The digital volunteering code

Through events, online campaigns and other community initiatives, Volunteers' Week aims to motivate individuals to trade in their time and skills to support a social cause. Nesta programme manager Patrick Taylor and Code Club participation manager Sarah Sheerman-Chase offer advise on how to engage volunteers through online training and make volunteering more accessible.

From apps that connect first aiders with local emergency situations to online peer mentoring – digital technology is helping many more people donate their skills and time to a plethora of volunteering causes.

Nesta is supporting six such organisations that work alongside public services to increase their digital offering through the Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund – a partnership with the Cabinet Office. Estimates show the iniative has helped mobilise 40,000 volunteers, who have then gone on to reach another 100,000. Nesta's analysis also suggests these figures will triple by the end of 2015.

Among those organisations being supported to expand their work is Code Club – a nationwide network of volunteer led computer coding clubs for children aged 9-11 years. In January, they developed a new online learning platform for the adults who run the clubs. The platform has already trained more than 500 volunteers from across the country, including web developers, teachers and students. 

Code Club’s participation manager Sarah Sheerman-Chase shares her top tips for engaging volunteers through online training and on making it easier for even more people to get involved... 

Be clear on what you want the outcomes to be and keep everything as simple as possible

This applies to everything from initial planning to design to the end user experience. In our case, we wanted to create something that would be simple to use and would ensure that prospective Code Club volunteers weren’t put off by a difficult or stressful training process. Therefore, we aimed to keep the platform clean and easy to navigate, allowing the content to shine.

Don’t forget good teaching practice 

Good learning can look the same whether it is in a classroom or online. Make sure the objectives are clear and try to present content in a variety of ways to accommodate different ways of learning. For instance, we’ve created transcripts of all our video content for people who prefer to read as well as watch and listen.

Work with people who you know will understand your ethos and remember that good ideas can always be communicated

If you are not used to working with web developers, or have no experience creating online video content, choose people to work with who share your passion and understand your ideas.  

We worked with web developers who were already part of the Code Club team, and then brought in a designer who had already worked with us, so we knew she understood our brand and the way we worked. She was also a user experience expert, which was a useful addition!

For the film content, we worked with Chocolate Films because they specialise in filming with children, working for educational content providers and informal learning, so we felt they would understand us straight away.

Make the most of resources you already have

Don’t reinvent the wheel. If you already have resources look at how you can incorporate them into an online offering. For example, Code Club already had awesome robot illustrations on our website, so it made sense to animate them for the online training. It kept the brand strong and saved on budget too.

Create engaging content

If you were training in a classroom, you would use interactive exercises to help learners, so in an online environment use your video content to show as well as tell. You can show a lot visually without giving long explanations – we didn’t need to describe what a typical classroom looks like, we just made sure our video content did this for us.

And finally, and this is a really important point, Code Club’s online training forms part of a wider support structure for our volunteers. They can visit one of our network of ‘Star Clubs’, a network of best practice clubs who have amazing volunteers & teachers, and are keen to welcome visitors. Volunteers can also swap ideas at meet ups in their local area or in our online forums. Completing the training is just part of the journey with us, and we continue to support them in a variety of ways to continue learning and sharing ideas.


Photo credit: William Iven