Tag Archives: technology

What tech skills should mission-driven nonprofits expect all of their employees to master?

What tech skills should mission-driven nonprofits expect all of their employees to master?

The-IT-Crowd-006I’m not talking about what we should expect the “digital” people to know — or the IT staff. These folks are always going to require a deeper set of particular skills that are going to vary greatly depending on their role and the particular organization. I’m asking a bigger and more abstract question: what skills should we expect of everyone who works in an organization trying to make change in the world — from the CEO to the administrative assistants, and everyone in between.

Is it simply enough to expect “proficiency with Word, Excel and Outlook?” Or, in 2014, should we be expecting more?

I think we can and should expect more.

Let’s start by unpacking the notion of “proficiency” with “basic office productivity software.”  There’s more here than meets the eye. Here’s my list of tasks I’d expect someone who has solid “intermediate proficiency” with the basic tools that are essential to modern mission-driven work to be able to perform.

  1. Format a document with style-based formatting, both in a word processor and in a website content management system
  2. Create, share and organize online documents and spreadsheets.
  3. Use “tracked changes” or similar document revision features to collaborate on a document with others
  4. Perform a basic mail merge from a spreadsheet, and be able to translate basic mail merge concepts to online tools such as broadcast email systems
  5. Compose and send a lightly-branded broadcast email message that looks good on a mobile phone
  6. Sort and filter a list in a spreadsheet
  7. Use common spreadsheet formulas to analyze data like SUM, AVERAGE, MEDIAN
  8. Create a simple chart or graph that follows most of Edward Tufte’s rules of good information design
  9. Crop and resize an image for use on the web or in an email
  10. Create a lightly formatted but professional-looking set of presentation slides that are compliant with an organization’s brand guidelines
  11. Set up and use an LCD projector
  12. Host and deliver a presentation online through webinar or online meeting software.
  13. Use text/video chat software like Skype, Google Hangouts, etc. for real-time communication with colleagues
  14. Manage one’s calendar online.
  15. Book appointments with colleagues and partners electronically
  16. Use a password manager to generate and manage secure passwords for online services
  17. Build a simple online survey and interpret the results
  18. Create rules or filters in an email client to organize your inbox
  19. Track tasks with a team using tools like Trello, Asana, Basecamp or Evernote
  20. Export a list of names or other data from one system in CSV format and upload the list into another system
  21. Create and manage an email discussion list
  22. Bonus: design the agenda for and facilitate an effective small group meeting

Bet you weren’t expecting 22 items. (Hey, did I leave anything important out? Leave a comment!)

Seriously: imagine how much more efficient and effective our organizations would be if we could count on all of our colleagues and allies to have mastered these basic skills.

I’m not naive; this is a high bar. Is the solution then to raise our hiring standards? Maybe. When I’m hiring folks, I certainly attempt to gauge how solid their technology skills are. But I realize that there are a lot of smart, bright and capable folks out there who couldn’t tick all of these boxes. That’s OK. College is supposed to teach you to read, write and think — it’s not supposed to be vocational education.

This means that employers need to be ready to train their people in the practical skills they need to excel in the workplace. Part of the job of any social mission organization is to bring in smart, bright and capable people and help them grow. This takes a strong organizational commitment to making those investments — and a strong organizational culture of peer learning. And you can be sure I am looking to hire people who are motivated and ready to learn (and to teach!).

Folks who are already in the social change workforce: you should see mastering as many of these skills as possible as an essential part of your job. These are the building blocks of 21st century social mission work.

Update 7/4/2014: edited slightly to incorporate great feedback from commenters below and on social media. Thanks, keep the feedback coming!

Transformation, not technology

It occurred to me yesterday that the real challenge we[1] face is not the question of “how do we apply technology tools to organizations?” but more “how do we help organizations & people transform themselves so that they are more able to harness the power of technology?”

[1] “we” = those of us standing astride the worlds of technology and social change.

Sympa tip: changing domains

As many of my readers likely know by now, my organization ONE/Northwest has just rebranded itself as Groundwire.  Obviously, our domain name changed, and with it our email addresses.  One of the many “switchover” tasks we faced was the challenge of updating our email addresses on the many Sympa-powered email lists we host.

