An interview with Sally Dyson - Head of Digital and Development, SCVO

Question 1: From your day to day work, what project, situation, SCVO client or person have you found inspiring?

Answer: Recently the ‘thing’ that has inspired me has been the way in which the voluntary and community sector has responded to the coronavirus pandemic.  I’ve been in awe of the individual and collective mobilisation. Emergency parcels on people’s doorsteps, people dancing down the street in animal costumes to cheer others’ up, WhatsApp groups set up in local communities to check in and make sure everyone is as okay as they can be, services of all types transformed from face-to-face to online overnight.  The thing that continues to inspire me is that the sector is still changing and responding.   At the beginning, we all kept saying ‘this is a marathon not a sprint’ – but I don’t think we all appreciated how long the marathon was going to be or that it was going to be played out on an obstacle course.  So, now that we’ve had several glimpses of operating in a more blended, face-to-face and online, way organisations have not given up, they are delivering, changing, delivering, changing and mostly smiling!  The power of the sector digging in and reaching the parts that others can’t gets me up every morning.


Question 2: What trends do you see over the horizon that will impact on the sector?

Answer: I’m pondering the value of horizon scanning after last year’s curve ball.  So, not exactly on the horizon – but these are the top three things I think the sector properly needs to get to grips with and I’m going to do some blatant signposting throughout! 

Digital Evolution.  Our team at SCVO has been beavering away for years talking about the importance, and benefits of using digital.  We went overnight from organisations asking us ‘why’ they needed to embed digital change to ‘how beeping fast can we get our services our team, our whatever delivered online,’  That’s been an emergency response and a temporary fix.  Organisations now need to work through what it means to be a responsive and resilient organisation in the new world.  More info here! and a programme (including funding) to help here 

Digital Inclusion:  Has been brought to the fore in the same way as organisational change.  We all need the skills to operate online (hopefully for most of us never in this way again) – we know that people learn the essential skills, gain confidence and are motivated when they’re engaging in something that’s meaningful for them.  For many people not online that’s their interaction with a voluntary group or community organisation.  It’s really important then that those organisations take that into consideration when re-developing their services.  More info here!

Community mobilisation is changing:  We saw it with XR, we saw it throughout the coronavirus emergency – people looking towards their neighbourhoods, communities of place and interest for support and engagement.  Whilst there are lots of different models of voluntary and community organisations I think this is going to expand and what we think of as the shape and function is going to change to meet our changing lives and expectations.  We’re going to need to embrace these changes and also challenge funders and OSCR to work differently to do the same.


Question 3: Why and how did you decide to join this sector?

Answer: I’ve never really made a decision to ‘join’ the sector.  As a young mum I fell into the sector through a job that was local, flexible, and tolerant of someone who would push at every boundary they saw.   I believe that voluntary and community organisations are where real societal change is made and that’s the thing I’ve always wanted to be involved in.  Growing up in the 80’s, with the effects of the miners’ strike very close at hand fuelled my desire to try and strive for better and more equal communities.  My decision has always been and always will be that I’ll work where I can make a positive difference to society.  Sometimes, like now, that’s within the sector at SCVO.  Other times it’s been as a funder or even part of regional government.  


Question 4: Outside of work, what interests you?

Answer: Lots of my work interests cross over into what makes me tick.  Other than those, music is a massive influence and interest.  It fascinates me how it can bring the unlikeliest of people together, create massive debates, give people a space to be themselves, change mood and bring massive joy.   I’m a trustee at Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh, a long- standing choir member and cannot wait to be part of the live music scene again. I love the outdoors and miss being out for a full day walking. I’m lucky to live by the sea and fascinated by the changing skies, ebb and flow of the waves and the boundless treasures washed up on the beach.