Monthly Archives: July 2007

Bring out yer dead

I’ll definitely bring out my dead for the eDay coming up on 29 September. Dumped in forgotten corners around the house we’ve got three ancient laptops with barely a flicker of life between the three of them.

A lot of people got into the spirit of things at last years eDay in September 2006 when 50 tonnes of dead computer equipment was collected.

Again this year people in the Wellington region (and possibly some other areas) are being encouraged to safely dispose of old computer equipment. The Computer Access NZ Trust (CANZ) is organising the free community computer recycling day for households, small businesses and schools, with help from the Wellington Region 2020 Communications Trust, Remarkit, WCC and a number of industry sponsors.

All computers will be broken down and the parts will be recycled for other purposes. Mobile phones will also be disposed of in an environmentally sustainable way.

The details: drop-off at the Westpac Stadium car park from 9am-3pm 29 September 2007. If you want to help out on the day, talk to Mike Ennis at Parts Plus.

Laptops in hospices launched

Having sat through many updates about theWhanau Link project at Wellington Region 2020 Communications Trust meetings, I was delighted to join with fellow Trustees and Wellington 2020 staff at the launch of the expanded Whanau Link project on 25 July.

Now a total of six hospices in the lower North Island have laptops available for patients and families. Each hospice has a wireless network so patients in care can use the laptops from their bedside to keep in touch with families, friends, and even their workplaces.

Already, the benefits of the technology are being picked up by staff who have begun holding regular online meetings with associate hospices.

The system is using standard off the shelf technology which means the ongoing support requirements should be minimal.

Wellington 2020 ran the project with input from a range of parnters, including NEC and CityLink. Funding for the project was via a grant from the Digital Stratey Community Parntership Fund.

Speaking at the launch Winnie Laban, Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, acknowledged the collaborative approach. She said “the success of this project has only been possible through the contributions, volunteer time, and collaboration of all partners involved”. (See her full speech.)

BTW: This story is slow arriving online. Ironically, writing up the launch was delayed because I’ve waiting for the Hutt News to arrive at the central library to check a couple of details.

One year on The Couch evaluation

According to website 101 advice, regular evaluation of your website is imperative, so is making incremental changes. As June Cohen says in The Unusually Useful Web Book “you launch the site, study how it’s used, and make continual changes to improve it”. Yet as evaluation takes time and effort it’s not always completed in a timely way, or even done at all.

I’m really pleased to say we’ve completed a full process evaluation for The Couch just over a year after the website was launched. Mostly we wanted to find out whether the website was working and how it could be improved, but we also wanted a sense whether members were satisfied with their involvement.

As you can see from the report on the evaluation poll, lots of members made positive comments and suggestions for improvements. The second most common theme was members asking what difference does their input have? Members made it clear they want to know how policies for families are changing.

Based on this feedback we’re planning some changes to the way we communicate about how the results of polls are used. It’s not always easy to show a causal connection between the results and policy change, but we can tell members what we’ve done. This complements earlier decisions to be specific about the objectives for each poll before they go live.

Already underway are some subtle changes to the website to make it easier to use. And we’re planning to review the homepage and begin sending out a quarterly e-newsletter.

Of course, this wasn’t the start nor will the evaluation be the end of the changes. We’ll keep fine-tuning the website with design tweaks and wording changes as the need arises. Stray emails and comments from members and web denizens are vital to this. I’d be happy to receive any suggestions for The Couch you may have, send them to enquiries@thecouch.org.nz.

Tech exec share youthful insights

Technology is going to take over.
Technology is going to be everywhere – embrace it!
Internet is vital nowdays, just like water, food and shelter.

These are just a few of the comments about the technology in the future from some members of the Wellington-based Tech Exec. The Tech Exec are a group of senior high school students involved in all sorts of ICT projects. Last week some of the group they braved a sea of suits at one of State Service Commission’s regular online participation community of practice lunchtime seminars to co-present.

The session was facilitated by WCC’s Raewyn Baldwin who is working with the Tech Exec on various council projects. One recent event the Tech Exec organised was a half-day Tech Hui for 200 students across the Wellington region to learn about the IT industry.

Comments about online participation was refreshingly direct: make your websites interesting – visual and dynamic; and find ways to allow more than the dedicated few to comment. For at least one student, the role of goverment was limited to meeting immediate needs, including getting a drivers licences, taking out a student loan and eventually voting. Therefore the need to be consulted or interact with government was seen as being very limited.

There is lots expertise among the speakers. The students at Wellington Girls College have been running the Tech Angels programme for several years. Computer savvy students work with run lunchtime mentoring in the use of IT for other students. The Tech Angel vision stretches way this beyond “…to challenging the way that everyone learns – both teachers and students.” Daniel, a student at Wellington High School, is working on collaborative arts production project in Mount Cook. He’s already developed, coded and is supporting a content management system, called KustomPage.

You can read, view or listen to student presentations about these and other projects from the Time 4 Online web-based conference for teachers, held 28 May to 8 June 2007.

The Tech Exec are not necessarily representative of all young people around the country. Those students lucky enough to live in major urban centres and with well-paid parents might get fast broadband but not everyone can. Michelle from the Ministry of Youth Development said that one third of 500 Provoke youth network members did not have Internet access of any kind. Another Youth Development advisor said many of the young people in smaller centres like Greymouth or Kaiapoi were unlikely to have good access. Considering the infrastructure alone, broadband is simply not readily available.

I suspect and hope that by the time the presenters are my age, the distortions of access will have been ironed out. However, much as I’m an Internet junkie, I don’t really like the idea of technology taking over the way the Tech Exec reps foresee. Perhaps this is something we could talk about.

A Long and Winding Road:

Community Organisation ICTs Uptake in Aotearoa New Zealand

Stephen Blyth, Department of Internal Affairs

Presented to: Electronic Networks 2002 – Building Community, fifth Community Networking Conference, Melbourne, 3-5 July 2002. Revised 29 July 2002.

But still they lead me back
To the long winding road
You left me standing here
A long long time ago
Don’t leave me waiting here
Lead me to your door

The Long and Winding Road, The Beatles

The promise of information and communications technology (ICTs) has been heralded as a godsend to iwi/ Maori and community groups. It is hailed as a set of powerful and flexible tools that can contribute to networking and efficiency gains, enhance participation in democracy, enable cultural expression and support social change. The question that hangs over us is whether this promise is being fulfilled. Are communities on the information superhighway, or trailing around on the byways, waiting at the door?

The purpose of this paper is to examine what situation iwi/ Maori and community organisation find themselves in. The limited evidence available suggests a very mixed picture: some pioneering organisations are using the ICTs in very powerful ways, while the vast bulk of groups are struggling. Targeted services, training and content directed specifically organisations are few and far between. And the recognition for community organisation needs is weak.

In this paper I am trying to make some sense of what is happening, why and what can be done about it. In tackling the issue of ICTs uptake, I am doing so as a professional working to support community initiatives who is concerned about the slow rate of progress. I cannot claim to speak on behalf of organisations, nor would it be appropriate for me to do so. In putting these views forward I draw on my experience working for government, but the opinions stated below do not reflect government or departmental policy.

In this paper the following will be covered:

  • An outline some of the potential benefits to community organisations of using ICTs.
  • A description of the situation in Aotearoa, drawing on anecdotal and survey material.
  • An exploration of the key reasons for the level of uptake.
  • An outline some suggestions about how to address issues.
The potential of the Internet and other new technology for community organisations

There is a lot of hype about what ICTs can deliver for community organisations, yet not all of these claims are accurate. Organisations need to have a healthy sense of realism about what ICTs can really offer. I outline below a few of the common claims made about the use of ICTs in the community sector.

