What a difference a year makes

By Siobhan Mercer on 29th Mar 2021

I leave SCVO this week and have been reflecting on the remarkable evolution achieved by myself, my team and the Scottish voluntary sector over this past year.

evolution (n.)

  1. The process by which different kinds of living organism are believed to have developed from earlier forms during the history of the earth
  2. The gradual development of something

All my knowledge of the term evolution is based around that first definition. I have a background in science & data and a keen interest in natural evolution. Last spring it was my intention to jump back into Science Communication and start specialising in plant evolution.

In late March lockdown showed that charities needed immediate help and support. In one of those weird juxtapositions in life, this completely changed my plans and catapulted me into that second definition of evolution.

In the natural world rapid evolution does occur sometimes, but is exceedingly rare, and is usually the result of catastrophe. Our sector’s response to the catastrophic disaster of corona was five years of digital evolution in five weeks. It was humbling to watch the exceptional journey charities took.

And so I do believe the Scottish voluntary sector has created a third definition!

evolution (n.)

  1. The rapid development of something

It was not only our charities who were learning and evolving, I was too. I have learnt a vast amount on a wide variety of topics that I knew very little about just one year ago.

Digital evolution

When I joined the team, I didn’t really know what we were trying to achieve. Help charities adapt, evolve, and continue to operate during lockdown. Yes, fine. But how? It was all about low-cost, off-the-shelf solutions, requiring no coding and that could be implemented quickly. Our Digital Evolution manager John’s recent blog gives a brilliant summary of exactly this with his 10 no-cost, high impact digital changes you can make today.

Efficient remote working

I have learnt so much about efficient remote working and new digital tools. Here are helpful top tips and a detailed Guide on How to do Remote Working.

I learnt that my disabilities (hearing loss, memory impairment, chronic fatigue) fade away to nothing when I work remotely. Lockdown has shown me the truth that it is societal models that disable us, not our own impairments.

Working agilely

We have adapted quickly within our fast-moving team this past year as our work plans changed, often daily. I have learnt how to work in an agile way using constant iteration, sprints, standups and my personal favourite retrospectives.

Designing better services

It all starts with your people! Start with the digital tools your users already know and use the Scottish Approach to Service Design model when completely designing a new service.

Creating great content

I learnt how to write smarter content, wrote case studies and blog posts, and helped the authors of these amazing How To Guides, learning from their content as I edited them.

It was exciting to get to work on the digital section of the SCVO website. I helped with user testing, so we understood how people used our site, then I was let loose with my ideas for restructure.

Cyber Resilience

From staying ahead of scammers to misinformation and fake news, I have learnt so much about how important organisational cyber security is.

Running great Zoom sessions

Like many of you Zoom has been integral to my life this past year. From security to how to make meetings fun to how to create an engaging network through our Big Charity Zoom Calls, which eventually became known as DigiShifts.

Future topics for charities

Two topics I have dipped into, and that charities should be thinking about for future development, are how to become more data driven and how to automate processes for efficiency.

Self-confidence and self-worth

I have also had a huge amount of personal evolution, growth most people call it. I learnt to believe in myself more; that my skills are unique and of value; and my opinions are valid and insightful. I learnt that my writing is good enough for other organisations to develop into something new. I learnt that my passion for inclusiveness and accessibility is inspiring. I learnt that I adore being in a support role, using my skills to enable my outstanding colleagues to do even better work. Remember that NASA cleaner who said he had helped them land on the moon? I have channeled his spirit!


Life had ground me down for various reasons before I joined the team and I had forgotten how to have unplanned fun. Team digi is the best, most supportive, curious team I have ever worked with. I've had an awful lot of fun, never laughed so much at work, and every day has been an absolute joy. There has been fun in many of my projects too! I have designed and made animations and have sourced suitably silly gifs for the DigiScot twitter account, which I managed this past year.


I am exceptionally proud of myself and of team digi. We have all done amazing work this year. My own evolution team and the participation team who have delivered the fabulous digital inclusion programme Connecting Scotland.

Most of all though I am fiercely proud of all of you, the Scottish voluntary sector. You have stepped up to the ridiculous challenges this past year has thrown at you. Your rapid evolution has, quite frankly, been outstanding!