Tag Archives: tech4good

volunteers scramble to preserve online data before government deletes it

Online volunteers aren’t always remote; hackathons and Wikipedia edit-a-thons bring together people in the same physical space, at the same time, to volunteer online, to code for good, to create content for the arts or under-represented groups or science topics on Wikipedia, and now, to preserve critical scientific data that is under threat by the new Presidential administration in the USA.

ProPublica found that the new administration edited an educational website for kids to significantly downplay the negative impacts of coal. The White House also removed all of the data from its portal of searchable federal data. The site previously included data on everything from budgets to climate change to LGBT issues. It now displays a message telling people to: “Check back soon for new data.” Staff under the new Secretary of Education have deactivated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) web site. You can still see it at http://www.archive.org. That archived version is packed with information for parents of children with disabilities. If you go to the new web site, however, you’ll see a greatly-scaled back web site, with a lot of information no longer available.

Groups are organizing through traditional social tools like Twitter and Facebook to help preserve information before it disappears and to retrieve information removed from official government web sites.

This 25 February 2017 story on the CNN web site, Why Trump’s election scares data scientists, talks about Data Refuge, which was founded after the election with a goal of tracking and safeguarding government data. The volunteer group of hackers, writers, scientists and students collects federal data about climate change in order to preserve the information and keep it publicly accessible. In the past three months, Data Refuge has hosted 17 events where hundreds of volunteers learn how to copy and publish research-quality data. The group, which grew out of the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, also monitors scientific research that depends on government funding because there’s concern this could dry up.

One platform, data.world, is a social network exclusively for people who want to find and collaborate on building data sets, much like how programming site GitHub lets coders collaborate on building apps. It already has tens of thousands of open government data sets available.

This 13 February 2017 Wired.com story, Diehard Coders Just Rescued NASA’s Earth Science Data, talks about volunteers coming together across the USA to preserve online scientific information and other info they fear will be permanently removed from government web sites under the Trump administration, and building systems to monitor ongoing changes to government websites. By the end of one day, one group had collectively loaded 8,404 NASA and DOE webpages onto the Internet Archive, effectively covering the entirety of NASA’s earth science efforts. They’d also built backdoors in to download 25 gigabytes from 101 public datasets, and were expecting even more to come in as scripts on some of the larger dataset finished running.

But there is still much work to do. “Climate change data is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Eric Kansa, an anthropologist who manages archaeological data archiving for the non-profit group Open Context. “There are a huge number of other datasets being threatened with cultural, historical, sociological information.” A panicked friend at the National Parks Service had tipped him off to a huge data portal that contains everything from park visitation stats to GIS boundaries to inventories of species.

Some of these efforts on Twitter:

@DataRescueBOS

@SeattleDataResQ (the photo above is from Seattle’s hackathon – used with permission)

Also see:

Advice for and examples of One(-ish) Day “Tech” Activities for Volunteers

Hackathons for good? That’s volunteering!

Where are the evaluations of hacksforgood/appsforgood?

Open Air Hackathon – Nonprofits Get Web Sites, Designers Get Accessibility Training

Wikipedia needs improvement re: volunteerism-related topics

vvbooklittle The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, by Susan J. Ellis and myself, is our attempt to document all the best practices of working with online volunteers, from the more than three decades that virtual volunteering has been happening. It’s available both in traditional print form and in digital version. Thanks to everyone who has purchased it so far! Bonus points if you can find the sci fi/fan girl references in the book…

The legacy of early tech4good initiatives

UNLogoThe Internet changes so quickly. As does our offline world. It’s amazing not only how quickly web sites go away, but how often entire initiatives are scrubbed online as well – even major United Nations initiatives that were covered extensively once-upon-a-time in major media. That’s a big problem if much of your professional work has been for and with online initiatives.

I’ve been working with organizations online since the 1990s, and many of those organizations are long gone. The initiatives I worked with may have gotten coverage from major media outlets and had huge names behind them back in the day – David Bowie, Bill Clinton, Bono, Nelson Mandela and more – and done a lot of great work, but when those initiatives go away, so do their web sites, all their research and all the records of their work – sometimes from the Internet Wayback Machine as well.

You may think outdated information is no longer useful and should go away. The reality is that “old” information is often vitally important. If anything, it often offers baseline data you can use to compare with data now, and together, it shows you, for instance, if the situation has improved for women online, or if the challenges for women getting online are the same now as they were in the 1990s, or if the promises made now regarding technology are the same unrealized promises from 20 or 30 years ago, and on and on. Having access to old information can also help you avoid previous missteps – or rediscover something that never should have gone away that you can use now.

If you can remember a defunct initiative’s web site address, you can often find archived versions of the site at archive.org, a site I use at least a few times a month. But if you can’t remember a defunct initiative’s URL, you may never be able to find deleted information again. And, as has already been noted, archive.org may not have the web site; sometimes, new owners of an organization ask for old web sites to be taken down, and the site complies.

