Katya Allcott of Scottish Mentoring Network blogs about her organisation’s digital journey
It’s April 2020 and I’m sitting at my desk waiting to enter the second ever DigiShift call on Zoom. It’s not even called DigiShift – at this point it’s being referred to as ‘Big Zoom Call for Charities’. And the reason why almost a hundred and twenty people are joining these Zoom calls?
Because almost every single person on this Zoom call has no idea about how to deliver their charity’s work safely online.
At Scottish Mentoring Network, we were not alone. I was conscious that our members – whose mentoring services range from working with vulnerable children in the community, to mentoring for students about to enter the workplace, to staff members of a bakery – would be looking to us for support. We quickly focused all our energies on collating the existing guidance we had on ‘e-mentoring’, to distribute to the membership. Of course, they still had questions – how should we choose the tool that we use to communicate with mentees? Is it OK for mentors to contact their mentees on Facebook messenger? Should the co-ordinator sit in on mentoring meetings on Zoom?
Oftentimes, we didn’t know the answer. The enormous shift into the digital way of working left everyone feeling confused and conflicted. Confused, because of the vast amounts of information suddenly flooding their inboxes. Conflicted, because of the tension between running a programme safely, whilst not wanting to delay in meeting the needs of their users. Our priority was to try and support our members – and I realised quite quickly that we couldn’t generate any more holistic guidance than what we had already issued. We needed to focus our energies on our own services.
Luckily, before the possibility of lockdown was even on the horizon, we had begun looking in to delivering training online. We had taken a physical piece of our training materials and uploaded this to our online learning platform. Little did we know that we would soon be adapting our services to an online delivery model that had this training at their centre. In terms of our networking meetings, we pivoted quickly to hosting these on Zoom, where they have remained. We reflected, as time passed and the possibility of meeting in person became a reality once again, that keeping an element of online meetings was the most appropriate for us as a national organisation.
So since the start of the 2020/21 financial year, we’ve held our networking meetings around our screens – sometimes they were busy, and sometimes they weren’t. We became aware of people experiencing ‘Zoom Fatigue’, and a trend that reflected the expectation that people working from home should always be ‘on’, always be available. And in response, we condensed our networking programme down to four meetings per year. We felt that this gave each meeting much more focus and purpose, and resulted in better attendance at each one.
These are just a couple of examples of the changes we’ve made on our journey to digital delivery – and by no means have we reached the end. We’ve got a lot further to go yet. Since late in 2019, it’s been an ongoing process of fits and starts of activity. At times we’ve had bursts of concentration and energy, which have then been superseded by service delivery (training, conferences and membership activity). It has also been a challenge to get the digital aspects to our work to the top of the agenda. When it was imperative to get the Mentoring Knowledge and Understanding Course open for bookings – we were able to make it happen, but after it was launched and proved to be successful, we’ve struggled to carve out the time and space to fully review and improve it.
However, at our 2023 staff and board development day, the whole team agreed to concentrate in 2023-24 on a dedicated Digital Transformation workstream.
I won’t lie – I was both excited and nervous, (a therapist friend I once worked with told me that nerves are just confused excitement) – because I felt very strongly about how we should move forward with digital transformation. I didn’t want our energies to be consumed by investigating new tools, picking apart why we use the CRM that we currently use and starting a TikTok channel. I was clear that any digital transformation work should be undertaken with a focus on service design, understanding that all our work had an element of digital delivery and therefore that any transformation work would be cutting across all existing workstreams. My initial nerves at communicating this to the team were unwarranted in the end – I felt heard and validated.
So where are now on our digital journey? In many ways we are at the most exciting stage. Having recently recruited two (yes, not one but TWO), digital trustees to our board of directors, we will be interrogating all our digital assets to ensure that they are still fit for purpose. So really we are in the midst of our digital journey – and I’m excited to see where we go – as we head towards our goal of increasing the quality, reach and profile of mentoring across Scotland.