Starting with the basics, ICTs have a role in improving business processes within organisations, and contributing to the delivery of a service or organisational mission. The oft-repeated mantra of efficiency and effectiveness is as relevant to in the not-for-profit sector as it is for any business or government agency. Discussing voluntary sector use of the computers and the Internet in the UK Jeremy Wyatt describes the following three benefits of using ICTs:

  • Efficiency – benefits for day-to-day running of organisations, reducing costs and improving response times.
  • Effectiveness – improvements to service delivery, providing access to information and communication not readily available in other forms, new forms of outreach and visibility.
  • Networking – online communication catalyses new collaboration, or helps underpin face-to-face networking.

A survey of 203 US non-profit human service executives found that “eight in 10 executives see IT as a time-saving and production enhancing tool and believe that improvements in their organisation information technology would yield a wide range of benefits”. Improvements cited relate to research, sharing information, performing day-to-day operations, fundraising, carrying out programmes, and attracting and retaining staff.

Of course these arguments about the potential productivity gains need to be treated cautiously. As Davidson and Voss note: “…there is an increasing awareness of what has been called the productivity paradox: that there is little relationship between investment in information technology and productivity gains”. The over-estimation of productivity gains is likely to be particularly acute within community organisations as they do not have the powerful technology available to business, nor access to technical support and ongoing training.

If we now shift attention from the offices to the streets, there is emerging recognition of the role of ICTs in social change. New information technology tools are being added to the toolkits of community activists, both as a way of promoting facilitation and collaboration, and as projects around which to focus. Terry Grunwald has begun developing a taxonomy of community tech tools and projects. Amongst the tools are local media and telework centres, video-sourced distant learning, NETrepenuers, cybertots, laptop lending and community networks.

Some of the most powerful uses of technology come about when the tools are adapted by a change activist. So while in some situations large scale projects may have little hope of success, “[t]echnology applications can enable certain individuals, especially “early adopters”, to spark catalytic change in their communities.” There are some risks that decisions will be on technical grounds, therefore it is necessary to ensure they are grounded in a community development approach. This does not mean turning your back on the technology but, as Randy Stoecker says, the point “…is to focus on it in the context of bigger goals – building and rebuilding real communities in real places with real people leading the way.”

This insight is particularly important when it comes to the role of iwi/ Maori and community organisation running projects providing public access to ICTs. There is a strong push for provision of access and transferring skills to disadvantaged communities as a way of enhancing their social and economic situation. In this context, the role of community organisations is described as that of mediators, with organisations “…acting as front-line conduits between disadvantaged groups and ICTs”. Mediation revolves around providing access to audiences that cannot be reached by formal education institutions. For instance, providing access and training at local facilities like community centres or marae. Community organisations bring their integrity and trusted relationships, and provide access to knowledge and resources that ensure the success of projects – all assets organisations need to carefully protect.

This leads to the final area of potential of ICTs for iwi/ Maori and community organisations: participation in civil society. The Internet and email, in particular, can be used to promote engagement in official democratic processes, and to organise citizen-led campaigns. Human rights, social justice, environmental and many other non-governmental organisations are harnessing the Internet to amplify their voice, engage citizens, and challenge both governments, international agencies and corporations. This is occurring within countries and increasingly across international boundaries. Powerful and innovative tools have been developed by NGOs to capitalise on the support they have to advocate on issues, and to share information. This is at its most advanced in the United States where organisations are using tools to allow members and the public to lobby politicians without having to lift a pen. The low-cost and high impact of Internet, in particular, means ICTs is an increasingly vital tool for advocates.

The potential of ICTs within iwi/ Maori and community organisations ranges from the humble, for example using a PC to generate mailing labels, to projects that actively address social change. It seems that the big gains are to be made when we look at the wider picture.

ICTs uptake by community organisations in Aotearoa New Zealand

Awareness is growing of the positive role that ICTs can play in the work of community and iwi/ Maori organisations. It can be said with absolute certainty is that there are some very successful and innovative uses of ICTs by iwi/ Maori and community organisations. It is impossible to do justice to the rich diversity of projects that are underway, nor capture how ICTs are being used to enhance efficiency. If we looked at sample of initiatives are drawn from two Department of Internal Affairs projects (the Flaxroots Technology conference, and the booklet Communities Online: Information and Communications Technology Case Studies) you will find projects being used to monitor natural resources, undertake advocacy, share cultural knowledge, deliver services, provide training, coordinate activities, recruit volunteers, and provide support.

So, there is no shortage of innovative and creative projects, but it is trends that are more important. It is, however, difficult to discuss trends with any confidence due the scarcity of data and the relative newness of community informatics in New Zealand. It is frustrating that the data is so limited, and confined largely to what level of connectivity groups have, not what actual use of ICTs is made by organisations. It is obvious that further research is required.

Anecdotal evidence
Community-based initiatives to identify barriers to the uptake of ICTs and look into opportunities indicated the extent to which the lack of access is becoming problematic. For instance, a taskforce of community organisations in South Auckland is looking at issues of organisational capacity, including how to purchase and maintain ICTs. In Nelson a community worker association is exploring how training and support can be provided for people working for community organisations.

These types of initiatives suggest barriers are widespread and persistent. In April 2002 community organisations throughout New Zealand expressed their frustration at barriers preventing their effective uptake of ICTs within their organisations. The Association of Non-Governmental Organisations of Aotearoa (ANGOA) held a series of hui and meetings to collect ideas and comments about how to strengthen the capacity of the community sector to do its work. The following notes give an indication of perceptions of barriers to ICTs uptake:

  • “To progress we must be on an equal footing to cope with digital divide and that means equipment, training, security, space, phone lines, and a person to replace those being trained.” (North Shore, 24 April)
  • “Local/ central government could provide key equipment to allow access for community groups.” (Hamilton meeting, 22 April)
  • “Access to internet an issue for many.” (Palmerston North meeting, 12 April)
  • “Currently groups experience difficulties in accessing information and maintaining information to keep it current.” (Hamilton meeting, 22 April)

Very similar comments were recorded during research for the Department of Internal Affair’s community online strategy in 1997. It was noted in the strategy that:

[s]urvey results tell us that information services for community organisations need to be cheap, readily accessible including rural areas, easy to use and relatively low tech. The majority of community organisations have neither the skills nor money available to buy and maintain sophisticated information products, nor is it a priority for resources.

The strategy recognised the need for services, products and training to be presented in culturally appropriate ways and languages.

Pauline Proud reported to participants at the first Flaxroots Technology conference, April 2000, about her experience delivering training and providing support as part of the Public Health World Wide Web Networking Project. Proud conveyed the following comments from smaller organisations:

  • Insufficient funding at this stage to purchase a computer.
  • Questions as to how a website will assist the services provided by a community based health service to its community.
  • If there is value in this, how about funding for it?
  • Not relevant to a smaller organisation.
  • Very enthusiastic, but management not supporting resource reallocation.

Discussion about the needs of organisations followed the conference on the Flaxroots email list . A similar vein of sentiment was expressed: financial and technical barriers were blocking uptake. As one email group participant noted:

There is a need for specialised assistance such as …. a strategy to provide computers to all community centres, grants for acquiring second hand computers, exemptions from software licensing for voluntary organisations, … an online facility to enable cooperative purchasing of fixtures, fittings and equipment, a nation wide register of successful projects.