Early in 2016, I started spending a lot of time updating various pages on Wikipedia related to subjects of greatest interest to me, including several defunct tech4good initiatives. Many times, when I’m trying to find information about a now-defunct volunteering or tech initiative, a Google or Bing search leads me to a page on Wikipedia, but the information isn’t always up-to-date or complete. When I can improve an entry, I do. But a big problem with Wikipedia is that someone can come along at any time and rewrite and delete all of your hard work – or even delete an entire page you have relied on for reference for modern research projects and proposals. I’ll keep updating Wikipedia, but I’ve realized there’s a need to create a more permanent archive of some of the volunteering and tech initiatives with which I’ve been associated, as well as those that I know did great work in the past.

So I have created the following pages on my own web site, to more permanently capture this information. Some pages are just summaries, while other sections are comprehensive. Whenever possible, I’ve included the original URLs, so that you can use archive.org to see complete web sites of these initiatives yourself, if they are there at all. I hope this info is helpful to those who worked on such initiatives in the past and would like to reference this work, as well as helpful to those doing research on the impact of nonprofit/NGO tech use, tech4good, ICT4D, volunteering and other initiatives.

I also hope these pages will be a caution to those who launching so-called disruptive technologies, or a tech tool or management approach the designers believe is entirely new and innovative, or a tool or approach with some pie-in-the-sky promises: always look at what’s been done before. You might be surprised to find that what you were promising now, or think you invented, was talked about many years ago:

United Nations Tech4Good / ICT4D Initiatives, a list of the various UN initiatives that have been launched since 2000 to promote the use of computers, feature phones, smart phones and various networked devices in development and humanitarian activities, to promote digital literacy and equitable access to the “information society,” and to bridge the digital divide. My goal in creating this page is to help researchers, as well as to remind current UN initiatives that much work regarding ICT4D has been done by various UN employees, consultants and volunteers for more than 15 years (and perhaps longer?).

United Nations Technology Service (UNITeS), a global volunteer initiative created by Kofi Annan in 2000. UNITeS both supported volunteers applying information and communications technologies for development (ICT4D) and promoted volunteerism as a fundamental element of successful ICT4D initiatives. It was administered by the UN Volunteers program, part of UNDP, and during the tenure of UNITeS, the UNV program helped place and/or support more than 300 volunteers applying ICT4D in more than 50 developing countries, including 28 Least Developed Countries (LDC), making it one of the largest volunteering in ICT4D initiatives. Part of the UNITeS mandate was to try to track all of the various tech volunteering initiatives and encourage them to share their best practices and challenges with each other. UNITeS was discontinued as an active program in 2005.

What Was NetAid?
A history of the NetAid initiative, part of which became the UN’s Online Volunteering service. This is what I was referring to specifically with all that name-dropping at the start of this blog.

Lessons from onlinevolunteering.org
Some key learnings from directing the UN’s Online Volunteering service from February 2001 to February 2005, when I directed the initiative, including support materials for those using the service to host online volunteers. This material, most of which I authored, was recently removed from the latest version of the OV service.

Tech Volunteer Groups / ICT4D Volunteers
A list of tech volunteering initiatives, some defunct, some still going strong, that recruit tech experts to volunteer their time support either local nonprofit organizations or NGOs in developing countries regarding computer hardware, software and Internet tech-related tasks.

The Virtual Volunteering Project
In 1995, a then-new nonprofit organization called Impact Online, based in Palo Alto, California, began promoting the idea of virtual volunteering, a phrase that was probably first used by one of Impact Online’s co-founders, Steve Glikbarg. In 1996, Impact Online received a grant from the James Irvine Foundation to launch an initiative to research the practice of virtual volunteering and to promote the practice to nonprofit organizations in the United States. This new initiative was dubbed the Virtual Volunteering Project, and the Web site was launched in early 1997. After one year, the Virtual Volunteering Project moved to the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and Impact Online became VolunteerMatch. I directed the project from December 1996 through January 2001, when I left for the UN; the project was then discontinued. This is an archive of the Virtual Volunteering Project web site just before I left.

Early History of Nonprofits & the Internet
The Internet has always been about people and organizations networking with each other, sharing ideas and comments, and collaborating online. It has always been interactive and dynamic. And there were many nonprofit organizations who “got” it early — earlier than many for-profit companies. So I’ve attempted to set the record straight: I’ve prepared a web page that talks about the early history of nonprofits and the Internet. It focuses on 1995 and previous years. It talks a little about what nonprofits were using the cyberspace for as well at that time and lists the names of key people and organizations who helped get nonprofit organizations using the Internet in substantial numbers in 1995 and before. Edits and additions are welcomed.