The obvious solution is to have each user log in one-by-one and change their email address in the Sympa web UI.  This has two major disadvantages, though:

1) It’s a real pain for 2o+ users to log in and update their addresses

2) That would only affect list subscriptions, not list configurations such as owners and moderators, because Sympa doesn’t yet stores this configuration info in its database; it’s still stored in a text-based config file on the filesystem.  Ugh.

So, in the end, a twofold approach was necessary.  Here’s what I did.

Updating list subscribers in Sympa’s MySQL database

I used SQLyog, a popular Windows-based GUI front-end to MySQL.  (You could also use PHPmyadmin on your server to provide a web interface.)  I did the following queries to update onenw.org to groundwire.org in all user emails.

update user_table set user_email = replace(user_email, 'onenw.org', 'groundwire.org');
update subscriber_table set user_subscriber = replace(user_subscriber, 'onenw.org', 'groundwire.org');
update admin_table set user_admin = replace(user_admin, 'onenw.org', 'groundwire.org');

Updating list owners/moderators in Sympa’s filesystem-based config files

Sympa stores list owners and moderators in a plain-text file on the filesystem.  Here’s how I mass-updated it.

On the server command line, I navigated to sympa’s expl folder at /home/sympa/expl.  This directory contains one subdirectory for each list, and each list contains a “config” file.

I executed the command:

find . -name config | xargs perl -p -ie 's/onenw\.org/groundwire\.org/g'

This took a couple of minutes to iterate over a little more than 1000 lists.  Not blazing fast, but not too horrible.

I think a great feature addition to Sympa would be a script that would take either one email or one domain as an input, and execute these commands in parallel.

WalkScore hits the New York Times

Congrats to the WalkScore team for being featured in today’s Sunday New York Times!

Founded in July 2007 by Mike Mathieu, the chairman of Front Seat Management in Seattle, WalkScore works with Google Maps and census data. Type in a street address on the site, and within seconds a list and map appear showing the nearest grocery stores, restaurants, gyms, schools and more — all for free. The site works for any address within the United States, Canada, and even Britain. It also uses a formula to assign point values to locations within a mile of the given address. These points yield a final score from 1 to 100 for the address’s overall “walkability.”

Liveblogging “Political Campaigns and Technology”

[18:00] I’m liveblogging from the event ONE/Northwest is hosting tonight, titled “Political Campaigns and Technology.” We’ve got about 50 people in our office here in Seattle, gathered together for a fast-paced peer-to-peer learning session in which we’re going to explore the various ways that political campaigns are using technology to build and sustain relationships, and what nonprofit activist organizations can learn from the fast-paced world of political campaigns.

Gideon Rosenblatt — ONE/Northwest Executive Director

Gideon is welcoming people, explaining the concept, how it relates to our work. We’ll have three speakers, followed by some group discussion and general socializing.

Karen Uffelman — ONE/Northwest Program Manager

Questions to audience:

  • In the last 12 months, how many have seen a candidate website? Lots
  • How many have been contacted by a candidate? Lots
  • How many have taken action on behalf of a candidate? Lots
  • How many would have 4 years ago? Lots (!)

[18:05] Karen: dramatic changes in how candidates are using technology. Karen posed several discussion questions for people to consider in small groups, which they are now doing…

[18:10] Report outs:

Group one:

What’s the most innovative use of interactive media you’ve seen this campaign season?

  • Viral videos used to hold candidates accountable for what they’re saying

Group two:

Have candidates lost control of their message because of new media?

  • Yes, but some campaigns have done a better job than others at using new media to get their messages out there. The technology itself is beginning to shape how candidates present themselves and their communications style. Think that Obama is less concerned with controlling events, more focused on explaining things as they occur. George Allen’s “macaca” video is an extreme example of loss of control. Control models are going to work less and les in the future.

Group three:

Have candidates lost control of their message because of new media?

  • You can’t control what people say about you online. The blogosphere has some tendency towards self-correction, though. Retractions and debunkings can happen very quickly.

Most innovative use of interactive media?

  • Email from Obama campaign: you’ve donated before, would you like to match a first-time donor? Can send personal message to the first-time donor, and they can respond to you. Very gratifying way to make a small personal connection with a fellow supporter.