Visitors to the CommunityNet Aotearoa website has provided feedback about community organisations levels of access to ICTs. One visitor pithily noted: “Great website: pity the community and voluntary sector is not as resourced to make more use of this site” (unattributed feedback). During a review of the performance of the website in March 2002, participants in workshops expressed a cautious view about using the Internet. The general consensus was that:

The use of the Internet is not seen as a high priority for many organisations. The main reason for this is that with limited resources (both time and dollars) the focus is on using those resources to serve the communities that they are focused on. In addition most people in the community and voluntary sector tend to be relationship-oriented people rather than technology-oriented people, with many of the volunteers in the older age range.

Statistical data
In a survey of applicants to funding schemes administered by the Department of Internal Affairs in May 2000 an average of 55% groups had access to the Internet and/ or email. There were marked variations in usage depending on the size and mission of the groups. Larger organisations tended to have higher levels of access, with (ie those with annual budgets over $100,000, applying for larger grants). Applicants with turn-over under $15,000 or applying for grants less than $2,000 had significantly lower average levels of access. Those applying to the Marae Heritage Fund were least likely to have email or internet, with only a third of marae applicants connected at the time of the survey.

Although respondents expressed positivity about going online and there was growing awareness of the services and information available, many barriers to using Internet based services were observed, including:

  • A preference by Maori and Pacific Island people for face-to-face contact, therefore they less likely to favour online services.
  • A lack of phone lines and high costs meant Internet access is kept to a minimum
  • New users lacked awareness of how much use would be made of online services.
  • Unreliable telephone lines in remote rural areas.
  • Different skill levels among users.

A familiar refrain of efficiency gains and improved networking were recorded as reasons for getting connected in a research paper by a Waikato University Management student. His survey of 60 community groups in the Waikato region found that while 97% of workplaces had a computer, there was a wide range of models, including some that were ‘badly outdated’, and/ or unusable for Internet connectivity. A relatively high proportion of groups were Internet connected (81%, 47 groups), of which 72% (34) used email. Just a quarter (16) had their own website. Levels of usage varied (including some groups who had connections but didn’t use them), and included information gathering, training and education, chatrooms/ discussion, and to a lesser degree fundraising and job searching. Advanced networking or e-commerce were not recorded as uses. The familiar refrains of lack of resources to upgrade computers and absence of support and affordable equipment and services, and a perception that costs outweighed benefits were recorded. Some respondents noted satisfaction with existing systems.

More detailed information about attitudes toward and use of websites was collected in a survey by the Wellington 2020 Communications Trust . The survey of 582 Wellington community groups fond that 45% of organisations had email, and 36% had websites. Although those organisations with websites expressed strong interest in maintaining their website (70% put a high or very high priority on continued development), 40% have difficulty keeping them up-to-date because of a lack of time or expertise. Despite the perceived difficulties, 52% of groups without websites put a medium to very high priority developing a website in the next 18 months. Factors putting them off were lack of time (74%) and expertise (68%). Just 31% showed no interest in developing a website. Two thirds of organisations expressed a medium to very high interest in training. Again resourcing was identified as a problem. As one respondent commented:

We don’t have a computer. I have tried 27 companies for donations/ sponsorship but to date we have had no success. If you can help please let me know.

So, braving some generalisations, the following trends can be observed:

  • Strong interest by iwi/ Maori and community organisations to use ICTs
  • Community organisations struggle to get connected because of a lack of resorcing
  • Better resourced organisations do not face the same barriers.

One wonders if community organisations in Aotearoa New Zealand are suffering the same fate as their British counterparts. As Wyatt comments:

Although 82% of organisations have computers, and 67% have an internet connection, these computers are often at a level too low to make use of the opportunities of core cost savings, productivity gains and service developments that have been achieved in the public and private sectors.

Woe! Why should this be?

The situation of iwi/ Maori and community organisations, traversing a long and winding road, is due to a number of inter-related factors. Below I examine what I consider to be the most compelling explanations for current patterns of ICTs uptake by community organisation. The five areas I examine are related to concerns about negative social impacts of new technology, the fragmentation of community policy-making within the public service, an absence of leadership, poor resourcing, and lack of critical infrastructure.

Concerns about the social impacts of ICTs
Within civil society iwi/ Maori and community organisations bring unique values and perspectives. Analysis of the impacts of policies and social changes, including introduction of new technologies, is a natural role for organisations. For many the advent of the knowledge economy/ society brings with it many perils.

Organisations point out that the pace of technological change means new technology is introduced before society has an opportunity to critically consider the potential impacts. The meeting notes from a gathering of community representatives stressed the “Speed issue: [we do not have] control of technology, [there is] not time to reflect, [nor time for] understanding limitations.” (Strengthening the Sector workshop, Wellington, 19 April 2002) This applies as much to wider societal concerns, as it does to impacts within organisations. The central role of the Internet in daily life, in particular, is being criticised for leading to a loss of basic social skills, increasing social isolation and addiction, negative impacts on people’s basic learning skills, health side-effects, and a loss of economic, social and democratic opportunities for those without access. There are also concerns about loss of privacy, fraudulent activity and exposure to objectionable content. And even while there is some acceptance that technology can bring about:

… improvements in productivity or in addressing basic social needs [it could] … nonetheless [be] associated with further unintended declines in political engagement, attenuation of community bonds, experiential divorces from nature, individual purposeless, and expanding disparities in wealth.

Concerns of this nature are reflected in the behaviour of groups (eg their particular patterns of uptake) and in the policy positions they put forward critiquing the negative side-effects of the knowledge society.

The practical aspect to the social critique helps explain the pattern of ICT uptake described above. Organisations lack of control over the shape and direction that technology takes, yet at the same time there are few alternative solutions clearly articulated and available. If we take software as an example, some organisations have a principled aversion to supporting commercial products where profits and intellectual property benefit distant countries and support a economic system which perpetuates injustice. The alternative software solutions (eg open source applications) are generally unsupported and not as user-friendly as commercial products. So only a few organisations use these types of solutions, generally where there are knowledgeable and motivated individuals, and the timeframes are flexible. For the majority of groups, alternative software options are not currently viable. This, I believe, leads to self-imposed limitations in the level of sophistication, or outright rejection of ICTs use beyond the basics. Organisations are hamstrung as they express their values.

For Maori, there is another dimension to concerns about ICTs, with the Internet being of particular note. The World Wide Web can open the door for the uncontrolled publication and manipulation of Maori cultural and intellectual property, including graphics, images, stories and whakapapa (genealogy), and IT projects risk being established and managed in ways which are contrary to Maori values. Robyn Kamira argues “Maori need to be masters of information and the technology because of the potential loss of knowledge through irresponsible or inappropriate use that can undermine Maori aspirations.” Discussing the implementation of the kidZnet health resource project, Kamira describes the difficulties Maori faced in retaining control and ownership of their knowledge in the absence of legislation or policy to meet iwi requirements and needs related to cultural and intellectual property. Reflecting Maori rights and concerns requires attention to active participation in projects, clarification of data ownership, involvement in ongoing governance, mechanisms for protecting collective privacy for whanau, hapu and iwi, and ensuring Maori are the first beneficiaries of data collected.

It is not so much not a question of using or not using ICTs, but having the knowledge and power to do so in ways which support self-determination and cultural values. The examples cited by Kamira show that it is possible to manage projects and development initiatives in ways which respect Maori values, and there is significant knowledge available in other fields (eg community development). A central challenge is to strengthen the power of communities to express their values while engaging with new technologies. Ultimately this could lead to a shift in the way in which society regulates technology.

Fragmented policy making
The public sector is showing promising signs of tackling the issues faced by iwi/ Maori and community organisations. A government-community working party has been investigating ways of building effective working relationships between the state and non-profit organisations and Maori. However, the public service is still recovering from 15 years of public sector and economic reform. During this time policy relating to the community sector was fragmented to the detriment of community organisations.

