Monthly Archives: March 2007

UK ICT Hub Conference

On the same day I attended the CIMS project workshop with a smattering of New Zealand community sector leaders (see my post “Collaboration in motion – CIMS”), UK not-for-profit ICT enthusiasts, leaders and technophiles were participating in the second ICT Hub National Conference in London.

Over the last four to five years the UK government has been investing heavily (by NZ standards anyway) in strengthening community and voluntary sector capacity, including its use of ICTs. Since 2005 the ICT Hub has been running training, offering phone help, sharing lessons, coordinating support, and funding projects. Although government funded the ICT Hub is a partnership of national voluntary and community organisations.

Presenting at the conference was David Wilcox, a visitor to our shores a few years ago, and he obviously stimulated a lot of discussion about how community organisations can use the emerging social networking capabilities of the Internet. As you can see from David’s presentation, see the copy below hosted on SlideShare, he is a proponent of organisations getting on board with powerful capabilities now available online.

(BTW The short-hand for describing these ‘new’ social networking tools is Web 2.0, and includes applications such as: blogs; RSS; shared bookmarks, documents, photos; social spaces; audio and video; and free calls.)

After considering all the pros and cons of social networking tools, Megan Griffith – author of a new report called “ICT Foresight: How online communities can make the net work for the VCS” released at ICT Hub Conference – comes out in favour of adopting the new tools. She basically says people in community organisations don’t have much choice as pressure from members, supporters, staff and the public raises expectations that will be able to join in the participative culture that social networks generate. Megan also argues that online communities present opportunities for voluntary groups to engage with new audiences and to build powerful new networks.

Megan’s report was published by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and is freely available as a PDF. It’s the second in a series designed to help strategic thinkers within organisations – CEOs, trustees and managers – understand and think through the strategic implications of ICT. The first report on Consultation and campaigning in the age of participatory media was released in October 2006.

Putting the hooplah aside, people do acknowledge there are some pretty major barriers to organisations using these new tools. In a three minute video David made at the 28 March conference some of the main barriers are captured by three conference attendees (see UK nonprofits use of social media – at ICT Hub national conference 2007 on Google Video). The two main barriers noted were groups are struggling with the basics and need to get nuts and bolts sorted out first, and using new online tools is not just about technology, but it is about cultural change within organisations.

I find the reaction kind of comforting. If there is resistance and slow uptake in a country where social networking seems to have had more airtime and the ICT support infrastructure is more advanced than New Zealand, we should not be in a rush to push this stuff.

Already with the Wellington region ICT e-Rider project we’re talking about supporting organisations to get the basics under control. This is what the majority of groups told us they needed most help with, along with advice on purchasing and expanding systems. The CIMS project is proposing to start with a platform primarily based on email, and then building from there. I guess the idea is to start with technologies people are confident and competent with before introducing new applications. There is an understandable caution about getting anywhere near technological bleeding edges.

At the same time beginning to trial some of these new social networking tools will make it easier to introduce useful tools when organisations are ready. It’s partly about showing what’s possible. There are some projects and organisations in New Zealand using Web 2.0 tools which it would be good to document. I can feel some more blog posts coming on when time permits.

Collaboration in motion – CIMS

If you want to look at an example of geninue collaboration you couldn’t find a better example of what’s happening under the working title of the Community Information Management Project (CIMS).

I attended a presentation yesterday where the CIMS project was introduced to a wide cross section of community organsiation reps. At the end of the meeting, even as a newcomer to the project development process, I could have helped write up some of the potential benefits of the project. Anyone with an interest in supporting the project is invited to join in and contribute time or cash.

To me this level of collaboration goes much further than what is strictly required under the Digital Strategy Community Partnership Fund, to which an expression of interest has been made and accepted for CIMS. It belies a philosophical commitment to working together and working openly. This is a real strength of the the community and voluntary sector when it’s working at it’s best.

