Where do I find the time? #cupnz impressions

Connecting Up New Zealand logoI 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.