Category Archives: IT capability

Thoughts on a NetSquared trophy

Photo of Net2 trophy, printed using 3d printerThe trophy pictured here is more than what it seems.

It shows the potential for us as global citizens to share good ideas and practical tools to make the world a better place. Anyone with a 3-D printer and crafty fingers can print off and construct the trophy.

Designed by MBau3d in Guatemala, the trophy was handed out at the recent Central America and Mexico NetSquared regional netcamp. The STL (STereoLithography) files needed have been generously shared by mBau3d.

While I’ve heard stories about printing prosthetics, pumps and plastic parts, it wasn’t until I unzipped the 900KB folder and saw the actual files for the trophy that I realised how easily technology could be transferred.

Now code alone isn’t enough. Knowhow and confidence are crucial. A framework like Creative Commons to ensure intellectual property is respected is helpful. But without trust and a sense of affinity between people, nothing will be freely offered to others.

That’s why international movements such as NetSquared are so important: they foster sharing, both locally and globally. When we get together with others a lot is possible: we can learn about what is possible, inspire and support one another, and share what we know.

The 50 #net2 active groups are meeting all the time (see “Together we’re strong”). For those of us in Aotearoa, there are some upcoming opportunities to participate.

NetSquared Wellington is coming up to it’s second birthday, 18 meetups down the track. In June we are talking: Advocacy – how can using a digital soap box work for you?

The Auckland Net2 meetup group will resume meeting again on Tuesday 8 July, with Vivian Chandra and Stuart Young taking co-leadership. The title of the upcoming meetup asks it all “#net2aklREVIVE : So what is #tech4good anyway?”

For anyone interested in setting up a NetSquared group in Christchurch or Dunedin, you’re welcome to join a conversation with me and others next month:

  1. 5.30pm Wednesday 16 July, Joe’s Garage, 7 Leslie St, Upper Riccarton, Christchurch
  2. 12.15pm Thursday 17 July, Dunedin Community House, 301 Moray Place, Dunedin. RSVP/ details

While using the web and other technology gives us a reason to meet, it’s the possibility of working together where the real promise lies.

I’m looking forward to the day when someone turns up to a meetup to show us how to print out a trophy. Or perhaps something of our own design.

CAD file showing 3d printer file

Mbau3d: “We share the trophy that will be delivered in #netsquaredgt the best project 🙂
EDIT: downloadable files source of this trophy in the link below!”
http://bit.ly/1o4QCHO

What’s on the EYC unConference programme?

A wordle that captures essence of 2010 unconferenceAn unConference is unlike your everyday conference. Until the day, we do not know the details of what is going to be covered.

The programme is co-created by participants at the beginning of the event. Everyone attending can run a session.

These can take a myriad of formats: presentations, case studies, interactive workshops or even inviting others to respond to your particular challenge or problem.

While there is not a pre-determined agenda, there is a structure and a theme. At the EYC unConference, on Saturday 22 February at Massey University’s Wellington campus, we’re splitting the day into five sessions, each 50 minutes long. There’s difference spaces available for each session.

Our theme is: finding and using the best of what the web has to offer for people working to make the world a better place.

It’s a crazily broad topic which could touch on everything from resizing images, creating mobile apps, database selection through to high level social media engagement strategy.

Ahead of the event, people registering will have chances to share ideas of the specific topics they want to cover.

Ideas are already bubbling away. One of our co-organisers wants to run a speed geeking session: he envisages people rotating around 3-4 rapid fire presentations on essential web tools and skills. As we’ve access to a theatrette at Massey University, we could open the doors for people to share a favourite #nptech video.

Feeling a little uncertain about participating? Here are some ideas from Scott Berkun in 2006 about “How to run a great unconference session”.

Presented with a blank agenda, along with gentle encouragement, people don’t actually run a mile. They dive in. I’m sure it’ll be the same again next month. Come along.

Register now!!!

Engage Your Community (EYC) unconference, Saturday 22 February 2014

Details at: http://eyc-unconference.wikispaces.com/
Registration just $30 per person: http://engage-your-community-unconference.lilregie.com/

Organised by Wellington ICT in partnership with NetSquared Wellington and Massey University.

IT training for non-techies?

Idealare tactical tech planning cartoon

Let’s be honest: many of us are not good at managing money. Mention of forecasts, cash flow and accruals is met with grimaces, not exuberant glee.