Public sector reform had far reaching implications across society, including many negative impacts on relations with community organisations. The notion of community was marginalised as social policy focused on the individual and the family. At a practical level, government supported social service provision through a market approach with contracting the preferred funding model. Collaboration and mutual support between organisations was replaced by distrust and competition. The ability of organisations to build their own capacity was eroded, including any capacity to engage in new technology developments.

As well as competition between community organisations, the government agencies supporting iwi/ Maori and community organisation had different values and approaches consequently struggled to work together. Therefore there was no strategic or planned approach to government investment in the capacity of the community sector. The message from organisations was “…that the social and economic reforms of the past two decades, particularly in the state sector, had a profound effect on the relationship between government and the community sector leaving a residue of mistrust and tension.”

The “Statement of Government Intentions for an Improved Community – Government Relationship (December 2001)” signed in December 2001 indicates a change in approach. The value of the contribution of iwi/ Maori and community organisations to society has been publicly acknowledged and a formal relationship building process has documented concerns and recommended ways of improving the community-government relationship. A sector-led working party on strengthening capacity, including use and access to ICT, is due to report on key actions in July 2002. Government officials are working together, both developing policy and implementing projects.

There are some challenges and the shift from fragmentation is not complete. There still is no government-wide approach to supporting iwi/ Maori and community organisations to utilise ICTs. Some ministries have are investing heavily in the capacity of the sectors they work with, while others are not. There have only been a very few Internet based projects initiated by government agencies focusing on the community sector, and to date, the largest investment have gone into projects that improve business processes or access to raw information (eg community directories), rather than those that develop usable tools or applications. The level of spending devoted to supporting ICT community organisations barely registers when compared to spending on communications infrastructure, e-government and e-commerce. It will take a shift to a sector wide approach to resolve these sorts of issues.

Community sector leadership gaps
The appointment (or self-appointment) of e-champions, e-vangelists, e-envoys or cyber-visionaries is a trend that seems to have largely bypassed iwi/ Maori and community organisations in Aotearoa New Zealand. A few visionary pioneers have initiated some very innovative projects but there is an absence of strong, sustained voices from within the sector mediating the adoption of ICTs: identifying and promoting the best bits, and warning about the pitfalls.

The role of leadership is critical to uptake of ICTs because of the nature of the opportunities and impacts. Ultimately, when we look at introducing ICTs we are talking about cultural change within organisations. The rising use of email provides as example of how new technology creates new challenges. Email has its benefits, such as providing low cost, rapid and robust opportunities for people to access information and communicate both within organisations and externally. However, associated with the use of email are a raft of oft cited tensions including: information overload; loss of productivity as staff send personal emails during work hours; reduced face-to-face contact; and system breakdowns because of viruses. There are challenges to existing relationships as gatekeeper roles are bypassed, and the ability of staff to effectively use new systems does not follow traditional channels of authority.

In a paper about use of ICTs in the public health promotion field, Pauline Proud argues that bureaucratic barriers as more enduring than financial ones. She cites the following example:

Team leaders and managers often know less about the Internet than their employees and can be embarrassed and avoid learning. It has been important to provide presentations for these managers so they can advocate for resource development where appropriate.

For staff and organisations to be empowered, the culture change issues associated technology need to be addressed. Tensions can be resolved, and policies written, but it is leadership that enables organisations to get on with it.

If we look beyond the usual constraints of limited time, resources and knowledge, and competing priorities, a reason community leaders are averse to technology is because of the mystique that surrounds it. As Grunwald argues:

Since the earliest days of the Community Technology movement, tool selection has been the province of technophiles rather than community activists. Savvy grassroots leaders who have no problem making their voices heard on issues like affordable housing, childcare, and education, often feel uncomfortable around technology issues. In some cases, they feel just plain dumb. Consequently they give up power – to ‘boxes and wires’enthusiasts or increasingly to mainstream economic developers pushing a high tech corporate agenda.

Opportunities for potential leaders to undertake professional development and experiment are required, yet these opportunities seem to be few and far between.

Across the broader community sector there has been a tendency for people not to engage in thinking and strategising about how ICTs could be deployed. Governance of CommunityNet Aotearoa website provides a case in point. The website was designed and built on the premise that ownership of the site would be transferred to the community sector at an appropriate point. During the development phase, in 1998, a mandated group developed a proposal for the establishment of a trust to own the website on behalf of the sector. This recommendation was rejected at a meeting of representative national organisations in March 1999. The response was due in parts to: a lack of vision amongst national organisations; pragmatic concerns about additional work; and a failure to understand the development potential. Despite strong support from some, the reaction was characterised the lack of leadership to get involved in an initiative that could significantly benefit the sector. Since then stakeholder involvement has tailed off, though a recent upgrade has re-activated stakeholder interest in participating in governance.

The key lesson we can draw from this is leadership from within the sector is essential. Able e-vangelists for community technology can provide the vision and energy that overcomes reluctance and resistance. By setting a personal example in terms of use of ICTs, and supporting others to obtain the skills and knowledge, the e-leaders can introduce new collaborative ways of working that can not only ensure existing organisations work more effectively but new structures are created.

Limited resourcing
Resourcing is perhaps the most obvious barriers to successful uptake of ICTs by community organisations. The full costs of using ICTs can represent a sizeable proportion of an organisation’s budget, particularly for smaller organisations. Although many of these costs are common to any user of IT, the characteristics of the sector mean that are particular problems faced by which community organisations. It is useful to look at the costs issue in some detail.

A simple breakdown of technology costs includes:

  1. Direct costs: hardware costs; technical support; software, including upgrades; training; ongoing operating costs, eg ISP charges, consumables; staff time maintaining websites or undertaking other online activities.
  2. Indirect costs: downtime due to repairs or virus attacks; duplication from operating multiple communication means, eg email and paper based forms; productivity losses, eg staff use of email and Internet for personal purposes.

Indirect hosts are typically hidden and not only unaccounted for but difficult to measure. Given the relative low levels of technical knowledge within community organisations the ability to budget and plant to meet these the indirect costs is problematic.

Other obstacles I have observed include:

  • Organisations are often using older equipment that is more likely to be prone to failure
  • Inadequate systems for computer back-ups therefore increased risk of downtime
  • Purchase of cheaper equipment to achieve short term cost savings has higher operating costs as it is often less reliable
  • Incompatibly between software creates problems opening attachments, requiring additional time and/ or a loss of access
  • Maintenance is often deferred
  • Training is either limited or non-existence
  • Reliance on volunteer technical support, therefore delays and quality of service not always briliant.

The net result is that the potential efficiency gains are not realised. It is no wonder that organisations describe resourcing as a major obstacle to uptake of ICTs, and committees and boards harbour deep reservations about technology whose obsolescence is assured. In a situation where budgets are minimal, static or shrinking finding resources for ICTs is a hurdle groups can fail to clear.

The attitude of funders towards the purchase and operation of computers and associated costs is highly variable. There is a tendency for grant makers to favour front-line service delivery over activities related to administration, including ICTs. There is also an expectation that the costs of using computers should be incorporated into existing budgets. And innovative projects whose benefits are unproven seldom gain acceptance, falling to the ‘oh god, not another website syndrome’. In general, funding for capacity building in any form receives limited support.

There are many priority areas for investment in the community sector capacity. Research, training and work force development stand along ICTs as needing renewed support. Although part of the problem will be addressed by increased resourcing it will take more than this, it will also require hard decisions by organisations to commit themselves to using ICTs.