Also see:

Incredibly Sad News re Gary Chapman Internet Pioneer

This article from the Nonprofit Quarterly about nonprofits losing critical archives as tech changes rapidly. In the article, the Atlantic is quoted:

Digital space is finite and expensive. Digitally stored data can become corrupted and decay as electrical charges used to encode information into binary bits leak out over time, altering the contents. And any enduring information could be lost if the software to access it becomes obsolete. Or a potent, well-timed coronal mass ejection could cause irreparable damage to electronic systems.

Facebook use to organize Women’s Marches: lessons learned

womensmarchThe women’s marches on Saturday, January 21, 2017, may have been the largest single day of marches in US history. Somewhere between 3.3 million and 4.6 million marched in cities across the USA, according to political scientists from the Universities of Connecticut and Denver, who are compiling a mammoth spreadsheet listing turnouts, from the roughly half a million that demonstrated in Washington to the single protester who picketed Show Low, Arizona. There were also marches around the world.

Facebook was an essential tool in organizing women’s marches all over the USA. Most everyone I know personally who was a part of a march got their information from a Facebook group set up specifically for their city’s demonstration.

I joined two of the online groups, for Portland, Oregon and for Washington, DC, and it was fascinating to watch how the groups were used. Some things I learned observing the online organizing:

  1. March organizers realized that they needed a web site or public google doc associated with the group, because group discussions quickly became unwieldy – there needed to a place to find all of the essential information, without having to scroll through what seemed an endless stream of Facebook group messages. It also mean that people that were not on Facebook could access the basic information.
  2. Constant facilitation and moderation were essential. FAQs are great and absolutely necessary, but there will always be people that don’t read them and ask the same questions over and over. Also, a quick, even immediate, response to rumors and misinformation was essential, and it took more than just one post to counter such.
  3. Rumors and misinformation were posted *regularly*. There were people posting that march permits were denied, that the marches were canceled, that the starting point had changed, that bus parking was being denied, that mass transit was going to be canceled that day, and on and on. Not sure if it was people just thinking/wondering out loud (many posts began with “I heard from someone that…”), if it was individuals trying deliberately to disrupt, or if it was people part of an organized effort to disrupt.
  4. Constant updates, often several times a day, were essential, particularly in showing response to criticism and questions.
  5. Facebook created a written record of the behavior of organizers. If they made a misstep, it was there for all to see. If they did things right, it was there for all to see. It was forced transparency for organizers.
  6. Deletion of critical comments was often NOT a good strategy. In November, Portland, Oregon March group moderators began deleting comments, even entire threads of conversation, that they deemed as critical of the march, such as those by people that felt the march was too focused on the experiences of white women, and did not address the unique challenges and perspectives of other women. Many people didn’t just want inclusiveness; they wanted specific statements regarding the particular challenges of black women, Latino women, Asian women, and transgendered people. Deleting those criticisms made people angrier. At one point, major allies such as Planned Parenthood and the NAACP Portland chapter decided they wouldn’t participate. Constance Van Flandern, an artist and activist in Eugene who was the Oregon’s official liaison to the national Women’s March on Washington, said in this article, “These women were overwhelmed by people coming to their Facebook page and asking about issues of diversity. It was just delete, delete, delete.” So Van Flandern started a new Facebook group for the march and invited nine women who had been complaining to her about the lack of inclusion on the other page to join. The page quickly replaced what had been the official page, and the march was saved – in fact, at 100,000, it was the largest march in Portland’s history.
  7. These marches weren’t at the initiative of paid staff at large organizations; they were started at the grassroots level, and powered by independent, spontaneous volunteers, who took on high responsibility roles and recruited and managed other volunteers, mostly through Facebook. And by all accounts, they managed brilliantly – not perfectly, but show me an event managed perfectly by paid staff! I also think their organization and popularity caught a lot of traditional women-focused organizations off guard, and they had to play catch-up. Often, grassroots folks are far ahead of traditional groups in taking a stand – and I think this is going to happen more because Facebook makes it so easy for any group to start getting its message out.
  8. Facebook played a significant role in getting the word out about these marches. But the reason these marches were so well attended, far exceeding predictions in terms of crowd size all over the USA, including DC and Portland, wasn’t just because people knew about the marches. I hope people don’t start thinking all they need is a Facebook group to get lots of people to attend a march.

What lessons did you learn in watching Facebook be used as the primary organizing tool for the women’s marches? Share in the comments below.

