All that appears to be true on the Internet is not necessarily so. This is not news, but the real identities of people online can be easily hidden or real motives obscured. Sometimes this is out in the open, other times it’s done behind a guise of trickery and deception.
A second supposedly leading lesbian blogger was exposed as a man masquerading as a gay woman, a day after the Gay Girl in Damascus blog was revealed to be the fictional creation of a married male student from Edinburgh.
How do we know what is real?
I don’t have any easy answers (though knowing the person in person is a pretty sure safeguard). The example above might be far fetched but I would say this issue is relevant for not-for-profit organisations.
I’ll share a little example closer to home.
At the recent Connecting Up conferences I gave out brochures inviting people to sign-up to my email newsletter. As an incentive, I said anyone signing up by 10 June would go into the draw for one of three copies of The Networked Nonprofit book (see my book review).
These are websites where anyone can add details of any give-away. It can be for anything: big, small, commercial, fun.
Noticing three of my new subscribers are from the same family and previously won prizes for nappies, books and movie tickets elsewhere, I have to wonder how many signed up to win the excellent book. And how many to receive my pearls of wisdom, ahem.
I will never know. But I do know that some of the recent sign-ups are probably not genuine. People added their details so they could go in the prize draw.
All this suggests that raw figures are too crude a way to record success. Having large numbers if an unknown percentage are not necessarily genuine is not terribly insightful. Better measures relate to interaction and engagement.
So, I’ve learnt my lesson: interpret raw figures with caution. Fortunately, I was not using the information collected to make a decision my business depends on.
Prize draw winners
Thanks to everyone who recently signed to my email newsletter after getting a brochure recently.
Winners of the 3 copies of The Networked Nonprofit book are:
I stayed in an apartment behind the glitzy charade of the Crown casino ‘gambling addiction-generating’ complex. My apartment was next to a motorway fly-over, surrounded by construction sites with a full view of a multi-story carpark. Hoardings for idyllic and life changing abodes dominated the streetscape. The cool glass tall towers of Melbourne cbd a mocking presence on the periphery.
All this got me thinking about recording the other side of being in Melbourne at the Connecting Up Australia conference. My personal experience of the streets I walked. In two parts…. starting now:
We all know time is scarce and so are resources. When it comes to starting, extending or changing an ICT initiative there’s a temptation to dive straight in.
At the Technology leadership for the (sustainable) win workshop, run on the third day of Connecting Up Australia conference, NTEN Executive Director Holly Ross, was encouraging (or even urging) us all to spend some time upfront on strategy before jumping to the selection of a particular tool.
She wasn’t talking about a mega high level ICT planning, with a three year horizon. Rather strategy for smaller chunks of work. Things like recording client data to improve services, reaching new audiences, encouraging supporters to be more active, improving communication between branches or offices, empowering workers to access information while in the field. Things like this.
The important thing to do is start this before the project kicks off, before any choices of tools are made, and definitely before you ask for money.
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the familiar sequence of starting with objectives, defining audiences, detailing what content is around, discussing indicators for measuring success and so on. It’s such a common framework it applies to everything, not just ICT projects. Yet even though this is so, so familiar, thinking through these things is a process that is too often bypassed or not done properly.
The discipline of strategy upfront is something that will improve the quality of virtually all projects. The benefit comes not so much from what is recorded on paper, but from being open to unstated assumptions being challenged. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, as the amount of effort going into strategy needs to be commensurate with the size of the project.
There were a couple of other speakers at the conference addressing topics related to project planning (including Michael Dovery talking about aroundyou.com.au, and Robert Samuel talking through Consult Point’s advice on selecting and justifying the right business technology). Generalising wildly, there was an emphasis at the conference on topics related to social media and the cloud, with hardware and systems almost entirely absent (something a few people noted as a gap).
I don’t know a lot about how Maree Ireland, from field, prepared for the Self-directed approaches blog she set up in 2009. However it’s obvious Maree has achieved many of the things she set out to: give a voice to people with disabilities using the self directed funding model, inform policy making, identify issues of importance to people out in the community and more.
This was an example of a super project reaching out to her audience needs, and how taking time to reflect on the project feeds into improvements. As I tweeted, “Initially no comments 🙁 Talked it over, realised new concept for audience, prob nervous like I was when I started writing -Maree.” After realising some of her audience may face barriers to participate, she took many steps to involve her readers.
If it’s not already obvious, I thoroughly enjoyed my six days in Melbourne. Thanks to the Connecting Up Australia conference organizers for once again making me so welcome. I’m looking forward to coming back.
When published, I’ll add a link to Holly Ross’s presentation and handouts.
