As with most things in our lives, the internet and technology has dramatically altered the heritage landscape. The ways we engage with heritage have changed and broadened. Many online heritage projects mean we are no longer restricted by our geography – for example Burns Night festivities that are primarily concentrated in towns and cities in Scotland will now produce a huge amount of podcasts and videos to be enjoyed by people around the world. Similarly, the funding landscape has changed, with an increasing amount of funding bodies expressing interest in funding digital-related heritage projects.
This move towards digital has opened up many great opportunities for small to medium-sized heritage organisations to make a big impact, but also presents some challenges. Many heritage organisations rely on volunteers to operate; volunteers who may be used to more traditional roles like giving guided tours or leading activities with family and school groups. Digital skills of a volunteer team may be limited, thus reducing the organisation’s capacity to create digital content.
It may seem overwhelming to start the process of upskilling volunteers in this area but it doesn’t have to be. With careful thought and consultation you can create a plan that will suit the needs of your team and work towards your organisation’s goals. In this resource we provide guidance on how to identify the training needs of your volunteers and how get started with digital upskilling, with limited resources.
In this guide we will explore
- What we mean when we say digital skills
- The increasing importance of digital skills for heritage organisations and volunteers
- How to identify the training needs of your team
- Tips on upskilling your team
- The different online resources that can support you in this work, without making a major impact on your budget
- Issues of access and inclusion
Digital skills encompass a broad range of abilities, the area you will want to focus on will depend on the needs of your organisation and the existing capabilities of your team.
- Computer basics
Many people use computers, smartphones and tablets everyday – so much that it seems like second nature. For this reason many of us take skills like using a mouse and keyboard, creating and organising folders, and doing an internet search for granted and we may find it hard to understand that others feel intimidated by working with technology. It may be the case that your team need support in this area before moving on to the more complex sets of skills described below.
- Team tools
Discussion sites like Slack, file sharing platforms like Google Drive and Dropbox, and scheduling tools like Doodle can help your team work more effectively, especially if they are going to be working from home.
- Online communications
A lot of people find out about heritage activities through the internet so publicising your events and activities online is crucial to building and keeping an audience. This might be in the form of creating a mailing list and sending news bulletins on a platform like Mailchimp, building your organisation’s profile on social media, or creating and maintaining a website on a platform like Wix or Squarespace.
- Online events
We’ve all gotten used to online events over the past few years, we might even be sick of them. But they are here to stay and running a successful online event can be a great opportunity to reach people who are not able to attend in person. Getting your volunteers comfortable in this area can greatly enhance what you are able to do.
- Creative skills
Your team can create basic posters or upload a recorded video to YouTube but maybe you want to enhance the kind of content you are putting out there, with more impressively edited videos, eye-catching graphics, or gripping podcasts. Using creative programmes like Adobe Photoshop can seem intimidating but there are a lot of excellent free resources online to help someone getting to grips with them.
- Technical skills
The skies the limit in terms of the complexity of digital skills your team could conceivably learn. Perhaps one of your volunteers is interested in learning how to code? Or perhaps you want to set up a customer relationship management (CRM) system to keep track of people coming to your events. Or a volunteer might have an idea for an interactive webpage. The resources section below provides links to useful resources for these more complex jobs.
As mentioned above, more and more heritage projects have a digital element. This can be something simple like blog posts or recordings of in-person events uploaded to YouTube, or something more complex like an interactive map showing key locations associated with an area and an immersive multimedia library. With a digitally savvy volunteer team the opportunities to make a broader and lasting impact are greatly enhanced.
As well as this, having a volunteer team confident in their digital skills can help an organisation operate more efficiently and effectively. For example if only one person is confident using social media it can put a great deal of pressure on them and can cause disruption if they are absent or leave the organisation. If the skills base is broader across the volunteer team, there is less danger of this and more opportunities for volunteers to learn from each other and try new things.
And of course, supporting your volunteers with digital upskilling can help them in their own lives, whether it’s organising family quizzes on zoom or starting their own website about an aspect of heritage that interests them in particular. It could also help someone find a new job or discover their passion.
As we have seen, digital skills can mean a lot of different things and the training needs of your team will depend on the needs and goals of your organisation and the knowledge and interests of the team. In order to ensure that digital upskilling is a worthwhile endeavour some time should be taken to identify what area you should focus on.