January 30, 2017 update: New York Times article, The Alt-Majority: How Social Networks Empowered Mass Protests Against Trump.

vvbooklittle The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, by Susan J. Ellis and myself, is our attempt to document the best practices over the more than three decades virtual volunteering has been happening, in a comprehensive, detailed way, so that the collective knowledge can be used with the latest digital engagement initiatives to help people volunteer, advocate for causes they care about, connect with communities and make a difference. It’s a tool primarily for organizations, but there’s also information for online volunteers themselves. It’s available both in traditional print form and in digital version. Bonus points if you can find the sci fi/fan girl references in the book…

Also see:

Lessons on effective, valuable online communities – from the 1990s

I’ve been researching updates for my page A Brief Review of the Early History of Nonprofits and the Internet (before 1996). I started the page a few years ago because I worried that the pivotal role that nonprofits played in the early days of electronic networks is overlooked, and because so many people claiming to be starting something new regarding the Internet for nonprofits are really recycling and renaming ideas from decades ago. As I revisited resources I already knew about and found new ones, it reminded me yet again of how much great stuff was written even 25 years ago or more about the potential of the Internet for a force for good, and how much of the advice from then is still valid.

An example of what a First Class online community looked like.

An example of what a First Class online community looked like (I wish I could show you what CItyNet, or any of the Virtual Valley communities, or BMUG, looked like, but there doesn’t seem to be any screen captures of them online).

One of my favorite early resources is from 1993; written by Steve Cisler, then of Apple Computers, “Community Computer Networks: Building Electronic Greenbelts” notes that, “On a local level, thousands of electronic bulletin boards have been started by dedicated individual hobbyists, small business people, non-profits, corporations, federal agencies, other governments and educational institutions.” And Cisler noted the role of volunteers in creating and sustaining these online communities – and that means online volunteers. Back then, Free-nets and community networks were all the rage among the small number of advocates for Internet use by everyday citizens, like Virtual Valley Community Network, a series of community bulletin boards via FirstClass and serving cities in Silicon Valley, California by San Jose-based Metro Newspapers, the most popular being Cupertino’s CityNet. I was involved in CityNet, just as a user, as well as Virtual Valley and Mac-focused online bulletin boards back in the early 1990s, when I was living in San José – I was much more excited by them than the World Wide Web, which, to me, was just a series of online brochures.

In May 1994, Apple Inc. and the nonprofit Morino Institute held the Ties That Bind Conference on Building Community Networks, at Apple HQ in Cupertino, California. It was about the potential of communities online that “make a difference” and “drive positive, sustaining social change.” It defined such communities as everything from neighborhoods to dispersed people with something in common, like a health concern, or caregiving. At that 1994 Silicon Valley conference, the Morino Institute presented a document called Assessment and Evolution of Community Networking. The document opens with a letter published in the newsletter of the Cleveland chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association:

“Every time I do get on Free-Net, I need some kind of help, and when I leave I have truly received the help I need. … I want you to know that without Free-Net I would be lost. … I don’t worry, I am not afraid, I have Free-Net and my Computer Family of loving and caring friends.”

He’s talking about online volunteers – people caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s and donating their time and knowledge to others online. Is this the earliest heartfelt statement on record by someone that has benefitted on an emotional and psychological level from the efforts of online volunteers? It’s the earliest I’ve found – though virtual volunteering is a practice as old as the Internet, which means it began in the 1970s. Regardless, the statement well represents the potential of virtual volunteering – a potential thousands of organizations and their clients have realized.

I also found this San Jose Mercury News article in 1995 noting the lack of public interest at the time regarding the Cupertino CityNet system allowing users to message their elected officials. An excerpt:

Let the record show that history was made, but few took note.

Cupertino this week became the first city in the nation to allow people to communicate with the city council from home via computer during meetings. The results: Five notes saying, “This is a great idea,” and another, in response to a comment jokingly made by Councilman John Bautista, informing the council that people who commute by bicycle do obey traffic signals.

Although just a handful of residents sent messages, city officials say they have great hopes for the future of interactive computer access to the city council.

Doesn’t sound promising, in the heart of Silicon Valley, for this Internet thing… and yet, less than three years after this article was published, I was directing the Virtual Volunteering Project and abandoning my idea of listing every nonprofit, community or government endeavor involving online volunteers because there were already way too many to count.

My search this time to update my page uncovered a resource I hadn’t seen before: Janice Morgan’s 1997 Master’s Thesis, “Community ties and a community network : Cupertino’s computer-mediated Citynet“. I had forgotten that many these networks were strongly associated with local newspapers, even sponsored by such, until I started reading Morgan’s paper. Media companies started abandoning their relationships with these networks around the time her paper was published. You have to wonder if newspapers could have remained relevant with new generations had they kept their involvement in these communities instead of walking away.

Back in the 1990s, in addition to CityNet and other bulletin boards, I was also heavily involved in USENET newsgroups. These were worldwide distributed discussions that weren’t “closed gardens” like Facebook or Twitter – you didn’t have to join a particular network and fill out lots of information about yourself in order to see messages and participate. They weren’t even based on the World Wide Web. Rather, you just used a free tool to access newsgroups, found a discussion in which you were interested and jumped in! The one I was most involved with was soc.org.nonprofit, which was for the discussion of nonprofit organizations. soc.org.nonprofit, a USENET newsgroup that was also available by email subscription (and called USNONPROFIT-L via email). I joined shortly after it was started in 1994 by Michael Chui, then of Indiana University. I made friends and colleagues on that community, and others, that I still have to this day, and my involvement lead to all of my employment for the rest of the 20th century – not even kidding.

