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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

5 lessons learned from 20+ years of SCVO’s Policy Network

Over two decades strong, SCVO’s Policy Network has seen it all: Scottish devolution, the rise and fall of countless political leaders, a financial crash, the seismic impacts of Indyref and Brexit, a life altering global pandemic, and the urgent call to action posed by the climate crisis. In the words of Billy Joel, we didn’t start the fire... But SCVO’s Policy Network has been burning for over twenty years to offer the sector a space to discuss the rapidly changing world and how to influence it for the better.  

Today, the Policy Network brings together policy professionals and enthusiasts in the sector, to discuss common issues, share skills and resources, and network. We offer members events and training that aim to upskill and connect them with key figures in government, and a soon to be re-launched online platform built for connection and collaboration. In a world that’s always turning, our goal is to equip our members with the skills and knowledge needed to influence Scotland’s policy landscape, for the benefit of the sector and the communities our sector support. 

Access to the Policy Network and associated events are an exclusive benefit offered to SCVO members. To celebrate SCVO’s Members' Week, I’m going to share five lessons learned from SCVO’s twenty plus years of running the Policy Network. 

1. What makes a good event 

The Policy Network aims to organise events that have a well-defined purpose on a relevant topic, great speakers, good facilitation, opportunities for discussion, and a format and timing that is suited to the event topic. For example, this year we organised an event on the Programme for Government to support the sector’s influencing and engagement work. Last year, we held a sector-led workshop that tackled policy work evaluation and assessment. 

2. The importance of building bridges 

The sector needs to have the right contacts in parliament and government to progress issues. The Policy Network is focused on offering our members engagement opportunities with key figures in government and parliament to help build these relationships and foster greater collaboration and understanding across sectors. Teams we have connected our members with include political party researchers, the Scottish Government’s Third Sector Unit, the Performance and Outcomes Division responsible for the Programme for Government, the UK Government’s Scotland Office, and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State John Lamont MP.  

3. Not all members’ needs are the same 

Scotland's voluntary sector is comprised of over 46,500 diverse organisations varying in size and focus. The significant presence of policy officers and those supporting policy work in this sector often goes unnoticed, as they address a broad spectrum of issues. Policy teams differ across organisations, with varying access to resources. Some officers are embedded in well-equipped teams, while others, often juggling multiple roles, are the sole policy advocates for their organisations. Recognising these variations, SCVO’s Policy Network is relaunching regular network events, to offer an informal space for members to openly exchange their challenges, solutions, achievements, and insights. 

4. How to balance online and offline experiences 

The pandemic drastically reshaped the voluntary sector’s approach to networking and events, with many organisations grappling with the intricacies of crafting compelling online and offline experiences for their members. Online events offer wide reach, accessibility, and efficiency, providing a platform for feedback and data collection. But the absence of in-person gatherings also underscored their limitations: the absence of genuine connections sparked by informal conversations, the challenge of maintaining focus without distractions, and the depth of meaningful discussions. Our own journey included experimentation with hybrid events, which we found less effective overall but did work well for larger panel-focused events. Moving beyond events, SCVO are focusing on elevating our members’ online community experience and will be launching an upgraded online community space for the Policy Network later this year.    

5. It’s surprisingly hard to get people to wear Christmas jumpers to a Christmas event 

People fall into two categories, those who wear festive jumpers and those who don’t. Decide which one you are (preferably the former) and make sure you come to this year’s Policy Network Christmas Quiz and Networking event! (A shameless plug I know...).  

Register to attend our free Members' Week event on Monday 4 September at 1.45pm, where you'll have the chance to learn more about SCVO’s Policy Network and Comms Network. If you would like to join the network and want to check your eligibility, please contact pon@scvo.org.uk.

Last modified on 1 September 2023