Tag Archives: tech4good

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!

Online volunteers link communities with donors, trainers & partners

From February 2001 to February 2005, I had the pleasure of directing the United Nations Online Volunteering service, based on Bonn, Germany at the UN Volunteers program, part of UNDP. Originally launched as a part of NetAid, the service is a platform for UN agencies, UN volunteers, independent NGOs, government community programs and other mission-based initiatives working in or for the developing world to recruit and involve online volunteers. I continue to read all updates about the service, on the lookout for emerging trends, new challenges and suggested practices.

Below are links to updates from UNV’s OV service blog in 2015, 2016 and 2017 that are great examples of how virtual volunteering is about so much more than just completing tasks, and how the value of volunteers – online or onsite – isn’t the amount of hours they give, or a monetary value for those hours.

I have to admit that the story about the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) engaging online volunteers was a pleasant surprise, given how reluctant they were to engage with online volunteers back in 2001 or so. And it’s also worth noting that most of the blogs are written by online volunteers:

Online volunteers link a community in Africa with donors, trainers and partners
17 July 2017
Lake Nokoué is on the southern coast of Benin in West Africa. It is a community threatened by pollution and deforestation, and is also affected by congestion from sediments and the traditional acadja fish farming practice. Online volunteers played a substantive role in mobilizing a grant of USD 40,000 from the GEF Small Grants Programme for the Benin NGO “Association des Propriétaires d’Acadja de la Commune de Sô Ava” (APACSO). They also helped identify an expert in aquaculture to deliver an onsite ten-day training in fish farming for youth, women and low income fishermen, funded by an NGO from Belgium. APACSO also received three partnership requests from local organizations.

Fostering food security in Brazil
28 October 2016
The Chamber of Agriculture of the São Paulo State government in Brazil tasked online volunteers with supporting a participatory agro-ecological project in urban and peri-urban areas of the municipality Álvaro de Carvalho. The project aims to engage around 300 beneficiary families in vegetable farming in public spaces to enhance rural development and food security.

Online volunteers lend their voice to the UNDP 2013 China National Development Report
06 October 2016
Two UN Online Volunteers collaborated with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in China to record the audio version of the China National Human Development Report 2013,Sustainable and Liveable Cities: Toward Ecological Civilization. The report explores the current urban transformation in China from the perspective of human development, and discusses the recent history of China’s cities, key challenges and projections for the future, including measures that could guide urbanisation towards the goal of liveable, sustainable cities. The audio-book adaptation is among the first signature UN publications made available in digital audio media. It serves audiences with different reading and learning preferences, and has helped publicize the report for a wider impact.

Online volunteers research new trends and global best practices in ICT innovation
14 August 2016
ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICT). ITU promotes the collaboration of the public and private sectors to develop global ICT networks and services. From March until September 2015, ITU engaged a team of seven UN Online Volunteers to research new trends and global best practices in ICT innovation. In the conference’s planning phase, the UN Online Volunteers mapped over 700 relevant initiatives undertaken by governments, universities and the private sector to promote ICT innovation hubs, clusters and parks in 115 countries.

Online volunteers worked to strengthen critical databases
20 March 2016
13 online volunteers worked on strengthening the UN Evaluation Group’s (UNEG) database of evaluation reports to improve the quality and use of evaluation across the UN System. The volunteers helped prepare brief descriptions of reports gathered from all UNEG members including the specialized agencies, funds, programmes and affiliated organizations. Online volunteers also collected meta-information used to classify and tag each report to make it searchable. By helping strengthen the database to improve the quality and use of evaluations, volunteers will be ultimately improving the effectiveness, efficiency and relevance of the UN’s performance. Also, online volunteers assisted in the development of a database of training providers for the International Association of Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP). The volunteers researched and listed training opportunities relevant to the humanitarian sector, and provided input to the development of new functionality in order to enhance the database.

Online Volunteers support the NGO Centre for Batwa Minorities
06 February 2016
Together with the Centre for Batwa Minorities (CBM), an NGO based in Kampala, Uganda, online volunteers from around the world helped advocate for the rights of the Batwa people and worked to empower communities and individuals of this ethnic minority in Uganda. More than 30 online volunteers worked on projects ranging from researching the human rights situation of ethnic minorities in Uganda, developing successful campaign concepts to protect the Batwa community, drafting proposals, managing and translating CBM’s website, to using social media to promote the objectives of the organization.

Volunteers worked together online and on the ground for a survey in Bangladesh
02 February 2016
The United Nations Volunteers programme in Bangladesh involved a team of more than 50 online volunteers to reach out to Bangladeshi people and add their voices to the MY World survey. Online volunteers translated the survey’s ballot card and other texts into Bangla. Volunteers on the ground disseminated the survey in many different regions of Bangladesh and talked to people about their development priorities to collect the data. The MY World survey assignment also brought together people of different backgrounds and geographical locations.