The sense of fraternity I got from those city-based First Class bulletin boards and USENET back in the day is missing from most online communities today. As I revisited these documents, I was reminded of this yet again. Social media, with its extensive registration and user information demands, focus on profits and requirements that users have either the most advanced hardware and software, even a special app for each platform, has taken that away.

Also, Assessment and Evolution of Community Networking presents 10 suggestions as critical to transitioning community networks to “a higher role and significance.” The suggestions are things that so many online startups, nonprofit or for-profit, have, sadly, ignored. Among them:

We urge you to consider relevance. We suggest gaining a better understanding of the people and institutions to be served and of the institutions and services to be involved. Gain an understanding of what needs are going unmet — at home, in families, in the workplace, for the unemployed, in the government, social services, and so on. The well-worn cliche, “if you build it, they will come,” is ineffective relative to the needs of community.

That statement is as relevant now as it was in 1994, and NOT just for community networks. I wish every person who wrote me about their fabulous new idea for a start-up nonprofit that will somehow involve tech4good or digital volunteers would have that paragraph in mind as they pitch their idea to me.

If you have never looked at documents from the 80s or 90s about online communities and the promise of the Internet as a tool for building more awareness regarding various causes, improving citizen engagement and participation, helping nonprofits, and driving positive, sustaining social change, you really should: you will be amazed at how early people were seeing the potential of the Internet for good, and how much we have yet to realize.

vvbooklittleAnd, as always, as I read these articles, research and case studies from years past, it all yet again confirms what Susan Ellis and I promote in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, and what I see being promoted many years later by the very latest digital engagement initiatives and “hot” new technologies meant to help people volunteer, advocate for causes they care about, connect with communities and make a difference. Tools come and go – but certain community engagement principles never change.

Updated: research regarding virtual volunteering

For the first time in a year, I’ve updated, on the virtual volunteering wiki, a compilation of research and evaluation reports regarding virtual volunteering, including studies on the various different activities that are a part of online volunteering such as online activism, online civic engagement, online mentoring, microvolunteering, or crowd-sourcing, etc. These are not opinion or PR pieces – these provide hard data, case studies, etc.

When I first started researching virtual volunteering, back in the 1990s, there were no academic studies of virtual volunteering, that I could find. Now, it’s becoming a robust field of study. However, note that many research articles and case studies I have identified don’t use phrases like virtual volunteering, or even volunteers – they talk about unpaid online moderators, or social media activists, and other phrases. It can make researching research about working with online volunteers difficult! If you have any additions for this list, at any time, please feel free to submit in the comments.

Note that not all articles I’ve listed have links – many of the research papers are behind paywalls. If you want access, university libraries and large public libraries might be able to help you, but you will have to go onsite for access.or research date order.

vvbooklittleMy take away as I read these academic articles and case studies: so much of what they say confirms what Susan Ellis and I promote in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook.

Snapchat’s Potential Power for Social Good – with REAL examples

snapchatThe vast majority of nonprofits, NGOs and community-minded government programs do not have the staff nor the expertise to use every social media tool out there, or even most of the most-popular tools, especially with so many funders refusing to fund “overhead.” That means these mission-based programs are often late adopters when it comes to social media tools – it’s a wait-and-see-if-this-will-stick-around attitude.

During workshops I’ve lead in the last 12 months, I have been getting asked a lot about SnapChat. If you don’t know, SnapChat is a phone-based app that uses photos or videos, with text, to create its messages to an account’s subscribers; you have a fleeting moment to captivate your audience, because 10 seconds after a user opens the message, it disappears. Nonprofits, government agencies and other mission-based folks have asked me if I think it’s worth their time to use to get a message out. My answer is always, “it depends.” IMO, it depends on if you have a program about which you really, really want and need to reach tech-savvy young people. But to work, the messages have to be specifically targeted to that audience and platform (just 12% of SnapChats millions of users in the U.S. are 35 to 54, though they company says that demographic is growing). In other words, you can’t just repurpose what you’re posting to Facebook or Twitter.

Starting in 2013, every few months, there’s an article touting the possibilities of Snapchat for nonprofits – the latest is this article on Snapchat’s “Power for Social Good”. IMO, most of the articles, even this latest one, are just hype – yes, I’m sure everyone is talking about SnapChat at the big Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas this year. Yes, 90% of Snapchat followers are now consuming the content, but that was a similar number for Facebook or Twitter in the early days – it will plummet as more people use it, as more PARENTS use it, as people subscribe to more and more users, etc.

