UK ICT Hub Conference

On the same day I attended the CIMS project workshop with a smattering of New Zealand community sector leaders (see my post “Collaboration in motion – CIMS”), UK not-for-profit ICT enthusiasts, leaders and technophiles were participating in the second ICT Hub National Conference in London.

Over the last four to five years the UK government has been investing heavily (by NZ standards anyway) in strengthening community and voluntary sector capacity, including its use of ICTs. Since 2005 the ICT Hub has been running training, offering phone help, sharing lessons, coordinating support, and funding projects. Although government funded the ICT Hub is a partnership of national voluntary and community organisations.

Presenting at the conference was David Wilcox, a visitor to our shores a few years ago, and he obviously stimulated a lot of discussion about how community organisations can use the emerging social networking capabilities of the Internet. As you can see from David’s presentation, see the copy below hosted on SlideShare, he is a proponent of organisations getting on board with powerful capabilities now available online.

(BTW The short-hand for describing these ‘new’ social networking tools is Web 2.0, and includes applications such as: blogs; RSS; shared bookmarks, documents, photos; social spaces; audio and video; and free calls.)

After considering all the pros and cons of social networking tools, Megan Griffith – author of a new report called “ICT Foresight: How online communities can make the net work for the VCS” released at ICT Hub Conference – comes out in favour of adopting the new tools. She basically says people in community organisations don’t have much choice as pressure from members, supporters, staff and the public raises expectations that will be able to join in the participative culture that social networks generate. Megan also argues that online communities present opportunities for voluntary groups to engage with new audiences and to build powerful new networks.

Megan’s report was published by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and is freely available as a PDF. It’s the second in a series designed to help strategic thinkers within organisations – CEOs, trustees and managers – understand and think through the strategic implications of ICT. The first report on Consultation and campaigning in the age of participatory media was released in October 2006.

Putting the hooplah aside, people do acknowledge there are some pretty major barriers to organisations using these new tools. In a three minute video David made at the 28 March conference some of the main barriers are captured by three conference attendees (see UK nonprofits use of social media – at ICT Hub national conference 2007 on Google Video). The two main barriers noted were groups are struggling with the basics and need to get nuts and bolts sorted out first, and using new online tools is not just about technology, but it is about cultural change within organisations.

I find the reaction kind of comforting. If there is resistance and slow uptake in a country where social networking seems to have had more airtime and the ICT support infrastructure is more advanced than New Zealand, we should not be in a rush to push this stuff.

Already with the Wellington region ICT e-Rider project we’re talking about supporting organisations to get the basics under control. This is what the majority of groups told us they needed most help with, along with advice on purchasing and expanding systems. The CIMS project is proposing to start with a platform primarily based on email, and then building from there. I guess the idea is to start with technologies people are confident and competent with before introducing new applications. There is an understandable caution about getting anywhere near technological bleeding edges.

At the same time beginning to trial some of these new social networking tools will make it easier to introduce useful tools when organisations are ready. It’s partly about showing what’s possible. There are some projects and organisations in New Zealand using Web 2.0 tools which it would be good to document. I can feel some more blog posts coming on when time permits.