Tag Archives: tech

Nonprofits, NGOs: An Opportunity for a Fabulous Web Site

I am thrilled to announce, at last, that I am working with Knowbility, a nonprofit based in Austin, Texas with whom I’ve been working with on and off since its founding in 1998. And even better: what I’m doing will help nonprofits, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), charities, schools and others to be able to welcome more clients, more donors, more volunteers and more supporters via their web sites.

I am the Knowbility liaison for nonprofits, NGOs, schools and other mission-based organizations that will participate in OpenAIR 2018 . OpenAIR is my very favorite group volunteering gig and hackathon anywhere in the world. This Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR) by Knowbility was a hackathon before there was the word hackathon. It was an onsite, local event for many years, and is now an international virtual volunteering event!

Via OpenAir, mission-based organizations get professionally-designed, accessible websites that accommodate all visitors. In fact, via OpenAir, they get more than a shiny new web site; they become a more-welcoming organization online – and maybe offline as well. This is a life-changing event for many participants – expect to have your horizons expanded and your way-of-thinking about how people use online tools transformed! 

People with disabilities want to donate, volunteer and otherwise support causes they care about. Like all people, they love the arts, animals, and the environment, they enjoy beautiful parks and fun outdoor activities, they support education, they want serious social problems addressed, and they want to be involved in these causes – as employees, as donors, as volunteers and as clients. But if your organization’s web site isn’t accessible to them, you leave them out – and that means you leave out potential donors, volunteers, clients, ideas, talent and more. All of that changes when your organization participates in OpenAIR! Here’s more about what accessibility means and why it’s important.This is a GLOBAL event: participating nonprofits, NGOs, charities and other mission-based organizations can be anywhere in the world!

This is a GLOBAL event: participating nonprofits, NGOs, charities and other mission-based organizations can be anywhere in the world!

I am SO EXCITED about my role, and I can’t wait to start helping nonprofits and others participate!  In September and October, I will market the heck out of this event, and I hope you will help by:

  • sharing this blog that you are reading now via your social media and in emails to colleagues and associates
  • by retweeting tweets that use the hashtag #OpenAIR2018
  • by following @Knowbility on Twitter, liking the Knowbility Facebook page and liking all messages related to OpenAIR
  • by talking to nonprofits, NGOs and charities you know that either don’t have a web site, or have a web site but it’s in need of a redesign, and encouraging them to check out the nonprofit section of the OpenAir web site.

In fact, you don’t have to wait – you can start doing all that NOW.

In November and December 2017, and in January 2018, I will be knocking myself out doing everything I can to help participating nonprofits prepare their information for their design teams, so that those teams can get started on their web sites in February – these design teams have just six weeks to develop these sites as a part of the OpenAir competition! Judging and awards will take place in March 2018. Participating nonprofits pay $100 to participate in OpenAir, but that fee isn’t due until December 2017, and the informational webinars in September and October about accessibility and the competition will be free.

The web designers in OpenAIR are professionals who want to apply their accessibility design skills to a web site for an organization doing good in the world. Each design team pays a small fee to participate, and commits to several hours of classes by Knowbility regarding the latest web accessibility tools and techniques. These design teams are mentored by leading experts in the accessibility field throughout their design time during OpenAIR. The designers that participate in OpenAIR are professional, trained web designers working for a variety of companies and universities. Since 1998, OpenAIR (then AIR) has included teams of web professionals from IBM, Dell, Applied Materials, Google, GivePulse, TradeMark Media, Elemental Blend, Cognizant Technology Solutions, Cal State, University of Michigan, University of Southern Florida and many more. For Knowbility, these teams are volunteers, donating their time and talent to create high quality, professional websites for participating organizations. If your company or university or group of friends wants to form a design team to participate and support a nonprofit or NGO in creating its web site as a part of this competition, please see this OpenAIR design team information.

Can you tell I’m excited?! This is a dream gig for me: I adore the work of Knowbility beyond measure (at left is a photo of me and Sharron Rush, a co-founder of Knowbility and its Executive Director, at a conference in 2006, with me displaying my “are you accessible?” temporary tattoo), I had a blast being a part of the AIR events almost 20 years ago, back when they were onsite in Austin, I am passionate about web accessibility, I love how corporations walk away from this event with much more awareness about the work of nonprofits, and I love helping nonprofits! This means, however, that I’m not available for any consulting gigs until after February 2018. So if you are thinking of me as a consultant for next year, contact me ASAP, as my schedule fills up quickly! More about my consulting services.