Still, given that Snapchat isn’t yet saturated with advertising (the company is still working on an ad model), and that it has an excellent viewer rate (around 90% of messages are viewed by subscribers), and that millions of young people are using it, the platform has promise, at least this year, and maybe for another year or two, as an effective outreach tool for people under 35 in particular.

Most articles about Snapchat use by mission-based entities are about its potential, not about how it’s actually being used by nonprofit, NGOs, government agencies, schools, etc. So, let’s look at three REAL examples of mission-based organizations doing something with SnapChat that made it worth their time (and note, these actual examples were REALLY hard to find):

Tenovus, a Welsh charity helping people with cancer, used Snapchat to generate media coverage for Volunteers’ Week in the UK. The charity teamed up with WalesOnline and asked supporters to take a #selflessie – a selfie of them doing something selfless – and send it to the charity and WalesOnline via Snapchat. The response was, apparently, excellent – but it would be interesting to know how many of these young people had perceptions changed about cancer, how many became volunteers for the cause, etc.

DoSomething.org is one of the largest nonprofits for teens and young adults in the USA, connecting 13-to-25 year olds to a wide variety of social causes and ideas of how to get involved. SnapChat users fall almost exactly within that age demographic. So, for instance, the organization ran a campaign in February called Love Letters, to encourage young people to make Valentine’s Day cards for homebound seniors, and to create excitement for the campaign, a staff member dressed up as Cupid and made a Snapchat story, using a series of photos with text, explaining that he was going to go out onto the streets of New York City and deliver Valentine’s Day cards, and he encouraged SnapChat followers to vote via text if he should deliver the cards by bike, ice skates or on foot in Central Park. The idea was that, if young people laughed at the photos and voted, they were more likely to make cards for seniors – though there’s no data on how many actually did so.

Save the Children has been using SnapChat since 2015. According to a thread I found on Facebook, “We have found we are getting HUGE engagement vs. other platforms (50% of our audience viewing our stories). We’ve used it for events like UNGA and our Gala, but find the best stories are those from the field where we are showing the children and families helped by our programs.” Save the Children exported their messages for their SnapChat photos that created a story about live in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp for Syrian refugees, so the messages wouldn’t disappear, and you can see this SnapChat campaign via Facebook. Unknown: were minds changed about refugees? Was there an increase in donations from young people because of this Snapchat use?

I still say “it depends” on whether or not a nonprofit should use Snapchat, but I will say that every nonprofit should be encouraging volunteers to use their social media channels, including Snapchat, if they are on it, to talk about and/or send pictures of themselves in action supporting a non-profit’s mission, like preparing food, cleaning up a trail, sitting at their computer while engaged in virtual volunteering, etc. But the organization needs to provide repeated guidance on this: volunteers need to always adhere to your organization’s social media policies regarding sharing photos online, they need to provide info on how their friends could also participate or get more information, etc.

A great way to involve young volunteers might be to invite them onsite to talk about how the nonprofit  might use Snapchat to promote a specific message, and how those young people could actually undertake the activities for this to happen; this isn’t so that the nonprofit doesn’t have to get paid staff to do it but, rather, because these volunteers actually might be the best people to lead this activity, better than paid staff, because the organization can involve young people in a very memorable way and in a leadership capacity, and in a way that might become a story in-and-of-itself for the media. Just be sure that screen-capturing is a part of the campaign, so you can preserve and review messages long after those messages disappear on Snapchat!

Even if SnapChat loses its shine in a year or two, your use of it won’t be time wasted; we live in an era where we must be much more nimble in crafting our messages for different online platforms. What you learn using SnapChat is going to help you use whatever takes its place as the shiny new popular kid in a year or two.

Update March 25: justgiving.com has an article called 7 charities that totally get Snapchat (no publication date given) and it highlights Do Something Snapchat activities (see above), as well as:

The organization Penny Appeal and World Champion Boxer Amir Khan’s Snapchat story of welcoming Syrian refugees as they landed on the Greek island of Lesbos, to create awareness about their plight.

Young Enterprise NI in the U.K., which uses Snapchat to provide young people with “bite-size” business tips and advice.

Royal National Lifeboat Institution, also in the U.K., which uses it to “have conversations with our supporters… to raise awareness of our lifesaving work.” The RNLI has used it to organize competitions, share coastal safety advice and tell stories of their volunteer lifeboat crew.

MuslimAid, a charity in the U.K. that says it uses it “as a key volunteer recruitment tool and as a hassle-free way of bringing their events to life.”

Brazilian environmental NGO OndAzul, which shared 10 second Nature Snapfacts with their followers. “Teens who opened their Snap would catch a fleeting glimpse of natural beauty being destroyed by man made hazards.”

The Danish branch of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) used Snapchat to emphasize the speed at which endangered species disappear. Each ad featured one of five endangered animals with the tagline ‘Don’t let this be my #LastSelfie’.