Now that they’re sweeping out the aisles at the Crown Convention Centre, all that I’m left is memories, screeds of scrawly notes and a heavily annotated programme.
Well, that’s what I would have written before Twitter. Even though I often wonder how many tweets I will see in the second half of my life (too many to contemplate), seeing how tweeting was used at the Connecting Up Australia conference gave me another glimpse of how powerful it can be.
Anyone online at the event could swap notes with others, give feedback, crack jokes, ask questions, and make contact. Those from afar could watch in by following the tag #cu11. I know this happened as I had a couple of messages from New Zealanders listening in asking about specific topics.
Watching tweets gives you a chance to get a sense of what people stand for, their interests and personality. From 140 characters on screen, you can arrange to meet others. Or invite people with a similar interest to meet next to the barista at morning tea (or something similar).
Twitter provides a layer of participation, in ways that passive listening doesn’t allow. During the more tedious parts of the programme (of which there were few) it’s possible to reveal in the twitter back-channel.
The dozens of tweets have not totally disappeared into the ether, as @HelloBehTeoh has created a storify narrative based on #cu11 tweets (see below).
Checking my stats, here’s the results (which I’m not sharing to show off, but to give an idea of the impact of tweeting in a setting I don’t find myself in everyday).
21 pageviews of my workshop resources
82 views of links to resources I shared
35 new subscribers to my e-newsletter
Of course, this doesn’t mean anyone actually read them. Nor can the actions people took be directly attributed to what they read n Twitter, as visitors to my website would have seen other ways to read or engage with things I do.
A conference would be no fun if you didn’t have face-to-face spontaneity as well — chatting with people in the queue or over coffee — so I wouldn’t suggest privileging tweeting over real life interaction. It’s a supplement. As @nictatt suggested “put a twitter name, or FB id or even QR code on everyone’s name tags. Another way to connect”.
Of all the thousands of tweets I didn’t see or hear of anything outrageous. Really, truly I think it’s a useful supplement to other ways of connecting at conferences. If you haven’t tried it, you might like to be open to the suggestion if you get the chance.
Here’s the storify record from the Connecting Up conference:
The pressure for social services and community organisations to do more for less is a mantra that’s not restricted to New Zealand. After being in Australia a couple of days this very phrase has cropped up many times.
More effective use of ICT is being turned to as a way of helping organisations do the more bit. It’s a little unclear if the adoption of new ways of using ICT will achieve the less bit.
Whatever the reason, here in Victoria people are lining up to understand how they can get better at using digital technology. There is a real thirst for knowledge and advice relevant to the sector.
This was really evident at an iTaNGO primmer session I attended in Bendigo on Tuesday 31 May 2011 as a guest of Infoxchange. The Melbourne based social enterprise are traveling throughout the state delivering a programme of awareness raising and training sessions.
In the first round, leaders are urged to think about ICT as a strategic asset within their organisation, and take steps to shift to greater levels of digital proficiency. Planning, budgeting, staff training are key areas for attention.
A subsequent round of training will address planning in more depth, and support the creation of locally run Community of Practices (CoP). Each of these CoPs will be offered training and allocated a $10,000 grant to get started.
The approach Andrew Mahar and his team are taking seems really appropriate to the sector. It’s about engaging people in co-creating their own solutions, particularly in terms of advice and support. iTaNGO offers a framework within which to contribute and elicit support A series of workshops might be good in the short-term, but long-term ways of providing mutual support are essential as achieving digital proficiency is a process not a one-off activity.
Hearing that everyone is more or less in same boat, with most organisations facing big challenges to increase their digital proficiency, seemed to be a reassuring message. Don’t worry you’re not alone.
People filled in a short seven question self-assessment which gets to the heart of their organisation’s level of digital proficiency. It’s great to boil things down to the essence, as a 50 page ereadiness document I saw recently would put most people off. The approach is more about being accessible that exhaustive.
Everyone was encouraged to take back the self-assessment to their organisation and invite staff, board members to fill, to get a collective snapshot of where things are at. These and other tools are available an the iTaNGO knowledgebase.
Already over 300 organisations have attended iTaNGO sessions, with the tenth one being run Friday. If the response at Bendigo session is anything to go by, the iTaNGO project will get people dancing in the aisles as they shimmy along to greater levels of digital proficiency.
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a conference where people haven’t cited time as an obstacle to trying out new things. It’s a hoary chestnut and it seem to doesn’t matter what the subject is.
When it comes to talking about digital technologies and online communications, as we just have at two days of the Connecting Up New Zealand conference, it’s no surprise to hear people struggle to find time to try twitter, read blogs let alone write something and keep up with the flood of new things.