Community focused infrastructure
Considering the size and impact of iwi/ Maori and community organisations, and the level of government, public and philanthropic funding, the sector is poorly served in terms of infrastructure that meets its unique characteristics and needs. With few exceptions, the only choice for organisations to meet their ICTs needs is to turn to commercial providers. However, because of a combination of limited budgets, wide geographic distribution, variable levels of technical skill, and preferred delivery styles, groups are not necessarily able to get the support they need or want. This has profound implications in terms of value for money and quality of service received.

Looking at the supply side there is a noticeable gap in the market. With few exceptions, tailored support for organisations is by and large non-existent. Marketing of ASP services to not-for-profits has yet to take-off. The one non-commercial hosting service, Converge, has not proved sustainable, and the telecommunications industry have not recognised the community sector as a distinct market that could support a mutually beneficial package for ISP services, including hosting.

Constrained by a lack of resources, skill and knowledge organisations can find themselves with inappropriate, ineffective hardware and software. When it comes to web development I have heard of horror stories of groups being sold over-priced, under-performing websites. The common thread here is lack of access to unbiased technical advice. Part of the problem is the lack of availability, because of cost and often remote geographic location, but it is also because there are few commercial providers that understand the requirements and values of community organisations. As a consequence the benefits of long-term planning and good purchasing decisions are not realised.

Another aspect of the infrastructure that is weak is access to mechanisms to effectively share experiences and lessons, and to generate content. The Internet is designed for collaboration and sharing, but to date NZ community organisations have largely relied on free services with their associated pitfalls, or one or two regional services. The experience of many groups of shared services is inclusion in a community directory, some of which are little more than lists. While the CommunityNet Aotearoa website is trying to fulfil some functions that promote electronic publishing, it cannot be all things to all people. A project to develop a community friendly listserv application is in the wings, but its implementation is still some way off.

In those situations where good infrastructure is provided, even if it is not optimal, then organisations are in a better position to effectively exploit the technology. I’ll cite just two examples. SeniorNet has flourished with 77 SeniorNets currently operating. Key success factors include a package of support from Telecom NZ for two years, establishment grants from the Lottery Grants Board, access to standard documentation and access to a network for mentoring and mutual support. Another example is the Wellington Community Network (www.wcn.net.nz) where a city council supported initiative provides free web-hosting and training to community groups. Beyond this basic support, the WCN provides a supportive environment in which new initiatives, such as provision of services to a distinct geographic community, can be trialled.

Obviously development of appropriate infrastructure does not happen in a vaccum. It is dependent on improved policy recognition of community organisation ICTs needs and increased levels of funding. However, some of the infrastructure can be created through negotiation and brokering.

What Is To Be Done?

It would be easy to simply provide a wish list of all the programmes and technology solutions that would get iwi/ Maori and community organisation onto the information superhighway. However, it is not really what needs to be done that is most crucial but how things are done, and by whom. If we are serious about respecting iwi/ Maori and community organisation values then the process must come first. Only when this issue is addressed can we look at what initiatives should be supported, something I consider briefly below.

To build the capacity of the community sector in the long-term iwi/ Maori and community organisation governance of capacity building processes is paramount. Maori have particular reasons for involvement, related to control and ownership of their knowledge, and expression of their rights to self-determination under the Treaty of Waitangi. The necessity for ‘buy-in’, gaining the active support and access to knowledge and relationships, is at the core of good process. When developing a response to current patterns of ICTs use the first questions that need to be answered relate to:

  • Who will make decisions?
  • How will they be made?
  • What level of transperancy and accountability will the process have?
  • Is their a role for different values?

When this does start happening we can see values coming through. Preferences can be expressed for open source software, employment of identified groups (eg people with disabilities, local youth), support for local business, and protection of cultural and intellectual property.

In advocating a community-led approach it is necessary to acknowledge that this is likely to be a slow and frustrating process, particularly for government officials. But there are no short-cuts. The trade-off for a slow process are robust and lasting solutions. Government agencies need to find ways of acting in support, and facilitating developments but also challenging ideas while respecting values and ways of working. Iwi/ Maori and community organisation will also face challenges. There will be questions about the legitimacy of leadership in the absence of formal structures to confer mandates on leaders, and communication amongst such a heteroegenous sector is always problematic.

To promote a good process, and develop collaboration, a number of things need to be done. The top priorities I have identified are:

  • Support champions and innovation, eg recognition for excellence, scholarships, opportunities for professional development
  • Create opportunities for information sharing and networking
  • Get practical, and learn by doing. Create opportunities for building relationships through partnerships and collaboration.

As well as government working with the community sector to develop policy and programmes, there is also a need to build relationships and develop joint ventures between iwi/ Maori and community organisation and business, tertiary institutions and the philanthropic sector.

Only when these basic principles and processes are well established can we turn to the nuts and bolts. The types of things we might look at include:

  1. Infrastructure: provision of free or affordable unbiased technical advice, including hands-on planning and implementation, and other forms of support. This could be provided through:
    o establishment of a free-phone
    o a roving technical advisory service, or circuit riders programme
    o establishment of a IT volunteering programme
    o bulk purchase scheme for hardware
    o ISP package for hosting and connectivity.
  2. Training: support for training at the needs of community organisations. This could include:
    o enchanced opportunities for professional development
    o roving training proving
    o negotiationg with existing tertiary institutions to deliver community organisation focussed courses, including adding a new unit in Diploma for Not for Profit at Management Unitec.
  3. Content: development of applications and tools to support electronic publishing by community organisations. Services could include email listservs, databases, events planning and management tools for online communities.

Competing priorities for both time and money mean that action on building community sector ICTs capacity is likely to be a slow process. It is important that the different activities are linked and mutually supporting. Set within a wider strategic context will lead to lasting solutions.

Conclusion

The dilemmas faced by iwi/ Maori and community organisations getting connected are mostly not about technology. Instead the crucial issues relate to culture change and relationships. Successful responses are dependent on community engagement and good process: something that is relevant to any project or activity not just ICTs.

Although it is difficult to come to firm conclusions about connectivity due to the lack of quality data, it does look like community organisations are struggling to effectively use ICTs. This is supported by analysis of the values within the community sector and leadership gaps. At the same time there are some very exciting and innovative projects, and ICTs is increasing be used to improve basic day-to-day operations. Support from government agencies, including the Department of Internal Affairs, is creating momentum. There is a potential for community organisations to leapfrog developmental barriers faced elsewhere, and to adopt new technologies or approaches.

What is required is cohesion and integration of different strands of thinking and activity. It is likely the Community-Government working party will provide some guidance, and the Connecting Communities Strategy will provide a framework within which some work by iwi/ Maori and community organisation is supported. Establishment of a governance body for the CommunityNet Aotearoa website provides another opportunity for creating direction. The community sector itself is likely to have plans I am not privy to. However, more needs to be done to support leadership within the community sector, and to promote advocacy, networking and information sharing.

Along the road to the information superhighway, long and winding as it may be, the whole of society is facing many challenges. Iwi/ Maori and community organisations are more likely to face barriers and opportunities more acutely as a result of their values, the limited resources available to them and the diversity of people they work with. In tackling the various obstacles, as long as we keep the focus on people, not the technology, then the journey should be a rewarding one.

Harnessing the Web: Tools for Community Groups

Stephen Blyth, Department of Internal Affairs

Presentation to Connecting Communities Conference, 3-5 November 2003, Wellington

1.0 Introduction

After several years of over-inflated expectations about what the Internet can do, a more realistic approach to new information and communications technology is emerging. People are starting to work out what the Internet is good at doing, and what it is not. After much trial and error some core tools and functions that are suited to an online environment are being developed.