Update April 5: Beth Kanter has a new blog that adds a few more examples and links to some tutorials.

vvbooklittleI’ve read a lot about SnapChat, and the suggested practices talked about in the aforementioned case studies yet again confirms what Susan Ellis and I promote in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. Tools come and go, but certain community engagement principles never change, and our book can be used with the very latest digital engagement initiatives and “hot” new technologies meant to help people volunteer, advocate for causes they care about, connect with communities and make a difference.

Mobile Phones & Public Health – online course, March 28-April 22

Reminder: use the code “liberation” to get $295 course price.

TC309: mHealth – Mobile Phones for Public Health

March 28th-April 22nd 2016
 
Course Description

In 2016, the number of global mobile subscriptions will reach 8.5 billion — more than the number of people on this earth, and it took a little more than 20 years for that to happen. Yet at the same time, health systems around the world are struggling to:

  • Provide access to affordable healthcare for all
  • Treat infectious diseases such as Ebola, HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis
  • Address crippling maternal and child mortality rates in low-income countries
  • Manage non-communicable diseases like heart disease, cancer, and Diabetes
  • Tackle infrastructure and supply chain challenges in remote settings
  • Train frontline health workers to provide care to vulnerable populations

Increasingly, Ministries of Health, companies, NGOs, and various bilateral and multilateral donors are looking to mobile phones as part of a solution for responding to these challenges.

This four-week, online certificate course will focus on building mHealth skills that revolutionize approaches to patient care and management, point-of-care support, health education, remote monitoring, diagnostics, supply chain management & logistics and more.

A growing number of mHealth projects have been implemented across the world from Guatemala to Uganda, from India to Argentina – we will explore what has worked and what could be improved with each example, and invite participants to share their own experiences in managing ongoing projects.

Apply Now: https://www.techchange.org/online-courses/mhealth-mobile-phones-for-public-health/

Course Topics and Featured Tech
Week 1: Introduction to Mobile Phones for Public Health
Week 2: Strengthening Health Systems
Week 3: Citizen-Centered Health
Week 4: The Future of mHealth

Course Objectives

At the conclusion of the course, participants will be able to:

  • critically analyze both the opportunities and the pitfalls that emerge when working with mobile technology to improve public health outcomes
  • connect relevant development theories to the technological strategies and tools discussed in the course
  • manage specific mHealth software platforms and tools
  • design dynamic and effective strategies for using tools and platforms to improve mHealth efforts
  • become more confident using mobile technology to address public health challenges

Course Methodology

  • This course is delivered entirely online over a period of four weeks.
  • This course features several live interactive guest expert sessions each week with leading practitioners, software developers, academics, and donors.
  • Every live event is recorded and archived for you to watch later.
  • This course also features a unique hands-on learning environment with animated videos, technology demos, practical activities, networking events, office hours, participant presentations, immersive simulations, and more.
  • TechChange recommends budgeting a minimum commitment of 5-7 hours per week and scheduling time for the course around your existing obligations.
  • Participants will have access to all course content for at least 4 months after course completion so the material can be completed and revisited later.

Course Price

  • $295 if you use the discount code: “liberation”
  • $495 if application and payment is submitted by course start date
  • Group discount rates available. For more details, please contact us social@techchange.org.

Firsts… or almost

logoI didn’t invent virtual volunteering. I started involving online volunteers in 1995, and did a workshop that same year about it for what was then the Nonprofit Center of San Francisco (now Compasspoint), but I didn’t know it was called virtual volunteering, a term coined by Steve Glikbarg at what was then Impact Online (now VolunteerMatch), until more than a year later. I know, and frequently remind people, that online volunteers have been providing services to various causes since the Internet was invented, long before I got online in the 90s. But I was the first to try to identify elements of successful engagement of online volunteers, via the Virtual Volunteering Project, I think I was the first to do a workshop on the subject, even if I didn’t call it that, and I’m very proud of that.

I didn’t write the first paper on using handheld computer tech as a part of humanitarian, environmental or advocacy efforts – I wrote the second. At least I think it was second. It was published in October 2001 as a series of web pages when I worked at the UN, at a time when handheld tech was called personal digital assistants, or PDAs. People are shocked that the predecessor to the smartphone and cellphone was used to help address a variety of community, environmental and social issues before the turn of the century, that apps4good isn’t all that novel of an idea.