Group four:

We talked mostly about the “relentlessness” of the Obama campaign’s online organizing work this year. In 2004, seemed more episodic than continuous. Lots more use of video from candidates; e.g. video of Obama on his donation page. Very slick.

Group five:

We talked about some of the tools we’ve seen on Facebook and their longer-term potential. How social networking has been used as a fundraising tool, ability to raise money very quickly. Rapid response of Ron Paul campaign around specific issues. Blast updates vs. segmentation.

Group six:

Increased turnout of youth vote during primary cycle. Challenge ahead is how to translate election excitement downballot and to ongoing long term issues. How can we get people to care about the fights that follow. League of Young Voters Facebook application attempts to find people through the campaign opportunity, get a sense of issue priorities as well.

Group seven:

Unexpectedly viral things. Change in tone of campaign emails from “donate now” to fake(?) insider emails. New phonebanking tools. Washington Trails’ experience creating a small Facebook application.

[18:25] Three Speakers

Brett Horvath – Your Revolution

A new nonpartisan nonprofit.

Show of hands: who has a Facebook account? (Many) Who actively uses it? (Few)

Your Revolution: building a Facebook app focused on voter registration. Hope to scale up voter registration efforts by leveraging the reach of the Facebook platform.

What differentiates Facebook from other social networking platforms: Facebook is a “social utility” that allows people to actively do things. Some stats about rapid growth of Facebook.

Massive protest in Colombia, organized via Facebook. Something different is going on here that’s not going on elsewhere.

  • Big difference between a website and a web presence. Facebook gives you access to lots of people who are already nearby and comfortable consuming information there.

Obama online: my.barackobama.com — allows users to self-organize, plan events, build groups. Houe parties, fundraisers, phonebanking etc. All outside of the control of the campaign.

Quick rundown of Your Revolution features:

  • Register to vote from within Facebook
  • Tell you which of your friends are registered to vote
  • Send a reminder/invite to your friends to get them to register to vote — peer pressure!
  • Ask about issue interests during process
  • Connect you with groups that are working on what you’re interested in.

Your Revolution gives nonprofits some collaboration and project management tools for their constituents.

Working with students to bring online voter registration to states around the nation (!) (Now: WA and AZ are the only two states that allow it, but Rock The Vote has technology for generating paper forms online.)

Questions for Brett:

Q: What kinds of privacy safeguards are there? How exposed is your personal information?

A: You can control how much info people see on Facebook. Your Revolution doesn’t keep or use any data from FB.

Q: Is hard to get off of Facebook?

A: Actually, yes. Hard to fully delete all of your profile information. This is generally pretty true of anything you put on the internet these days.

Q: How do you prevent voter reg. fraud?

A: Require valid drivers license info, which is verified by Secretary of State.

[18:50] George Chung – Win/Win Network

How Democratic Party technology has trickled down to interest groups.

An example: anti-immigrant ballot measures in Washington in recent years. Hard to defeat hot-button ballot initiatives like this. Insight: find all the people who voted against a previous anti-affirmative action initiative. Problem: it was virtually impossible to find, and we had to start from scratch. A “learning moment.” Each campaign should build long-term organizing capacity, win or lose.

Democratic political campaigns have consolidated their voter file databases and interfaces. Catalist, Voter Activation Network are two companies that were started by major Democratic party donors to consolidate disparate voter file, demographic and consumer data and then provide sophisticated applications built on top of that, e.g. phonebanking systems with real-time feedback. Trickling down to state parties and the precinct captain level.

Campaigns don’t end when the election is over. Then we go to elected officials and push for policy change. More thinking about cycles of accountability. Elections are means to policy ends.

Win/Win Network – started by Washington Progress Alliance. Goal is to defragment progressive issue communities at the state level so that we can work more powerfully together. Shared services, e.g. voter mobilization tools from Catalist/VAN.

[19:00]

Q: Doesn’t sharing of names among organizations like this pretty much amount to spamming people without their permission and run the risk of inundating people?

A: Learning from the work the environmental community has done here, how to get the word out without violating permission. We don’t actually share emails among groups.

[19:15] Steve Andersen – ONE/Northwest

I work on CRM systems for environmental groups. Constituent Relationship Management. Technologies and techniques for helping organizations develop relationships with their supporters. Companies use CRM to sell stuff. Nonprofits use it to build power. We use Salesforce.com as our main CRM tool; it’s not nonprofit-specific… it’s used by businesses, political campaigns, and nonprofits.