This picture is as relevant to people working in tangata whenua, community and voluntary organisations, as it is for business and government. There are tools and applications which can contribute to the activities of not-for-profit organisations in many spheres, including client management, fundraising, advocacy, communication and administration. Although based on the unique features of the online environment, tools can be incorporated with existing practices and protocols.

Access to computers, levels of connectivity and use of the Internet amongst tangata whenua and community and voluntary organisations in New Zealand continues to increase. There are many signs that people are starting to think and talk about how to use the Internet in more powerful ways than just surfing and searching.

However, what is evident is that the ability of groups in Aotearoa to use more powerful tools is hampered by their lack of availability. There are few tools developed specifically with the needs of groups in mind and that are consistent with community sector values. The development of tools alone is insufficient to meet the needs of organisations, as planning, support, training and re-development are also necessary.

Opportunities exist for us to develop an innovative, affordable and effective approach to the provision of tools. The purpose of this presentation is to describe what some of the tools are, look at trends in New Zealand and elsewhere, and outline issues that need to be addressed if we are to successfully meet organisational needs.

It is important to acknowledge that access to computer hardware and internet connectivity is not universally available to all tangata whenua and community organisations. Indeed, some will question why advanced Internet tools are being promoted, when some groups do not have even basic computers or skills.

From the Department of Internal Affair’s perspective, a multi-pronged approach is needed. This is reflected in the proposed areas of community support being discussed at this conference. Access to technical support, hardware, telecommunications infrastructure and community-based learning are key strands that are being addressed. Through the Connecting Communities strategy, planning is underway to support community-wide approaches to meet local circumstances. Ensuring relevant content and useful tools are available means there are good reasons for organisations to get online. Lack of relevant content is cited as a barrier to Internet uptake.

The Department is undertaking some preliminary steps to look into how tools could be provided to community groups, and initiating discussions amongst interested people. We see our role as facilitators, and we have no fixed view about our future role. A key interest is promoting community ownership in whatever approach is taken, and ensuring it is viable. At this stage there is no guaranteed funding for future development.

2.0 Quick overview: what sorts of tools are available

Rather than trying to define what an ICT tool is – a near impossible task – it is easier to look at what they can be used for and what functions they carry out. Tools are generally accessed using an Internet connection, either through an Internet browser or specialised software. Some tools are stand-alone, whereas others are incorporated into websites. In general, tools are designed for non-technical people to administer and use, so have easy-to-use interfaces. Many tools are not purchased outright, but are leased for a fee on a monthly basis.

Tools can help groups manage or carry out the following activities:
• raising and donating money
• recruiting and supporting volunteers
• managing staff and board business
• delivering services
• advocating improvements in legislation, public policies and programs
• keeping abreast of new developments
• communicating inside and outside the organization
• networking with other organisations.

New developments are occurring all the time so no list will ever be complete, but at the time of writing, possible functions listed in the eNonprofit guide included:
• accounting
• activism and advocacy (email and fax systems, legislative advocacy)
• alumni portals
• auctions
• content management and Web site maintenance
• credit card transactions online
• data and database management
• distance learning
• event management
• donor and membership management
• email messaging and listservs
• fundraising online
• group collaboration
• planned giving
• stock donations
• surveys
• search engines
• traffic access logs
• volunteer recruitment.

Although we need to be cautious about the claimed benefits of online tools, there is some evidence that online tools can improve administrative efficiency, generate more revenue, increase the number of volunteers, and influence political decision-making. Any claims do need to be treated with a wary eye.

I have selected four different tools to look at in more detail:

1. Virtual intranet or extranet: a tool to enable sharing of information that is accessible only by an organization’s members, employees, or others with authorisation. Uses a web browser and is accessible over Internet. Can contain address lists, documents, policies, a calendar, news, chatroom, website links, and discussion forum.

Example: Community Organisation Grants Scheme (COGS) Canterbury and Chatham Islands members are trialling a private intranet to store minutes and other documents, list meeting and application closing dates, discuss funding related issues, list commonly used websites, and list contact details.

2. Advocacy tools: enabling activation of members or the public to undertake lobbying or other advocacy action. Tools can track campaigns, send emails and faxes to selected targets, create online petitions and track membership activity.

Example:Take 5 (www.take5.net.nz) was an Internet only campaign promoting an extension to the moratorium on applications for releases of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Visitors to the website were encouraged to take action by sending a message to a local MP and the Prime Minister. The advocacy tool, provided by private company iLobby, automatically generated and addressed messages. Over 35,000 messages were generated.

3. Directories: searchable databases containing listings of services, people or facilities. Entries can contain contact details, service descriptions, availability. Records can be added to or updated by organisations themselves. Databases can be accessed in more than one way.

Example: the Infoxchange Service Seeker directory (www.infoxchange.net.au) provides people with access to details of community and social services provided by governments, non-government organisations and community and self-help groups. In October 2003 there were over 90,000 entries for Victoria. It is available from the Infoxchange website, via a standalone CD-Rom, or in a customised format on third party websites. The software is being replicated for directories in other states.

4. Fundraising tools: tools to interact with donors via the web and email, evaluate donation trends, perform surveys, do event management, manage secure online payments, accept donations, and store membership details.

Example: UK based CAF (Charities Aid Foundation) is supporting organisations to use the web for fundraising (www.efundraising.org). They offer a free online profile or a fully outsourced online donation system to generate and track your online supporters. CAF manage the entire donation process: from data capture and card validation through to tax claims and reporting. Consultancy services are also available.

Of course the software does not work by itself. The value of tools is based on the commitment of people to using them, something dependent in turn on a combination of active facilitation, promotion, training and ongoing support. It is also important that appropriate policies (eg privacy, data ownership, intellectual property) and protocols govern the use of tools and safeguard users.

Services offered can dramatically vary in price. There are options available where organisations can essentially get ‘plug-in’ functionality without the need for extensive technical expertise in a community organisation. These services are offered by Application Service Providers (ASPs). An ASP is “a technology company that develops and delivers software tools over the Internet, usually for a monthly fee.” In the United States, it is estimated there are over 300 ASPs serving not-for-profit organisations, the majority of which are private companies, and ASPs are being set-up in many countries around the world. There are few options for ASP services in New Zealand.

ASP services generally sell services or products that require limited customisation, a so-called ‘cookie cutter’ approach. Starting from scratch or heavily modifying existing tools can be very expensive. While some ready-made tools may not perfectly suit identified needs, the trade-off is lower costs and requires less in-house technical knowledge. As well as tools organiations also need advice, support to integrate tools withing existing websites, and web design services that meet the needs of Mäori, Pacific and community organisation. Design, consultancy, and ASP services are often available from a single provider (see section 4.0).

3.0 Demand in Aotearoa

There is very limited data about usage patterns and the future needs of tangata whenua and community organisation with regard to information and communications technology. The research available is of inconsistent quality, not comprehensive, and at least two or three years old. Nevertheless, some tentative conclusions can be reached.

3.1 Internet usage by tangata whenua and community organisations
The trends indicate increasing levels of uptake of ICTs by tangata whenua and community organisations but some groups are still facing significant barriers. Relevant statistics include:

  • A survey of applicants to funding schemes administered by the Department of Internal Affairs in May 2000 found that an average of 55% groups had access to the Internet and/ or email.
  • A survey of 60 community groups in the Waikato region found that while 97% of workplaces had a computer, there was a wide range of models, including some that were ‘badly outdated’, and/ or unusable for Internet connectivity. A relatively high proportion of groups were Internet connected (81%, 47 groups), of which 72% (34) used email. 25% of groups had their own website.
  • 2001 survey of 582 Wellington community groups fond that 45% of organisations had email, and 36% had websites.