Direct links from the OpenAIR web site for nonprofits:

I can’t wait to work with you! In fact, if you are in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area, I would be happy to talk with you face-to-face, in-person about participating in this event. Just contact me at jc@coyotecommunications.com to set up a time and place!

When ICT help goes wrong: warning for aid workers going to Nepal

Here is a comment I read on one of the many online discussion groups I follow, and I think it is really important for aid workers to keep in mind when going to developing countries to help, particularly in post-disaster situations. I’ve removed any specific identifying information, and any emphasis is mine:

One issue we’ve observed many times when doing relief work, perhaps worst in the 2004 tsunami, the 2003 conflict in the Congo, and 2010 in Haiti, is that areas with modest ICT infrastructure that was adequate to the sustainable needs of their market, are swamped by aid workers with immodest expectations. i.e. a desire to video-chat with their families every day, play WoW, and download video porn. So they all show up, and declare “repairing the Internet infrastructure” (to levels never before seen) to be their first priority. They run rough-shod over the local infrastructure operators, step on carefully-regulated or carefully-negotiated frequency allocations, etc.

I very much hope we won’t have to deal with that in this case. Nepal’s ICT environment is mature, its professionals are expert, and its community is well connected. If and when they need help, they’re perfectly capable of indicating what help they need, and anyone from the outside who believes they know better is WRONG. So, if you’re interested in helping, by all means, make your availability known to any of the many other ICT professionals in-country, but please don’t assume that you know what’s needed, or worse, that they don’t.

The Swedish-Finnish telco TeliaSonera operates in Nepal and is engaged in relief efforts, and is urging everyone in Nepal to communicate whenever possible by SMS rather than voice in order to minimize the strain of the network.

Also see: How to help Nepal

One (-ish) Day “Tech” Activities for Volunteers

A new resource on my web site:
One(-ish) Day “Tech” Activities for Volunteers
Volunteers are getting together for intense, one-day events, or events of just a few days, to build web pages, to write code, to edit Wikipedia pages, and more. These are gatherings of onsite volunteers, where everyone is in one location, together, to do an online-related project in one day, or a few days. It’s a form of episodic volunteering, because volunteers don’t have to make an ongoing commitment – they can come to the event, contribute their services, and then leave and never volunteer again. Because computers are involved, these events are sometimes called hackathons, even if coding isn’t involved. This page provides advice on how to put together a one-day event, or just-a-few-days-of activity, for a group of tech volunteers onsite, working together, for a nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO), community-focused government program, school or other mission-based organization – or association of such.

Your questions/comments re volunteers & technology

There are several topics on TechSoup right now that would be great places for those of you that work at nonprofits, NGOs, schools, government agencies – as employees or as volunteers – to share some of your knowledge, your questions, your confusions, etc., regarding using computer, handheld and Internet tech. Jump in!:

Just click on any link and join in the discussion with your comments or questions. Brag about what you or your volunteers are doing. Whine about what you can’t figure out. Ask a question and get help!

Registration required, but it’s easy and so worth it.

Rapid Development Plan to get you using networking tech with your communities

Too many nonprofits, NGOs, government community programs, etc. are still not using the Internet beyond email and looking up a phone number on a web site. Many managers of volunteers in particular still avoid the use of networking tech. I wish this wasn’t true, but I even hear the foot-dragging from seasoned volunteer management consultants: I really need to start using this stuff, I guess…

If you or your organization still hasn’t fully embraced the Internet to support and involve the community, including your volunteers, here is what volunteers — and perhaps other potential supporters, such as donors, and maybe even city officials, the press, etc. — may be thinking about your organization:

  • This organization must not be very well-run or be very well-organized.
  • This organization may be trying to hide something.
  • This organization doesn’t have anything to offer teens, 20-somethings, young professionals, etc.
  • The important decisions that happen at this organization happen behind closed doors with just the senior staff and the board. The community, including volunteers and clients, aren’t involved in decision-making.
  • This organization is stuck in the past. I want to be involved in an organization that’s very much aware of the present and is ready for the future.

I’ve been beating the use-the-Internet-in-your-work drum since 1994, and find myself frustrated that, 17 years later, there are still so many nonprofit staff people, including coordinator of volunteers, who won’t really use the Internet — and even have other staff members and volunteers reading and responding to their email!

