Category Archives: .org development

Make time to talk

Stephen Blyth, at Otago Access Radio studio“It used to be if I asked people how they’re doing, they would say they’re busy. Then they started saying “Oh, I’m busy, busy, busy”. And now they’re saying things like “I’m crazy busy” or “I’m insanely busy”, Margaret J Wheatley reflected when I talked with her last week.

The hyperbole will doubtless continue to inflate.

I experience this as having barely finished one thing before I’m racing on with the next. Distraction at the hands of this wonderful, but paradoxically attention grabbing technology, no doubt contributing to this. There rarely seem to be empty spaces.

There is definitely something missing as we blanket ourselves with this comforting illusion of busyness. When do we make time to scratch below the surface? To re-examine why we do things? For pondering about what really matters? To ask how come things ended as they are?

Margaret’s words ring true, if I really allow them to sink in. She says not only is thinking endangered, but working with others and generosity too. She very forthrightly describes our predicament at length in her recent book “So far from home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World”, and suggests we can find a way out.

One question that arises is how would things be different if we allowed more time for thinking and conversation?

I see a glimpse of what can happen when people stop to talk in a paper delivered by vivian hutchinson at the New Zealand Creativity Challenge held in New Plymouth last April (“What’s Broken is the We: some thoughts on creativity for the common good”, 2013).

The experienced community activist and social entrepreneur recounts how he invited two leading and long-time workers in community development in New Plymouth and Taranaki to talk:

“Let’s take all our various hats off for a while – some thoughts on creativity for the common good while … all the roles and labels that we carry around with us as we do our work. Let’s just have breakfast together as active citizens in this province that we love.”

Then I issued a deeper invitation: “Let’s tell each other the truth of what we are seeing right now … rather than what we tell our funders.” They both knew what I was talking about – because the growing gap between these two messages is in itself a significant problem in the sector right now.

Well, once we started talking, we found we couldn’t stop. We ended up having breakfast every fortnight for the next nine months. The conversations deepened our understanding of what we mean by community development and civic engagement. We asked ourselves some challenging questions about what sort of community sector we
handing on to the next generation.”

This conversation led to many others. Vivian found people “hungry for an authentic opportunity to stop and reflect. We spent four months at it, and established the beginnings of a learning community on how we as active citizens can do our work differently, and create real change.”

As I’ve found in the last week, conservation without the need to rush to conclusions is a wonderful thing. It is possible to find inspiration in the twists and turns of life.

When invited to revisit why I do the work I do by interviewer Sam Mann, I ended up heading off on some unexpected tangents. In the hour-long interview for the Sustainable Lens: Resilience on Radio program I talked about some of my motivations, shared learning from my community work over the last 25 years, and mulled on where using digital tools fits in.

This conversation was very invigorating, and would have been just as rewarding had it not been recorded. It’s just not something I would usually make time for amidst the day-to-day bustle.

Margaret J Wheatley is full of encouragement about the need to create time to be together in conversation: “I think a major act of leadership right now, call it a radical act, is to create the places and processes so people can actually learn together, using our experiences.”

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!”

Software options for understanding outcomes

 "Understanding Software for Program Evaluation" book cover

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was possible to dump a bunch of figures about your organisation’s work into a clever system, push compute and then be told what outcomes you’ve achieved.

From what I’ve learnt, it just doesn’t work like that.

In a recent report by the every reliable Idealware on “Understanding Software for Program Evaluation”, the authors make this caveat early on: working what you’re achieving is not about the tools.

“…software is not a requirement for a successful [outcomes reporting] strategy, merely a way to make your process easier, and many organizations complete them with little to no technology to assist them. That’s entirely up to you.”

Most of the tools they describe in rich detail don’t stand alone. Typically using software for reporting relies on more than one layer of software. This could include using a core database, surveys for specific activities and some means for presenting this attractively.

A set of five categories are included to describe the different ways software can support program evaluation:

  • Central Hub of Program Data
  • Auxiliary Data Systems
  • Proactive Data Gathering
  • Pulling Existing Data
  • Reporting and Visualizing.

The report offers something of a pick ‘n mix approach that can helps organisations grasp the full range of options.

As with other reports from our distant colleagues not all the software described is available in Aotearoa. Even if the internet does allow us to theoretically download anything that’s available, it won’t necessarily fit here without adaption. The reported $500,000 cost of customising Penelope – case management software from Canada – funded by Te Puni Kōkiri is a case in point.

And there software options available in New Zealand that are not listed. Benecura, DoView and Whānau Tahi Navigator are some of the homegrown tools available.

Exploring what tools will help a specific organisation determine what’s working (as the team at Community Research like to describe this challenge) can only start after an organisation is clear on what they’re setting out to achieve.

So if there is no killer app, the where to start. At risk of pre-empting more detailed work in this area that is relevant to Aotearoa (watch this space), I’ll point to what I think is a useful guide from the well-established charity evaluation services (CES).

CES’s 2007 workbook “Using ICT to Improve your Monitoring and Evaluation” is still relevant, technology continues to stand still so it’s already somewhat dated.

Instead I’d suggest looking at “Assessing change: Developing and using outcomes monitoring tools” (2010) which places in the role of technology in a wider content. As much effort is paid to framing questions around outcomes as it is to tools.

Not surprisingly there isn’t an easy option: some tool that will collect data and export results. Fortunately, there is lots of good help.

Is it okay to use the ‘F’ word in your organisation?

Hand written sketchnotes from the Placing Small Bets plenary session

Admit it: we all make mistakes. And try things that don’t work. There’s no shame in this, so the saying goes.

Yet, when things go awry it’s something we tend to keep quiet about. Or brush aside. We definitely do not shout out loud I failed.

If Beth Kanter has her way, we’ll change our ways. We need to look at ‘failure’ afresh.

As she recently wrote “people won’t try out new ideas or approaches if failure is seen as a career-killer. But when it’s treated like what it is — an opportunity to learn — it can be a fun and rewarding process.”

At the Nonprofit Technology Conference – held 11-13 April in Minneapolis (which I joined as a virtual participant) – Beth invited participants to take a failure bow.

Stand up and acknowledge failure was the message Beth and her fellow panellists sahred with the 1500 participants.

It isn’t obligatory to make such a public song and dance about acknowledging failures. There are quieter, internal rituals that organisational can adopt to make it okay to say things didn’t work.

A few examples of organisations consciously addressing failure are shared in a recent blog post by Beth (“Go ahead, take a Failure Bow!” published on Harvard Business Review blog). Holding a quarterly FailFest, running joyful funerals and organising honest loser awards are some of the practices organisations have adopted.

There is a serious point to the frivolity: organisations need to be brave and own up when dump things just don’t work. Trying new things is stifled if everyobody is too scared to make mistakes.

At workshops Beth is running in Auckland next month, participants will be invited to fess up and take a failure bow. I’m not sure how people will react, but I certainly have my share of failures to own up to.

Can you see open acknowledgement of failure playing a role in your organisation?

PS Don’t miss out on learning from Beth. Register now for workshops on 11 & 13 May 2013, in Auckland.