Getting a grip on accounting basics can lead to resources being stretched further, and will ensure finances are prudently managed.

Some pain to learn how to get better at accounts is worth it. And fortunately, training on accounting for the non-financially minded is widely available. Technical terms are translated, and much of the arcane methodologies are stripped back.

I believe many organisations could benefit from access to a similar approach to training on the use of technology.

It’s not exactly an easy thing to boil IT management down into digestible chunks. Technology touches on so many parts of every organisation, and keeps changing. Fortunately, some others have created technology planning training for non-techies.

The recently released Tactical Tech Planning On Demand online course covers what Idealware consider the key areas for organisations to grapple with. As the name implies, the course focuses only on what you really need to know.

The training is broken down into 26 modules, which comprise short videos along with activities. The five main topic headings are:

  • Getting Started
  • Infrastructure
  • Data
  • Online Communications
  • Action Plan

The aim is “to help you assess your organization’s technology infrastructure and address your current and future needs.” A usable IT action plan is the result.

I can’t help think, as I have pondered in the past, that some training along these lines will help New Zealand organisations to get better at using IT to support their work.

Within the broad aspirations of the Ministry of Social Development’s Investing in Services for Outcomes capability building programme, released in January, technology is one of the areas highlighted for attention. The emphasis seems to be on responding to challenges within individual organisations.

Would some technology training, ala financial management for non-accountants, be useful for NZ community organisations?

Idealware’s On Demand Tactical Tech Planning – The Trailer from Idealware on Vimeo.

Getting started with ICT planning

Graphic recording of what was covered MeasureIT workshop, created by Tracey EzardIt’s something of a truism to say that there are lots of demands on managers of community organisations. An indicative list might include things like service delivery leadership, overseeing staffing and financials, attending to the board, reporting and risk management, supporting fundraising and community engagement.

It’s little wonder that managers shun adding anything else to an already demanding role. How could anyone possibly add anything else on top?

Attendees at the Connecting Communities events participating in sessions run by Andrew Mahar, Infoxchange Australia’s founding Director, were challenged to get control of their ICT by starting to plan. Working alongside graphic facilitator Tracey Ezard, Andrew introduced the MeasureIT framework that has been used in Victoria for more than five years.

A fundamental, underlying rationale for undertaking planning needs to be accepted before getting started: becoming digitally proficient will reap rewards for individual staff, the organisation as a whole, and ultimately people receiving support or services.

An aim of the planning framework is to take the pain out of getting started. Groups are encouraged to take the bits of a plan that suits their organisation’s situation and run with it. It does look like big or small organisations could equally well benefit.

It’s not about rigidly applying a complex and technical model that is reliant on outside help. Anyone familiar with business or strategy planning is well equipped to give it a go.

As well considering what boxes and wires and organisations have and need, MeasureIT puts a strong emphasis on understanding skill levels of staff. A detailed ICT competency audit can help identify skill gaps. Andrew says there are all too often assumptions made about the skill level of staff. Inadequate training and support is often a cause of low levels of digital proficiency.

Not everyone attending was won over, but many people commented they were ready to take the approach further. They could see benefits for improving quality of IT services available to staff, and using it as a way of to advocating for the resources required to get good at using ICT.

Thinking back to a similar session I attended in Bendigo last year (see my blog post “On the road with iTaGNO”), I can see how an awareness raising session is just the beginning of the journey. It’s important to be able to link with others and access refresher help with the planning, alongside actually making progress with strategic priorities. Results count, otherwise planning is any empty gesture. It takes commitment to become more digitally proficient as well as time.

Whether people will follow-up after they left the workshops is another question. The imperatives of everyday work demands can mean the important gets squeezed out by the urgent.

Anyone who wants to share how they’re going with ICT planning in their organisation is welcome to share any thoughts here.

Resources

Here are links to a iTaNGO suite of planning tools to get your organisation started with ICT planning:

iTaNGO ICT plan template
iTaNGO ICT steering committee model
iTaNGO ICT policies
Digital proficiency maturity table
Digital proficiency self-assessment checklist
ICT training needs assessment

Connecting Up Australia conference wrap-up

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.

Resources

When published, I’ll add a link to Holly Ross’s presentation and handouts.

On the road with iTaNGO

IT awareness for NGOs (iTaNGO) project logoThe 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.