It’s by no means the entire nonprofit sector that is holding out: I think most nonprofits DO get it. There are thousands and thousands of nonprofit organizations and others doing fantastic work, even pioneering work, in using a range of online tools, including so-called online social networking, to engage a variety of people. These organizations are seen by volunteers as responsive, as really listening and acknowledging that they have heard what volunteers are saying. And volunteers love to talk about their experience with such organizations to their friends, family and colleagues — online and face-to-face.

How can you get to get on the other side of the digital divide, if you aren’t already? How can you get your entire organization there, especially those hardcore holdouts? 

I’ve developed a Rapid Development Plan” to get any org – & the coordinator of volunteers – using the most essential online tools ASAP. It’s the featured training for Jan. on e-volunteerism. It is a day-by-day plan, doling out tiny learning activities every day that will rapidly build up anyone’s skills regarding getting the most out of networking tech. It’s my last effort to reach the tech holdouts!

Subscribe to e-volunteerism to access the training ($45), or you can pay for 48-hour access ($10).

Also see these free resources:

Embrace FOSS and Open Source

There is free software and there is open source software. They aren’t the same thing. But whatever they are — WHY AREN’T YOU USING THEM?!

Free software refers to software that grants you the freedom to copy and re-use the software, rather than to the price of the software. The Free Software Foundation, an organization that advocates the free software model, suggests that, to understand the concept, “think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer.” (“The Free Software Definition”. GNU.org. Retrieved Jan. 12, 2011). It’s often refered to as FOSS (Free and Open Source Software).

Open source software allows users to study, change, and improve the software at the code level, rights normally reserved for the copyright holder. Open source, in contrast to free software, accepts the idea that people might build proprietary extensions to open source programs. In fact, most open source software does not come from open source companies, or the open source community. (more here).

You don’t have to be a programmer to use these tools; they are ready for you to download and use right away, just like proprietary software. But I’m sorry to say that most of you — nonprofits, NGOs, government agencies, indivdiual users, etc. — remain afraid of these amazing tools. And in this time of dire economic news, it’s long overdue for you to embrace FOSS and Open Source.

Since January 2008, I have used FOSS software for my office software needs (word-processing, slide show/presentation development, spreadsheets, simple databases), as well as for email, for browsing the web, for creating graphics, for altering graphics and photos, for design of various printed publications, to develop material for and manage my web sites, and on and on. And most of you that I work with haven’t noticed: you send me something in whatever you use — usually some Microsoft product — and I work on it and send it back to you and you are none the wiser. Or I send you something I’ve created in my FOSS software and you have no idea — you just open up what I send and it looks just like something created in proprietary software. There are the occasional translation issues — sometimes the fonts don’t translate ideally between NeoOffice and Microsoft Powerpoint, for instance, or the bullets in a word-processing document sometimes goes wonky from one software to another — you know, the same problems that happen between different versions of the same software. But for the most part, it’s worked oh-so-well.

I’m in good company: there are entire countries that get FOSS. Sourceforge, a web-based source code repository that acts as a centralized location for software developers to control and manage open source software development, gets more traffic from Brazil, Russia, India and China (the so-called BRIC countries) than it does from the good old USA. These countries have a top-down approach to open source, with government and schools adopting it as a matter of policy, and this has led to a large increase in the voluntary adoption of Linux and open source by businesses there. (more about this here).

Africans are in on the game: Ushahidi (it means testimony in Swahili) was created by Kenyan programmers around that country’s 2007 election, was deployed in South Africa and Uganda during 2008, and was used to crowdsource reports on the Haiti earthquake this year. The software maps SMS text messages. Even people in the Sudan have access to text messaging now. And the benefits flow worldwide — here is a crime map, created using Ushahidi software, covering part of Atlanta. Read about the May 2010 Idlelo conference in Ghana, which Dana Blankenhorn blogged about in June; as he says, “it was a small thing, but it may have been the most important open source conference so far this year.” Indeed! As he notes, “Because open source gives you equal rights with other software developers, it can be used effectively to localize software in small language groups, such as those found across Africa.”

So many NGOs, community organizations, schools, government agencies and others in developing countries (and even in so-called developed countries) struggle with software costs, and many resort to using illegal copies of MS and other popular software, meaning they have no official support for these products — and, in most places, they are breaking the law by using these illegal copies. I saw it for myself in Afghanistan and Egypt. Those of us who claim to be trying to help nonprofits, NGOs, grassroots organizations and others have an obligation to let these initiatives know at least about free office suites that offer viable alternatives to using illegal software or paying the huge fees to use MS and other products. There is really no excuse not to.

