Author Archive

social media sessions

August 26, 2010

I have just been told about some media training that will be running in Edinburgh in the next few months and though I would spread the word.

They are running sessions on Twitter, blogging,  Face Book, monitoring your on-line health, podcasts & YouTube and search engine optimisation amongst others.  Each session cost £30 (unless you are a member of the JCI) and they are taking places in the evening in central Edinburgh.

Take a look at their website if you would like to know more.


can information be art?

August 5, 2010

Hello My name is Jennifer and I’m a information design geek.  Its been 2 hours since my last mind map.

I’ve always been a fan of mind maps, flow charts and basically anything that doesn’t involve lots of writing (it might be natural laziness or a ingrained desire to avoid writing leftover from my dyslexic school days). However I normally reserve these ways of working for my own notes or internal documents but I’m starting to change my mind about this.

On Tuesday I was minding my own business catching up with my emails when at the bottom of an e-newsletter form the Social Enterprise Academy was a link to the following website: – Thank you Social enterprise acdemy you have open up a whole world of ways to present infomation in a intertesting and not literary way.

The types of graphic David McCandless produces may be familiar to Guardian readers as he sometimes writes for them. but his website presents so many different ideas and methods of presenting information and facts that it is well worth a look – although be warned you might lose several hours exploring his images.

Not many charities will be able to afford to bring in a graphic designer with his skill but the use of graphics, charts and basically anything creative in presenting information in written documents is something ESS has always encourages organisation to do since we started 4 years ago. Not only can it a bit of creativity make evaluation reports and data in particular look more interesting but also it could also convey much more to the reader that pages of narrative ever could.

It might be too late for me to save ESS’s own annual review this year – maybe it is not to late for your next report?

Freedom of Information Part 2

April 12, 2010

This is the second guest post from Paul Mutch from the office of the Scottish Information Commissioner.

There are many examples where FOI has been put to good use by a range of voluntary organisations and campaign groups. The Commissioner’s 2009 annual report details a number of these cases. This post shares some of them.

The disability charity ECAS, for example, has used FOI to access information on Edinburgh Council’s decision to reduce funding to the Edinburgh Disability Equality Forum, while Inclusion Scotland has actively used FOI to gather information on the availability of appropriate housing for people with disabilities.  The charity has gone on to use the information collected to work collaboratively with local authorities and politicians to improve services.   

The Rarer Cancers Forum has used FOI to discover that twice has many patients in Scotland have to appeal for special treatments than in England, while, the coalition group ‘for Scotland’s Disabled Children’ (fSDC) is currently using FOI to examine local authority spending on services for disabled children.  The progress of fSDC’s requests can be tracked online at, a website which helps individuals to make FOI requests.  

At a grassroots level, the C Diff Justice Group –set up by the families of those who died during the 2008 Clostridium Difficile outbreak – have been using FOI as part of their ongoing campaign to prevent any reoccurrence, while campaigners from the Scottish Rural Schools Network have actively used FOI in successful campaigns to prevent the closure of rural schools. Information released to the Network also played a role in ensuring that legislation to protect rural schools was strengthened by the Scottish Parliament.

As these groups demonstrate, FOI has the potential to be a valuable tool for the sector, and has already helped to make a difference in the work of third sector organisations.  For further information on using FOI, visit, or contact the Scottish Information Commissioner’s team at, or by phone on 01334 464610.

How to Evaluate Information Work – Part 3

April 6, 2010

Are you reaching the right people?

In the previous article in this series we discussed how people can find out about your work. But how do you know whether your information reaches the right people – those who need your services or those who are most likely to support your cause? And are those people using your information in useful ways?

 People may subscribe to your e-bulletin but never open it, or take a printed leaflet and just recycle it. Hopefully your eye catching design and compelling text means that this doesn’t happen, but how can you find out?

 If your services are in demand, and you have an ever increasing subscription list and a pool of regular donors and volunteers then your communications are probably working! On the other hand if no-one seems to be interested then you may need to improve your communications.

 The statistics about your website and e-mail campaigns can give you a feel for how many people actually read what you write. It’s useful also to take every opportunity to ask people how they found out about your work. You can ask ‘how did you find out about our services/events/newsletter?’ on booking forms, evaluation forms and subscription forms. You can then analyse how people find out about you and use this to refine how you market your work. If some information channels aren’t working for you, ask yourself whether you are using them to their full potential or whether in fact they’re not the right channels for you.

If you are asking people to take action you need to be able to find out whether your communications are helping them to take those actions! Many charities now ask their supporters to feedback using postcards or emails to say wehn they have taken action. It is relatively easy to see how much influence you have on Twitter and Facebook by watching what your supporters do with your information and how often they share your posts.

You should research which forms of communication might best suit your work before leaping in and making the commitment. Online communication can take a lot of time to use effectively. You may find it useful to read some of the articles on Beth’s Blog: How Non Profit Organisations can Use Social Media; the NCVO Marketing Blog and the Ask Charity Blog to start your thinking about how to use online marketing for the best impact. Just because a lot of charities are using Twitter, doesn’t mean you need to!

