Scottish Government has sponsored a digital award at the Scottish Charity Awards for the past seven years. In the first year there was much discussion whether highlighting digital as a ‘thing’ was the right way to go. It should be part of everything that we do, so why should there be a dedicated category rather than, say, the ‘Good Finances Award’? I believed we could use the opportunity to raise awareness of digital’s crucial role for everyone and all organisations. I also hoped that it wouldn’t have a huge lifespan. I hoped digital would be something to become so normal that a special award wouldn’t be necessary.

Reflecting on Friday’s awards ceremony, I ponder, whether we are nearly at the end of the road for a specific digital award?

Many finalists showed signs that digital was woven through their activity. However, it doesn’t feel fair to include them without evidence. So, here the focus is on finalists that explicitly mentioned ‘digital’ in their round-up. Forty-seven organisations were shortlisted as finalists. Eighteen specified the use of digital or development of digital skills. Five were specifically for the Digital Citizens award but 13 more had a digital focus.

The use of digital covered helping people to be online through to app creation.  

  • WHALE Arts, nominated in Charity of the Year, partnered with local organisations to distribute devices
  • Shawn Nicholas Fernandez , Volunteer of the Year, supports older people online safety
  • TripleTapTech, Community Action, helped people with visual impairments in all aspects of technology
  • LGBT Youth, in Pioneering Project, developed a learning hub and digital community space with young people.

The pandemic and lockdown highlighted the importance of digital to us all. The need for everyone to be able to be online confidently. For all organisations to interact and deliver services digitally. I’m left wondering whether that was the easy part – necessity being the mother of invention. We’re now at a tricky phase of supporting people and organisations with a mix of in-person and digital services. 

The digital cat is out of the bag. I hope to see even more finalists in all categories mentioning their use of digital next year. To do that I urge everyone to continue to do two things :

  1. Support people you work with or care about to consolidate their digital skills.
  2. Don’t slip back to the old ways of service provision. Create new digital and face-to-face solutions.

In the next few weeks, SCVO’s digital evolution and digital inclusion teams will share ‘how to’ guides and case studies to support and inspire.

Building digital services for the longer term which include everyone and work reliably requires more investment and more work. But it is really critical to do this if organisations are to reap the benefits of a year or so of digital experimentation. As organisations approach this, there are two key questions to keep in mind:

Firstly, think about the people you’re reaching.Who is included by using digital channels and services and who might be excluded by purely digital delivery? To answer this, you need to do some research. Compare the people using your new digital channels with the wider group of people who have been interacting with you for a while. And talk to people who have not been online much to find out what barriers they are facing. Can you help overcome these? Or will you need to make sure some non-digital channels remain open to include everyone?

Secondly, what new ways of working and being in touch have digital channels and tools enabled? For example, organisations offering counselling to vulnerable people have been able to reach people who found it difficult to attend face-to-face sessions. And older people’s groups have been able to run many more social sessions, without the limitation of opening and running physical venues. Our own Digishift community has brought thousands of voluntary sector workers to interactive sessions with digital experts from all around the world. Reflecting on what you are able to do now through digital channels will make you realise a lot of gains you have made. Conversely, taking stock might make you realise what isn’t possible through purely digital channels. What do you need to get back to doing that has been interrupted by the pandemic?

These kinds of questions will help you see how the needs of the people you are working with are changing, and what investments and work you need to do to keep meeting those needs.