscot using #digiscotpioneers.
If you’d like to help spread some more digital inspiration across the third sector then get in touch with us @digiscot and [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you and share it with our networks!