For a more in depth guide to evaluating information work, try Issue Lab’s Are We There Yet? A Communications Evaluation Guide.

Freedom of Information Part 1

March 30, 2010

This is a guest post by Paul Mutch of the office of the Scottish Information Commissioner

Scotland’s Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation celebrated its 5th anniversary on 1st January this year.  The introduction of the FOI Act has meant that, since 2005, the public have had a right of access to the information held by over 10,000+ public authorities – allowing individuals and organisations to access important information on the issues that matter to them.

But is this ‘right to information’ of value – and of practical use – to the voluntary sector?   Is FOI a tool that can be actively used e.g. to help fulfil organisation goals, to achieve campaign or policy objectives, or to advise clients? 

Recent statistics published by the Scottish Information Commissioner – the man charged with enforcing Scotland’s FOI legislation – appear to suggest that the use of FOI by the sector is low.  The Commissioner’s 2009 Annual Report – published online at – reports that the voluntary sector accounted for only 2% of the appeals received by the Commissioner in 2009, compared to 73% from members of the public, and 13% from the media.  This figure also represents a decline from 2008, when 7% of appeals came from the sector. 

It is important, however, for this data to be considered in context.  These figures are only about the appeals made to the Commissioner, so they relate only to the situations when an FOI request has been refused by a public authority.  The data does not, therefore, include any of the requests which are answered first time, without the need to appeal.  Indeed, data on this aspect of FOI is limited, largely because the FOI process was designed to be as straightforward as possible – both for requesters (who don’t even need to mention FOI when making a request, nor identify themselves as a representative of a particular organisation) and for public authorities (who are not required to monitor, record or report on request volumes).

Where data is available, it suggests that voluntary sector requests will normally answered in full, first time, with no need to appeal to the Commissioner.  Recent research carried out by the University of Strathclyde found that voluntary sector respondents reported this outcome in 67% of FOI requests. 

There are many examples where FOI has been put to good use by a range of voluntary organisations and campaign groups. The Commissioner’s 2009 annual report details a number of these cases. We will look at some of those in the next post in this series.

For further information on using FOI, visit, or contact the Scottish Information Commissioner’s team at, or by phone on 01334 464610.

How to Evaluate Information Work – Part 2

March 10, 2010

How do People find out about your Work?

In my last post, I introduced the idea of evaluating information work. You want to know who knows about your organisation and how they find out. First you need to be clear about how people can find out about your work.

 You have your own information sources – perhaps a blog, website, e-bulletin, Facebook or Myspace page, Twitter, paper publications. But how well connected are you?

  • How many people link to your blog or website?
  • How many people are fans of your Facebook or Myspace page?
  • How many people order your paper publications?
  • How many external organisations display your paper publications?

 It’s useful to search the internet (see Shayna’s article here about how to maximise your searching!) to find out who refers to you. Is your information being displayed in relevant websites or are your events being advertised on Australian websites? You have no control over how information passes round the internet and there’s no harm in someone in Australia knowing what’s happening in their field in Scotland! However you need to target the right places if you want your information to reach the right people. You also need to let people know where you can be found! Your web presence needs to be advertised at every opportunity, your leaflets need to be widely distributed to the right places.

You also want to know what people actually read! Most websites and e-bulletin packages offer statistics so you can find out how many people read your website or open your e-bulletin. Twitter and Facebook let you see who likes your ideas enough to pass them on. Paper publications can have cut-off forms that people can return to request more information, to book a place on a training course, to donate money or to volunteer their services.

 After all, you don’t just want people to know about your work, you want them to use your services, engage with your organisation and possibly to change their behaviour. I’ll discuss that issue more in the next post in this series. In the meantime you can find out more about evaluation at the Evaluation Support Scotland website.

 Where can people find information on your organisation? What do you think are the pros and cons of the different information channels? Leave your comments here and I’ll pick up on the most interesting points in my next post.

How to Evaluate Information Work – Part 1

February 17, 2010


In a difficult economic climate, it’s increasingly important to be able to demonstrate how effective your work is. Evaluation helps you to work out the impact of your communications. 

It can be tricky to work out the impact of information work. Who is aware of your work and how much do they know? Does this information then lead them to take up your services or donate to your cause? How do you find these things out? And at what point does the effectiveness of information work give way to the effectiveness of service delivery or fundraising?

Over the next couple of weeks I will share ideas on how to measure:

  • How people find out about your work.
  • How people use your information.
  • Whether your information is reaching the right people.

 I will be discussing evaluation that can be done by a small organisation with not a great deal of resources. You can find out more about evaluation at the Evaluation Support Scotland website.

 If there’s anything you want to know about evaluating information work, please ask in the comments section! I will pick up interesting points in the next post on evaluation in the week beginning 8 March!


December 22, 2009

Welcome to the new blog of the Information Officers’ Support Group.

We hope that this will become a useful resource for Information Officers and people working in similar roles in charities in Scotland and beyond.

Meanwhile we would like to wish everyone season’s greetings!