And I probably didn’t write the first papers on fan-based communities that come together because of a love of a particular movie, TV show, comic, actor, book or genre and, amid their socializing, also engage in volunteering. Those kinds of communities played a huge role in my learning how to communicate online with various age groups and people of very different backgrounds, which in turn greatly influenced how I worked with online volunteers. In fact, I can still see some influences of that experience in The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. But I stopped researching them in 1999. So I was quite thrilled to recently to find this paper, “The media festival volunteer: Connecting online and on-ground fan labor,” in my research to update a page on the Virtual Volunteering wiki that tracks research that’s been done regarding virtual volunteering. It’s a 2014 paper by Robert Moses Peaslee, Jessica El-Khoury, and Ashley Liles, and uses data gathered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, in September 2012. It is published on Transformative Works and Cultures, an online journal launched in 2009 that looks at various aspects of fan fiction (fan-created fiction inspired by their favorite movies, TV shows and books), comic book fandom, movie fandom, video game fandom, comic and fan conventions, and more.

It’s nice being a pioneer… though I don’t think my early contributions are much to brag about. But I do enjoy seeing things I thought were interesting back in the 90s finally getting the attention they deserve.

Also see

Early History of Nonprofits & the Internet.

Apps4Good movement is more than 15 years old

vvbooklittleThe Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, a book decades in the making, by Susan J. Ellis and myself. Tools come and go, but certain community engagement principles never change, and our book can be used with the very latest digital engagement initiatives and “hot” new technologies meant to help people volunteer, advocate for causes they care about, connect with communities and make a difference.

Fewer Pilots, More Scale: Making Digital Development Work

Back in September 2014, I starting whining about the lack of anything sustainable coming from most of the hackathons / hacks4good / apps4good I was seeing popping up all over in support of nonprofit organizations, government initiatives and various communities, in the USA and abroad. My whining culminated in this blog, where are the evaluations of hacksforgood / appsforgood?

I’m so pleased to see this outstanding blog (IMO) by Ann Mei Chang, Executive Director at U.S. Global Development Lab at USAID, which says, in part:

“despite the potential impact, distorted incentives encourage one-off, flashy pilots (many sourced through hackathons, contests, and PR opportunities), undermining the potential for sustainable and scalable digital solutions. In fact, the proliferation of duplicative and uncoordinated mobile health applications caused an overwhelmed Uganda Ministry of Health to call a moratorium on further efforts in 2012, to ensure a focus on interoperable and sustainable systems… (in developing countries, there is) a lack of relevant platforms and infrastructure (that) means that developers end up spending the vast majority of their time rebuilding similar components from scratch, ending up with less time and money to truly innovate. Too much time and effort is wasted on duplicative work like beneficiary registration and tracking, negotiating and integrating with mobile operators, and promotion and distribution. The result is one-off systems that are fragile, unintegrated, not designed to scale, and unsustainable.

“This cannot continue. The development community needs to invest in reusable systems and the collaboration necessary to build and use these systems. This will mean smarter solutions designed for scale and sustainability.”

Right on, Ann Mei Chang & USAID!

In addition, Ben Ramalingam’s recent Institute of Development Studies blog points out that responsible digital development must also consider the risks of unintended consequences, exaggerating existing inequities, security, and repression.

USAID helped draft the Principles for Digital Development, a set of best practices for building technology-enabled programs, starting with the user. The Principles have been endorsed by over 50 development organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Sida, UNICEF, WFP, and USAID. In February, USAID launched a report based on conversations with donors, implementing partners, and development practitioners to better understand how the Principles work in real-world contexts and how we can best integrate them into our organizations.

Also see:

 

UNICEF invites orgs to apply for funding for tech innovations to help children

global_logo_2013UNICEF is inviting technology organizations developing tech solutions with the potential to improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children to apply for funding from its recently launched Innovation Fund.

UNICEF Innovation Fund plans to invest in open source technologies by increasing children’s access to information, opportunity and choice. UNICEF identifies opportunities from countries around the world including some that may not see a lot of capital investment in technology start-ups. They are hoping to identify communities of problem-solvers and help them develop simple solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing children.

The fund focuses its investments on three portfolio areas:

  • Products for youth under 25 to address a range of needs including learning and youth participation;
  • Real-time information for decision-making; and
  • Infrastructure to increase access to services and information, including connectivity, power, finance, sensors and transport.

The projects must be open source and have a working prototype. They can involve developing a new technology, or expanding or improve upon a preexisting technology.

Key Dates

  • 1 February 2016: Launch of global Requests for Expressions of Interest
  • 26 February 2016: Closing date of the Requests for Expressions of Interest
  • Early-March 2016: Selected companies and institutions will be contacted and will receive a Request for Proposal
  • Mid-March 2016: Virtual or in-person pre-tender briefings with selected companies and institutions will be held
  • End-March 2016: Full technical and financial proposals are due from selected companies and institutions
  • Early-April: Contracts will be awarded to selected companies and institutions

More information about the challenge and how to submit an idea.

For more information about UNICEF’s work in innovation, visit: www.unicef.org/innovation and www.unicefstories.org

Follow on Twitter: @UNICEFinnovate

Also see this TechSoup thread about UNICEF’s Wearables for Good Challenge