Four very quick demonstrations of how political campaigns use CRM.

1) Raising money…

… and reporting on that fundraising. A core component of any CRM system, but also one of the least interesting. ;-) Moving on…

2) Managing speaking opportunities

Candidates need to keep track of where they and their surrogates are going to appear, from a huge field of opportunities and possibilities. Nonprofit activists have the same problem. We’re currently working with Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center on a system for managing hundreds of speaking requests per month.

3) Influencing key decision makers

e.g. Superdelegates and precinct leaders. (Or, after the election, running issue campaigns for nonprofits). Quick demonstration of a system we built for Futurewise to track their success at influencing regulatory decisions around land-use. The same model can also be used to track efforts to secure endorsements for a candidate. Track decision makers, people & organizations who influence those decision-makers, whether they support or oppose us. Campaigns to our members who relate to that decisionmaker. Share all of this data with the campaign team.

4) Media tracking

How to keep track of all the blogs, viral video and online news coverage that campaigns are getting? Can’t just follow three networks and a few newspapers anymore. Quick demo of a media tracking tool we built for Futurewise. Media clips are connected to decision campaigns (above). Simple bookmarklets make it fast and easy to save items that you find in your web surfing.

“We haven’t had the need to clip YouTube videos for very long.”

Salesforce lets us build little tools like this really quickly. Took us about an hour to be able to clip & watch YouTube inside of YouTube.com.

[19:25] Questions

Q: Can you spit back out stuff that you capture?

A: We can get stuff back out through Salesfore’s APIs and show it via a website to the public, or pull it into an email message.

Q: Can data be linked to projects?  Groups of people that might take action?

A: In principle, yes.

Q: How do you assess if an organization is ready for powerful new tools like this?

A: It’s hard.  :-)

[19:30] Gideon Rosenblatt – Thanks, Closing and General Hanging Out Time

These are the facets of a new kind of democratic process emerging.  It’s all about putting power back into the hands of self-organizing groups of people.

With that, your loyal liveblogger went off to get a well-deserved beer. ;-)

The Technology Understanding Gap

Please go read this incredibly insightful reflection by Eugene Eric Kim. If you’re too lazy, I’ll clip the most important part for ya:

The following day, I co-led a session on this topic with AngusParker. Two of the participants were dealing with the specific challenge of connecting members of a national network of leaders in reproductive health, so we used that as a case study. We decided to use Clay’s contention to frame the problem, resulting in this whiteboard:

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2349/2234544757_9be3c47dd2_m.jpg

What do you notice about this picture? Obviously, the Tools column is completely empty. That’s a dead giveaway that I’m facilitating this discussion. (That and the horrific handwriting.) Figure out the basics first. Don’t let the question about technology drive the discussion. During the discussion, one of the participants asked, “What tools can we use?” I responded, “Let’s not worry about that now.” So we kept talking and talking, and I noticed the two non-technical participants in the group squirming like crazy. So I stopped, noticed how gaping the Tools column looked, and said, “You’re uncomfortable about not having discussed the tools, aren’t you.” She nodded. “Don’t worry about it,” I responded. “The tools part will be easy, once we figure everything else out.” “Easy for you, maybe,” she said. “You already know what goes there.” That was not quite true, but I got her point, and the force of it struck me so hard, I had to stop for a moment. I looked at the gap, and I saw possibilities. She looked at the gap, and she saw a void. That was upsetting for her. It made it hard for her to think about the other aspects of the problem. It made me realize how much I take my technology literacy for granted. But it also created an opportunity to discuss how easily we are sidetracked by technology. “Tool” does not have to mean software, and making that assumption prevents us from exploring other viable, possibly better solutions.

I’ll add in a kicker: too often, people who are less technically literate think that if they only fill in the right answer in that middle “Tools” column, that their problems will all be solved. When, really, it is more important to get the Promise and the Bargain right. I like to call this pattern “magical tool thinking.” It results in a lot of wasted time and effort trying to identify that magical, right tool — effort which should go into thinking about process, objectives and how to sustain the non-technological parts of the organizing effort.