Rubber soon hitting road for e-Rider

e-Rider february workshop participantsOn Monday the Wellington Regional 2020 Communications Trust ran a workshop to test ideas for delivering a new ICT advice and support service for community and voluntary organisations in the Wellington region (the participants are pictured here). Our facilitator, and Trust chairperson, Erina Papp managed to boil the whole two hour workshop into a single question: what’s your level of comfort with the concept proposed? After a few ums, ahs and careful qualifications, the community organisation representatives each independently ranked the concept as seven or eight.

Having been investigating the concept of a e-Rider since September 2005 it was a huge relief that people were comfortable with the approach proposed. Of course, the rating was only final piece of feedback following a productive (and tiring) workshop.

Over the next ten days or so we’re doing further testing to give us a sound basis on which to determine the exact mix of services we’ll offer, the structure, any charges and what personnel we need. Our aim is to launch the service by the middle of the year.

We’ve known for a long time that community and voluntary organisations have been struggling to get adequate ICT advice. Since around the year 2000 actually. Several research projects and the 2003 Connecting Communities conference have nailed down what the need is. Since receiving funding we’ve been able to engage someone to undertake a feasibility study to quantify what gaps organisations have and what they’d like to see. Sandra McDonald agreed to undertake the prepare a feasibility study and business plan for us in December 2006. Thanks to the her thoroughness and a rigorous approach, we’ve been facing up to the hard questions.

As well as trying to work out the exact mix of services and how we can meet expecations, we’ve been grappling with how to provide a service that will survive in the long-term when we know resources are scarce (actually IT budgets are generally non-existent). Organisations are generally not funded for the full-costs of running services or working in communities. This has to change, but our service can’t wait for funders to recognise all the infrastructure costs associated with running an organisation. So, it looks like a education is required alongside delivery of services.

Fortunately, we have funding to enable the service to run as a pilot to test ideas (with the bulk of funds coming from the Digital Strategy Community Partnership Fund). Massey University are on board as evaluators, WCC is a partner, and a range of local and not-so local organisations are contributring too. The commitment of the London Advisory Service Allliance to publishing lessons from their circuit rider projects is very valuable, and New Zealand pioneers of delivering IT advisory services to not-for-profits, Social Services Waikato, have been generous with their insights and time.

Following the workshop I really get the feeling things are coming together. Come the end of March we will have completed a business plan, and then we’ll be on to recuiting an e-Rider (or e-Riders) and launching the service. Keep an eye of the Wellington e-Rider project website for relevant advertisements.