The basic idea behind CIMS is “a shared workspace such as CIMS allows organisations to host their communications networks (discussion lists, sending of electronic newsletters and magazines) through a shared ICT platform”. The main priority seems to be using email, but this just a starting point. At an early stage techies will be asked to propose ideas of what’s possible within a platform.

Training and ongoing support is expected to sit alongside provision of the technical infrastructure. As with the e-Rider project (and numerous others) finding a way of covering costs once grant funding runs out is also part of the project.

There seems to be an increasing thirst amongst community organisations to use the Internet more powerfully. Whether the priority is saving time through smarter administration, expanding their reach to new people or other reasons, using ICT is seen as being worth investing time and effort in. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of CIMS is that it is being driven by the community organisation leaders, not being imposed by experts or well-meaning bureaucrats.

Regardless of the funding application outcome, the fact that groups are coallescing around a shared project will build a strong platform for future initiatives and discussion.

Whispers from the past

Last June Roz and I spent a week exploring the rural hinterlands near Noosa and further up the coast at Rainbow Sands. It was our last trip together before our little one came along and transformed our lives (which Elsa since has done so, of course).

I was reminded of our trip after hearing a docmentary about proposals to dam the Mary River which flows through the Sunshine Coast area. Everywhere we travelled home-made signs were propped up demanding the river be saved. In the Pomona general store window, the closest town to our accommodation, there were posters about benefit concerts and other awareness raising events. It was pretty obvious there was a lot of opposition to the dam proposals locally.

The main focus of the radio documentary was on the Queensland lungfish (neoceratodus forsteri) which is thriving in the part of the river under threat. The habitat is one of the last breeding grounds of the fish species whose lineage dates back 380 million years.

A representative of the local indigenous people, the Gubbi Gubbi, put it really beautifully when she said the fish is a whisper from the past. Eve Fesl says she hopes that everyone will help us try to save the fish.

I didn’t pick up on this, or the many other negative side affects last year, so it was good to find out more. The proposed dam is a classic think-big type, engineering response to resource scarcity, in this case water shortages in urban areas South East Queensland. Much better to have better regulation about water collection and efficiency in the new sub-divisions and better support for water conservation measures, me thinks.

Thanks to Radio Netherlands the Save the Mary River campaign has an international audience. I’d love to go back sometime soon and go to one of those benefit concerts.

Websites

Participatory GIS

At a very vibrant meeting of an online participation community of practice meeting on Thursday, Jasmin Callosa-Tarr gave a presentation on participatory 3d modelling. From what I picked up GIS is being used to create real-life scale models of physical environments, then, using skilled facilitation, locals describe land-use, vegetation, infrastructure or even social patterns. The modelling can then be recreated using GIS software and shared with decision-makers, policy officials, etc. The uses are many.

Over 60 different projects have been run since the approach came about in the mid-90s. Most of the projects have been run in the south, including in the Phillipines – Jasmine’s birthplace. Each project has had a different focus such as awareness raising and education, increasing local communications capacity, collaborative clanning, collaborative research, protected area management, self-determination, participatory monitoring and evaluation, and conflict resolution.

A short video on the Integrated Approaches to Participatory Development website gives a general overview, along with a case study from a particpatory GIS exercise in the Pu Mat National Park, a protected area in Vietnam.

What really impressed me was Jasmin’s description 0f how the technology helps negotiate difficulties of communication. We all know the meanings of words can be contested and without shared definitions can lead to misinterpretation. Participatory GIS involves people talking about local environments and coming to consensus about actual use. It’s tactile and descriptive, so rather than relying on words, actual land uses in the physical world can be attributed to geograhpy locations.

In guidance material on the process it’s put this way:

In providing open access to information, 3-D models add transparency and create common grounds for discussion. They limit the distortion of messages between communicating parties, by offering a shared language of colours, shapes and dimensions, and broaden individual perspectives. In doing this, 3-dimensional models bridge language barriers and ease communication on issues bound to the territory and its resources. This is particularly relevant for people having different education levels, cultural backgrounds and eventually diverse or conflicting interests.