Convincing nonprofits, NGOs, government agencies, individual users and others that I work with to embrace FOSS and Open Source remains a massive challenge. You all remain skeptical. You have worries about security, stability, being able to work with documents generated by people using other software, features, and on and on — never mind that FOSS proves again and again to be just as secure, stable, frequently-updated, feature-rich and reliable as proprietary software.

Evaluate and choose free software the same way you choose fee-based software:

  • how long has the software been around?
  • how often is the software upgraded?
  • how much documentation for the software is provided?
  • is there an online forum where users freely post questions and offer support to each other?
  • look for reviews of the software (these are very easy to find online). Read many different reviews from many different sources, not just one or two, and not just the “official” review from the software’s manufacturer(s).
  • beware of unsolicited email offers or web page pop-ups for free software. These are often associated with malicious software, viruses, and scams.

It’s easy to find quality free, open source software. When such is reviewed by web sites, magazines and other sources that review proprietary software, links are provided to download the software yourself. For Macs, my favorite source to find such software is Opensourcemac.org. For Mac users and non-Mac users alike, try C-NET’s download.com.

 

If you are wondering how to get started, I recommend that to do so when it’s time to upgrade your office software (word-processing, spreadsheets and presentations). For Mac users, try NeoOffice. For non-Mac users, try OpenOffice.

 

It’s not easy to make the switch from one software to another. Bruce Byfield notes: “When you first switch to a different software, any claims that its better than what you were using probably won’t fly.” You will be too busy trying to find your favorite features and functions, first believing that they don’t exist and then, once you find them, thinking they aren’t as good. But being able to use different software than what you have been used to is a learned skill, and will make you a better user of all software. And there’s also the reality that some upgrades of your favorite fee-based software are so radically different from what you have been using that it’s the same experience as switching to a completely different package — in other words, there’s no getting away from having to continually learn how to use software, even if you choose not to switch to open source.

 

If you discover that a feature really, truly isn’t a part of the free software you are eyeing, remember more words from Bruce Byfield: “features are an arms race in which superiority rarely lasts for more than one version.”

Also see:

Breaking Barriers: The Potential of Free and Open Source Software for Sustainable Human Development – A Compilation of Case Studies from Across the World — this free publication (103 pages, PDF), features 14 projects using free and open source software (FOSS) to help bring about socio-economic development and empower people in developing countries or regions in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe and Latin America. The benefits obtained, challenges encountered, and lessons learned are highlighted. The benefits offered by free and open source software (FOSS) have been extremely useful for developing countries around the world. In particular, the ability to obtain and upgrade FOSS without licensing fees has proven to be beneficial to users in these regions as this makes information and communications technology (ICT) more affordable for them. With the publication of this compilation, it is hoped that there will be greater awareness of the ability of FOSS to empower and help poorer and less developed communities.

A new version of the free NOSI primer “Choosing and Using Free and Open Source Software: A Primer for Nonprofits” has been released. This is a no-nonsense, easy to read report that helps nonprofits understand what free and open source software (FOSS) is, what options are available for their organizations, and how they can access support for using FOSS. The primer includes all of the basics, and also discusses how to look at TCO and strategic value in making decisions about FOSS. There are many case studies describing the use of various FOSS applications in the nonprofit sector. It also includes a live feed via API from Social Source Commons of a particular set of 5 FOSS toolboxes: software for the server, for the web, and for the three flavors of desktops, Windows, Mac and Linux. You can read this guide on the web or download it in PDF. NOSI is looking forward to your feedback and contributions; create an account on the NOSI site to comment on the primer.

Tech@State will explore Open Source at its event on Feb. 11. That includes subjects like:

  • Open Source vs Government Culture: Creating Change
  • Open Architectures for Public Health
  • What’s the Status? Federal Open Source Acquisition and Policy
  • Open Source Software: Enabling National Security
  • Open Source To The Rescue: Disaster Response & Humanitarian Assistance
  • Open Cities and Open States
  • An Open Model for Social Change: Changing Philosophies About Development and Aid

 

And my own previous blogs on this subject:

the power of open source and volunteers (20 March 2009)

Will the donor dictate the Girl Scouts discussion? (4 March 2009)

I am not a techie & I use free, open source software (22 January 2009)

Free, GREAT alternative to MS Office? You bet! (18 June 2008)

Grandma can run Umbuntu Linux  (13 March 2008)

open source primer for nonprofits (22 October 2007)

NeoOffice & OpenOffice (5 May 2007)