The person or people organising the digital training should take some time to reflect and discuss their goals before taking the issue to the wider team. What are the answers to the following questions:
- What are we currently doing digitally? (This can be in any of the categories discussed above, from social media to using Google Drive to share files)
- What would we like to be doing that we aren’t yet?
- How are the volunteers involved in our digital activities now?
- What areas would it be helpful for more people on the team to be confident in?
Brainstorm these questions and for the second and fourth come up with as many answers as possible – they don’t need to be realistic but should help get your ideas going. Priorities can be decided on later on.
The next step would be to open up the discussion to the wider team and see what the volunteers themselves think about the digital skills they have and how increased digital skills could help the organisation. It is helpful to have a fairly free flow discussion to begin with but we would also suggest doing a “SWOT – Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats” analysis with the group in terms of digital skills and the organisation. Get the team to come up with lots of ideas for each of these categories, this should stimulate their ideas and illuminate areas that should be prioritised.
While meeting as a team try to assess what your volunteers already know and identify what kind of digital skills they would like to learn about – it’s all well and good to say it would be cool if your organisation had a TikTok account but if no one on the team is interested in learning about this then it probably isn’t an area that should be prioritised for the moment.
After this process you should have an idea what kinds of digital skills your team should get started with. Try to not be too ambitious at this stage, remember you don’t have to do everything right away – slow and steady wins the race.
When you have decided what areas you are going to focus on for digital upskilling, you should be able to find a wealth of resources online to support this work. While maybe it would be nice to get an individual trainer to give a workshop on this or that topic, this is not affordable or particularly necessary in most cases.
Here are some examples of where you can find resources:
- YouTube has videos for free on how to do almost anything and almost certainly on whatever your volunteers want to learn about. From Microsoft Office for beginners to designing a newsletter, from online accessibility to GDPR compliance, there’s a video for everything! Volunteers can use this to explore their own area of interest or videos can be used to support workshops you do together as a team.
- Skillshare for more in-depth and guided courses on different software packages, especially good for creative programmes on image and video editing. There is a monthly cost for this website.
- Web Accessibility Initiative has tips on how to make all elements of your online activities accessible for people with disabilities.
- AgeUK for people with limited digital skills Age UK has plenty of resources on learning how to use computers, smartphones, and tablets.
- Google Digital Garage useful and comprehensive free courses on digital marketing, suitable for beginners getting started with online communications.
- Free Code Camp for ambitious volunteers who want to learn how to code, this is a free website that, with some dedication and time, can bring you from absolute beginner to a website wizard.
- And of course the Digital Heritage Hub — this very website has answers to many of the questions your volunteers might have about digital skills, why not share with them?
There may also be cost effective opportunities for your volunteers to upskill right in your local community. For example, there could be another heritage organisation looking for volunteers for a digital project. Why not join forces, they can train your volunteers in what they need help with, and your team can bring back this expertise and ideas to your organisation.
Also in your community, there may be a library or university or school that would be happy to let your organisation use a computer room for a few hours a week. Such collaboration could open up other opportunities for digital upskilling in your organisation.
Be conscious of some of the reasons people may be hesitant to use computers or the internet. Not everyone will have access to the same equipment at home or have someone in their life who can support them. In training sessions try to determine what might be holding someone back or making them reluctant to get involved. If possible, your organisation could provide some equipment to volunteers on loan, or make them available to use in the office. There are lots of adjustments you can make in the settings to make a computer easier to use for someone with disabilities.
Make sure that you take into account people’s access needs and made adjustments accordingly. You can familiarise yourself with the principles of accessibility and how to make such adjustments (either to the software or hardware) at the Web Accessibility Initiative.
Be conscious of some of the reasons people may be hesitant to use computers or the internet. Not everyone will have access to the same equipment at home or have someone in their life who can support them.
This guide has provided a broad overview of getting started with upskilling your volunteers to use computers and different kinds of software. The most important thing to emphasise is that there is training material that goes in-depth on all of the skills mentioned in this article out there online, often for free. Browsing the Digital Heritage Hub is a great way to find out more about what’s out there that can help your organisation. Good luck on your digital upskilling journey.
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Please attribute as: "How to improve the digital skills of your volunteers (2022) by Amy Todd and Liam Cunningham supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0