Jasmin was very strong on the ethical dimensions of the approach. She talked about how the process validates peoples’ knowledge, something too easily ignored when experts fly in or science is relied upon. During the talk Jasmin talked about a modified version of Arnstein’s classic ladder of participation. The approach she promoted placed participatory GIS at the end of the ladder giving more control to citizens than to decision-makers.

There was some good discussion at the meeting. SCC have set up regular community of practice meetings in response to demand for people working in the field of community relation, community engagement and public participation. Apparently there are already over 80 people signed up. A wiki is being launched soon for sharing ideas, experience, etc.

There are at least three more meetings in the next month. I’ll post again after the next meeting on official information and participation.

Wiki carnival on social media

“Aggregation, Alerts, Asynchronous communications, Archive, Authenticity, Avatars, Back channel, Blogs, Blogosphere, Blogroll, Bookmarking, Browser, Bulletin boards, Categories, Champions, Chat, Collaboration, Collective intelligence, Comments, Commitment, Communities, Community building, Conference, Connections, Content, Content management systems, Control, Conversation, Copyright, Crowdsourcing, Culture, Cyberspace, Default, Democracy, Download, Ego searches, Email, Email lists, Face-to-face, Facilitator, Feeds, Folksonomy, Forums, Friends…..”

This is just the beginning of a list of terms in an A-Z of social media and social networking terms being put together to help not-for-profit organisations use new web tools and tricks. To expand the list David Wilcox from the UK with his American co-conspirator Michelle Martin are running a wiki carnival on social media. The carnival idea is being trialled as a way of corralling together other ideas and suggestions. Anyone can drop by and make suggestions for additions.

Sadly, I’m at a complete blank (or perhaps it shows I don’t spend too much time online). The list has far more terms than I’m familiar with. So I’m a willing watcher, and experimenter, but I can’t add much. If I did have a suggestion it would be to expand on the descriptions by providing some guidance on the pros and cons of the different online tools and tricks.

With the Wellington Regional 2020 Communications Trust beginning to explore how it can expand the range of support on offer to local community groups it is fantastic that people elsewhere are documenting and sharing their work. Translating the hi-faluting techy stuff to the reality of busy not-for-profits seems a big leap. I doubt social media will attract mass interest but there is the danger of the divide between the technically savvy and those that are not widening even further. Those left behind could struggle to have their voices heard, once again.

So, time take my seat at the carnival. Closes 11 March.

Save the Internet – a NZ view

I promised to report back if I learnt whether legislation to restrict the free flow of information over the Internet would be introduced in New Zealand (see my earlier post Save the Internet).

So far I’ve got some very definitive (and reassuring) news. According to Andy Williamson, a leading thinker and activist on citizen use of the Internet based in Waitakere City, “net neutrality is here to stay”. Apparently, the current Minister of Infomation Technology, David Cunniliffe, has indicated no changes will be introduced under the current government’s reign that overturn the openness and diversity of the Internet.

We shouldn’t be complacent as governments change, as do telco CEOs, so we need to make sure undemocratic ideas from USA are not propagated here by profit hungry coporations.

When I caught up with Andy a couple of weeks ago he gave me an update on his Phd research. He’s looking to understand how information and communication technologies (ICT) facilitate and influence the democratic process in Aotearoa/New Zealand. In a nutshell he says that the transformative potential of Internet needs to be grasped, not just applying new online tools to entrench people and parties who already have power. It will take grounded leadership for citizens to claim this space.

I can’t really do justice to Andy’s research in a nutshell, so it’s best I point to a couple of places you can find out more. You can read an interview with Andy published last month on an Australian eGovernment blog, check out a paper he presented in October 2006 (entitled “Disruptive spaces and transformative praxis: Connecting a community’s past to their electronic future”), or finally, go straight to Andy’s own website, eDemocracy.co.nz.

It’s important we keep talking about how to make sure citizens claim their space online, and about how the web can be used as a tool for bringing about social change. It’s a pretty tough battle so I’m glad Andy is raising issues on our behalf.