Research does show time is an issue, something I think is amplified in the resource scarce tangata whenua, community and voluntary organisations. For instance, respondents to the MeasureIT audits and survey (PDF 833KB) in the Australian state of Victoria indicated that “23% of CSO staff nominated lack of time as a barrier to IT use.” I’m sure it’s the same in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Nothing surprising here. But yet again get tied up wondering when things will change. By the next conference I hope, though given it’s 11 years since the first Flaxroots Technology conference when we first talked about such things, I’m not confident things will happen by accident.
My response: people might be convinced to put time into using digital technologies and getting better at it when they see results. Tangible ones. Could be small, could be world changing.
If you’re not convinced adopting a new practice or activity will achieve benefits it makes sense to push it away. It’s perfectly logical and sensible being suspicious of the promise ICT projects to deliver.
As Earl Mardle so effectively raised in his workshop “ICT Failures – What to do?”, IT projects fail often. So getting better at upgrading or changing IT system, implementing new software applications and using online communication tools is essential.
If we were more confident that projects would come in on time, in budget (with long-term costs of maintenance factored in) and with full implications for organisational cultures addressed, perhaps managers and boards would be more willing to embrace ICT initiatives.
Many of the speakers addressed this, even if at a tangent. Earl has shared an earlier version of this talk, and I’m hoping might sum up his insights (gentle suggestion, no pressure).
Getting better at calculating and explaining benefits in ways that decision-makers can understand is part of it too. This might be through promoting personal use of tools, business cases with full ROI analysis or sharing details of what comparable organisations are doing.
It’s also about examining what we currently do. As Logan from NZFVWO asked, are we actually convinced everything we’re already doing is super effective? From time-to-time, perhaps we could consider whether we need to do all the things we do. Make some room perhaps.
As I don’t run an organisation, I have the luxury of not having to ask anyone what systems I use nor strategies for staying sane in a hyper-connected world. No sign-off required before I tweet. But what I do notice is that it takes a long time for any new tool to become something I use by habit. Exploring all the online world has to offer doesn’t have to happen in a rush, all at once. Drip, drip, drip to quote Tina Reid.
Turning to the cloud was an underpinning theme of the two events. Regrettably, the expositions on this didn’t get much beyond fluffy hype – I think I might have missed the real life examples of going from here to there. Nor was there much analysis of the issues associated with moving to the cloud. What grates with me about all the talk of cloud is anyone mentioning you must have internet connected computers, virus/ malware/ nasty free within a networked office. Presumably these machines haven’t learned to look themselves once you’re floating in the clouds.
Looking for an antidote to the pall I have returned to the acerbic Bruce Sterling, an outsider, sci-fi writer and Texan, who expounded on the absurdities of web 2.0 at Webstock on 2009. His deflating critique of the cloud would laughable if it didn’t ring so true:
“The cloud as platform.” That is insanely great. Right? You can’t build a “platform” on a “cloud!” That is a wildly mixed metaphor! A cloud is insubstantial, while a platform is a solid foundation! The platform falls through the cloud and is smashed to earth like a plummeting stock price!”
We’re fortunate that many others are going through the same agony, and are willingly sharing hard won insights. With reference to re pas dujour – social media (as social as all the hip young folk call it) – I look no further than Beth Kanter’s framework for getting started. She simply says listen first, then join the conversation (thereby building up a network), and only then start your own conversation. Joining the conversation isn’t dependent on having your own blog or social media presence, but making comments, sharing stuff and publishing guest posts elsewhere.
If there is something I’d like to see more of at the next community ICT event in Aotearoa, it’s more local examples and people sharing the nuts and bolts of how digital technology is being successfully introduced and organisations adapting.
After all the back and forth conversation, I have arrive at seeing the opportunities afforded to engage and help people, get organised and so on, as an embarrassment of riches, rather than a glass half full. The promise of digital technologies is as disruptive today as the day internet was born (which I happen to think is a good thing).
I was delighted to be co-present a case study of the DrugHelp websites with Catherine Milburn, which I think shows what can be done by an organisation which digital technology in alignment with its mission. Long before the web development project started the New Zealand Drug Foundation already had a sound and stable platform, and much experience using online communications. From this foundation an innovative and effective way of reaching people is being developed. The light bulb was shining brightly.
When you start seeing the potential for influencing people through online communication, the internal and support resources follows. Catherine shared with people at Connecting Up New Zealand the ‘infographic’ or ‘visualisation’ (embedded below) to show how complex policy ideas can be highlighted through a visual medley. It’s a kiwi example of data sharing that keynote speaker Holly Ross promoted.