Barriers to using Internet based services include:

  • A preference by Mäori and Pacific Island people for face-to-face contact, therefore they less likely to favour online services.
  • A lack of phone lines and high costs meant Internet access is kept to a minimum.
  • New users lacked awareness of how much use would be made of online services.
  • Unreliable telephone lines in remote rural areas.
  • Different skill levels among users.
  • A single internet capable computer shared by many staff.

There are many things that we don’t know, including: the demographic profile of connected/ non-connected organisations; what the Internet is actually being used for; quality of websites, and impact on organisational mission; the skill level of users; and he pattern of uptake within organisations. Further research is required to flesh out this picture, something that is essential for funders and policy makers.

3.2 Demand for Internet tools
As the number of organisations online increases, awareness of the potential application of the Internet also increases. The evidence at this point is relatively general, and does not quantify the level of demand, the willingness of groups to pay for services, nor the internal capability of organisations to manage projects.

What we do know is that:

  • People working in the community sector are requesting access to tools. In the past twelve months, CDG has been approached to assist with the provision of directory services, mapping tools, content management systems for website maintenance, funding management and virtual private intranets. Groups are also seeking out advice on designing and maintaining quality websites.
  • People consulted during a review the CommunityNet Aotearoa website in March 2002 indicated they wanted “list servers, discussion groups, and specific applications to support collaboration. These tools would support collaboration within an organisation (e.g. one with distributed offices or membership); between organisations in the sector; and even between service providers and purchasers.”
  • The report of the Community-Government Relationship Steering Group, He Waka Kotuia (August 2002), recognised that “ICT is an essential tool for all organisations”. A number of recommendations were made to promote access to IT and online tools that supported strengthening of the community sector. A Community Sector Taskforce project on information networks is currently developing initiatives to address some of these needs.
  • The Community Information and Communications Technology Research Project (2003) undertaken by VictoriaLink, concluded that “Not-for-profit groups have a number of needs in common: publishing information online; online donation and donor management; volunteer matching and opportunity listing. A co-operative or centrally funded approach to developing tools that meet these needs would be very cost effective.”

Further detailed needs assessment and market analysis are required. However, the bottomline is, there demand for tools to support tangata whenua and community organisations.

4.0 Reflections from elsewhere

The situation organisations in New Zealand find themselves seems typical of a technology adoption curve described overseas. In the absence of easy access to tools, knowledge and planning expertise uptake of more advance applications by the community sector is limited. The bulk of organisations are distributed in the first two steps. Table 1 shows three broad stages of effective Internet use.

Table 1, Three stages of effective Internet use.

There are a large number and broad range of services available to non-profit organisations in USA, Canada, Great Britain and Australia. Yet, groups are still facing difficulties securing access to quality and affordable tools. This is borne out in a number of studies and reports, the highlights of which are set-out below.

4.1 Tools and application
A relatively high priority is accorded to development and improved access to tailor-made tools for community groups. Other priorities are developing strategic skills and knowledge through seminars, training and workshops, building technology capacity, supporting leadership, increasing the availability of funding for ICT, brokering access to hardware, etc and enhancing access to information through portals and databases.

A survey of 150 UK charities concluded that despite high levels of Internet uptake organisations were not using the web strategically. It was recommended that a taskforce be established to champion ICT use, training and mentoring provided, support offered for creation of technology plans and free or low-cost software developed. It was noted that

Charities are already able to access a number of packages that can make their life considerably easier in developing internet functionality. There are secure credit card donation programmes, measurement packages and contact management systems. However, many of these are out of the price range of small and medium-size charities and therefore by and large inaccessible.

As part of a major two-year research project conducted for the Canadian IM/ IT Joint Table of the Voluntary Sector Initiative, 2,500 organisations were asked to identify the top priority activities that would support their utilisation of ICT. The highest ranked options were increased funding, a funders database, improved funding practices and national one-stop shop information website. Three of the medium priorities related to tools with respondents wanting to access:

  • Fundraising tools, including fund processing, e-commerce, direct email campaigns and donor management software. Ranked sixth.
  • A stable, reliable and inexpensive service to allow voluntary sector organisations to create Web sites with their own domain names.
  • An updated online database of voluntary sector agencies and possibly contact information for experts in various fields.

In another Canadian report, From Access to Applications: How voluntary organisations are using the Internet (2001), many gaps were identified which blocked a transition to strategic business applications. As a result organisations were not getting the most from their Internet investments. Three priority areas were identified in response to barriers, including the need to build applications and services that meet sector-specific needs and simplify online service delivery. A proposed approach was to initiate:

Strategic projects that develop software, ASP services or web-based services for the voluntary sector, will be necessary to help non-profits quickly develop online business applications. These services could fill specific gaps, such as simple, customizable voluntary matching software for small organizations, or they might meet more generic needs by offering low-cost content management software to nonprofits via an ASP service. Initiatives of this nature should emphasize the sharing of technical resources across many organizations and, where possible, should use the open source model to ensure that results are widely available throughout the sector.

Participants at the Advance Community, Technology and Third Sector (ACTT) symposium hosted by the Queensland University of Technology in 2001 discussed strategic approaches and partnerships to enhance the social and technology infrastructure to support uptake of ICTs by the third sector. Amongst a comprehensive list of ways of sharing resources, there was reference on improving access to applications. Two relevant recommendations were:

  1. Sharing the costs of essential software packages (eg accounting) and associated support/ training costs. This also makes available a pool of other known users across the participating organisations to share the informal knowledge that comes from day-to-day experience.
  2. Developing applications specifically designed to meet the needs of non-profit groups.

4.2 Service delivery examples
Despite the barriers, there are many ways that overseas organisations can access tools. Options include:

  • downloading software and taking a DIY approach with support from peer networks
  • contracting with specialist providers supplying single tools
  • contracting with comprehensive, integrated service providers.

Organisations servicing not-for-profits include: private businesses; non-profit businesses; charities; and government agencies. Regardless of the type of organisation providing tools, there are generally charges for services though some services are subsidised, or free.

An example of an organisation providing online tools and services to community groups in Australia was outlined earlier in the conference by Andrew Mahar, Executive Director of Infoxchange Australia (www.infoxchange.net.au). This award winning non-profit business has been operating since 1989 and builds organisational capacity while maintaining a strong commitment to social justice. Below four approaches to providing tools are described based on some very quick Internet based research.

4.1.1 One NorthWest, USA & Canada (www.onenw.org)
Type: Non-profit organisation
Staff numbers: 8
Income: Fee for service, grants, sliding scale of charges (based on an hourly rate) including fully subsidised services.
Clients: environmental and conservation organisations
Established: 1995

Online Networking for the Environment is a non-profit organization based in Seattle, providing technology assistance to conservation activists and organizations in Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. It helps organisations get online, and use email, the World Wide Web, and other communication tools to help protect the Northwest environment.

Services offered include:

  • Web development, including planning, design, implementation, training and maintenance.
  • Database planning, upgrades and training.
  • An email list management service. Training, list moderation, and list size.
  • Consultancy and technology planning.

4.1.2 Web Networks, Canada (www.web.ca)
Type: Non-profit company
Staff numbers: ?
Income: Fee for service, grants, Sliding scale of charges (based on an hourly rate)
Clients: range of services. Smallest package, the “community membership”, costs only $50/year and has 1000+ subscribers.
Established: 1987

Web Networks “contributes to building a self-reliant online community based on non-profit enterprise, cooperation, and mutual aid which can support, maintain, and defend principles of social responsibility, ecology, and economic justice. To these ends, Web Networks provides appropriate and innovative communication technology and resources. Web Networks also seeks to foster healthy and productive work environments in non-profit organizations.”

Internet tools and services provided include:

  • website hosting, email, mailing lists
  • action pages, secure forms, site search for your existing web site
  • comprehensive design services
  • development services
  • portal for members and users. This service provides news, events, resources, directory and access to the community portal.

4.1.3 Groundspring.org, USA (www.groundspring.org)
Type: Non-profit organisation
Staff numbers: 18
Income: Fee for service, foundation funding, partnership support. Sliding scale of charges.
Clients: nonprofit organisations, including Ruckus Society, Red Cross, MSPCA, Bluewater Network.
Established: 1999

Groundspring.org provides simple, affordable, and integrated services for small to medium-sized nonprofit organisations related to fundraising and management of donors and supporters.

Groundspring.org works for positive social change. It believes “that a healthy society is founded on the principles of justice, broadly shared economic opportunity, a robust democratic process, and sustainable environmental practices. Healthy societies rely fundamentally on respect for human rights, the vitality of communities and a celebration of diversity.”

Software tools and services, training, and consulting are offered, including:

  • DonateNow: an online donation tool that lets nonprofits accept credit card gifts from individual donors. It is used by 900 nonprofits in the U.S.
  • EmailNow, a tool for nonprofits to send eNewsletters, raise money online, and communicate with supporters.

4.1.4 Vicnet, Australia (www.vicnet.net.au)
Type: Business unit of the State Library of Victoria
Staff numbers: 50+
Income: business activities (over 50 %), State government funding, special project funding from State and Federal governments
Clients: community organisations, government agencies, home and business users,
Established: 1994

VICNET is Victoria’s community network, delivering Internet services to people all around Victoria. It aims to encourage all Victorians to make the most of the Internet.

Government funded programmes include Skills.Net, GoVic, My Connected Community a virtual space where people interact, the Open Road multilingual website, Virtual Library, e-gaps funding and hosting of Victoria’s largest website, www.vicnet.net.au. A wide range of services are offered including Internet access accounts, consultancy and training. Tools related activities include:

  • Free hosting of 2,000 websites for Victoria’s community groups
  • Web hosting and related services
  • Domain name registration
  • Web and database design
  • Email list management.

Across the providers listed some common features are evident:

  • Provision of a comprehensive range of services, and support to integrate all online activities.
  • Service everything from small grassroots groups to large, service delivery organisations.
  • Provision of planning, support and back-up as well as software development.
  • Explicit recognition of social and environmental change as a legitimate activity by organisations.
5.0 Where to from here?

If overseas trends are anything to go by, it is only a matter of time before online tools are easily available to tangata whenua and community organisations in New Zealand. The big question is: will they be provided in a way that strengthens the community sector, or just line some investors’ pockets. There are many advantages in having a community-owned approach to the provision of tools.

Community organisations have unique ways of working that differ markedly from business and government. A successful approach to providing tools will be based on knowledge and experience of community sector culture, decision-making processes, organisational structures, and budgets. Community organisations set high standards for what they consider appropriate service delivery. The types of things that need to be considered include:

  1. Building long-term capacity. Service delivery premised on skills transfer so that internal capacity of organisations to use tools is strengthened.
  2. A cooperative approach.By sharing software development it is possible to reduce the cost for everyone and build better tools. Developing a common pool of knowledge from which all organisations can benefit from will mean lessons learned can be used to help each other.
  3. Community sector values.Organisations will be engaging in political activism and advocacy, and working to uphold the Treaty of Waitangi so these values need to be explicitly acknowledged. The expression of values may lead to preferences for open source software, employment of identified groups (eg people with disabilities, local youth), support for local business, and protection of cultural and intellectual property.
  4. Inclusiveness. The community sector has a very diverse profile, with people a variety of skill levels. Being able to cater for a wide range of cultures, including Mäori, Pacific, and recent migrants, and skill and knowledge levels is essential.
  5. Transparent governance and financial processes. Community organisations expect to be able to have confidence they will be treated with respect and dignity, and be listened to. Any surplus should be reinvested for the benefit of all organisations, and staff remuneration not exorbitant. Underpinning this is an ability to hold service providers accountable for service delivery. Meeting this principle will contribute to a high level of community ownership.

A successful approach will rely on basic business principles being adhered to. Any organisation needs to be of sufficient size to ensure the availability of skills and knowledge to cater for a wide range of needs, and have sufficient capacity to support ongoing learning. It almost goes without saying, but services will need to be high quality and affordable.

As the examples above indicate, there is more than one way of making tools available to community organisations. Options could include:

  • Building on CommunityNet Aotearoa by providing additional services. This is a government funded and managed service. It has an existing profile and reputation.
  • Networked business. Link existing developers and providers of tools in a loose network. Coordinated approach to maximise utilisation of skills and experience.
  • Partnership model between business and community sector. Negotiate relationship with businesses to provide tools and services at community rates. Likely to only attract businesses with a strong sense of social responsibility.
  • Private business. Rely on investors and entrepreneurs to service community sector needs. Only profitable services will be offered.
  • Community-owned business. Establish a new organisation to provide tools. Tailor services to needs. Will require philanthropic or government funding to provide subsidised services.

The business models on which these options are based will be a major influencer of the long-term viability.

More work is required to map demand, the size of the market, and current availability of services. An important part of any mapping is understanding what is currently available and what has been tried before. We are not starting from a clean slate. In particular, it is important to acknowledge the work of pioneering projects such as the Converge (www.converge.org.nz), Wellington CommunityNet (www.wcn.net.nz) and the Funding Information Service (www.fis.org.nz).

Understanding the various potential funders or supporters of this project is also important. Each of the potential funders has a different set of outcomes they are seeking to achieve. Government involvement would be hinged on ensuring equity of access to tools, and savings through efficient delivery of services to government funded organisations. Philanthropic grants are likely to want to provide subsidised services to targeted groups, and to promote capacity building. Sponsors and partners will be seeking high profile exposure. And social venture funders, such as CEG through its community employment organisation grants, will be expecting the creation of jobs for target communities.

It will be a balancing act to meet both organisation and funder needs, and establish a viable long-term approach to providing tools. The next steps on the road to providing tools are:

  • Establish what the priority tools are.
  • Agree on a process for developing a model and securing funding for this.
6.0 Conclusion

The underlying aim of any initiative to provide tools, online software and services to tangata whenua and community organisations is support people to achieve their goals. Whatever approach is taken, it needs to come back to the purpose people are working for their communities. As the focus of any provider of tools for community groups is much about planning, training, promotion and support, as it is software, there needs to be a strong emphasis on people skills and relationship building.

There are many opportunities, willing partners and a high level interest amongst groups, but these will not strengthen community sector unless services are provided in a community-centric way. The goal is not only to supply some software tools, but to support their use so that organisations are better able to do their work and enhance their long-term capability. This requires an inclusive, values-based approach. It is too early to identify a preferred option, however we can refine the criteria against which we assess the different options.

The Department of Internal Affairs is willing to contribute to thinking about and planning the best ways to meet the needs of groups. The aim is to support something that is viable, inclusive and effective, and work with other interested people in developing something.

The approach needed is perhaps best summed-up by Mark Surman in From Access to Applications (2001). He succinctly comments:

Developing sound and reliable Internet business solutions for non-profits will require cooperative partnerships for innovation between tech-smart leaders from government, private business and the voluntary sector. These partnerships will provide the expertise, resources and vision necessary to develop strategic applications and technology services that can be shared with large numbers of organizations in the voluntary sector. Concepts such as entrepreneurship, innovation and venture philanthropy will be central to the success of these partnerships.