Volunteering online for climate change mitigation
14 January 2016
For more than two years, 13 UN Online Volunteers supported the Fundacion Desarollo y Ambiente (FUNDA) on a research project that analyzes, categorizes and maps types of vegetation and landscape to predict the effects of climate change. The volunteers’ created a database for types of vegetation and topography in the Caribbean, Orinoco and Páramo regions of Colombia, verifyied the species’ botanical names, georeferenced the information using Excel and ArcGIS, and mapped the correlation of vegetation, climate, and geomorphological processes. After training the volunteers on the research approach, FUNDA set up working groups as well as weekly Skype meetings for tracking the team’s progress and assigning new tasks.

vvbooklittleMy experience at the UN working with both online volunteers and NGOs around the world who were also working with such, or wanted to, greatly influenced the writing of The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. This book, co-written with Susan J. Ellis and myself, is our attempt to document all of 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. If you read the book, I would so appreciate it if you could write and post a review of it on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble web sites (you can write the same review on both sites).

Also see:

The Virtual Volunteering Wiki: a free resource featuring a curated list of news articles about virtual volunteering since 1996, an extensive list of examples of virtual volunteering activities, a list of myths about virtual volunteering, the history of virtual volunteering, a list of research and evaluations of virtual volunteering, a ist of online mentoring programs, and links to web sites and lists of offline publications related to virtual volunteering in languages in other than English.

Our LinkedIn Group for the discussion of virtual volunteering.

Safety in virtual volunteering

Virtual volunteering: it’s oh-so-personal

Why Do So Few Women Edit Wikipedia? Insights into virtual volunteering

Even if all your volunteers are “traditional”, you need to explore virtual volunteering

EU Aid Volunteers on track to include virtual volunteering

The future of virtual volunteering? Deeper relationships, higher impact

My favorite virtual volunteering event originates in… Poland

Blogs & articles re: virtual volunteering NOT by me

Fans of celebrities & virtual volunteering

virtual volunteering is probably happening at your org!

Incorporating virtual volunteering into a corporate employee volunteer program

Internet-mediated Volunteering in the EU (virtual volunteering)

Research on USA volunteerism excludes virtual volunteering

TechSoup webinar on how your web site can welcome EVERYONE

TechSoup webinar on how your web site can welcome EVERYONE
August 24, 2017 (Thursday), 11 am to noon Pacific Daylight Time

Join experts from Knowbility to learn how accessibility will expand your pool of potential clients, donors, volunteers, staff and other supporters, the message your organization sends when it commits to accessible web site and multi-media materials, and, no-cost practical tips on how you can immediately improve your website’s accessibility. This webinar will help your nonprofit, school, church, or library ensure that its website, podcasts and videos are accessible to anyone who visits such, including people with disabilities and people using assistive technologies.

We’ll cover:

  • Why online accessibility is critical and how to become an advocate for such within your organization
  • Steps for simple, immediate, no-cost activities you can do to improve your web site accessibility
  • Resources to help tech staff and volunteers make your site fully accessible, adhering to federal requirements
  • Information about OpenAIR – Accessibility Internet Rally

Register here (it’s free!)

Also see:

ICTs to reach & educate at-risk communities

Apps, social media, text messaging/SMS and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) are already playing a crucial role in educating people regarding public health issues, reaching marginalized communities and helping those that may be targets of harassment and discrimination. But in all of these tech4good initiatives, the importance of safety and security for those doing the outreach and those in the target audience is critical. People trying to promote a tech4good initiative do not want the technology to be used by hostile parties to identify, track and target people based on their health, lifestyle or beliefs.

For those interested in using ICTs to reach marginalized communities, or those interested in how to communicate vital information about topics that are frowned-upon in religiously conservative communities, the new publication Pioneering HIV services for and with men having sex with men in MENA: A case study about empowering and increasing access to quality HIV prevention, care and support to MSM in a hostile environment, is well worth your time to read. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded this project, and the 48-page publication was produced by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and co-authored by Tania Kisserli, Nathalie Likhite and Manuel Couffignal. The publication includes two pages on how ICTs help to reach hidden communities threatened by police raids and rising homophobia in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region – for instance, how applications such as Grindr that are frequently accessed by men having sex with men (MSM) in the MENA region and provide virtual venues for disseminating information on HIV prevention, treatment and support services.”

The publication includes two pages on how ICTs help to reach hidden communities threatened by police raids and rising homophobia in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region – for instance, how applications such as Grindr that are frequently accessed by men having sex with men (MSM) in the MENA region and provide virtual venues for disseminating information on HIV prevention, treatment and support services.”

This is from the report (note that this is with British spellings):

In 2015, the partners of the MENA programme implemented a pilot online peer outreach project to reach more MSM, in partnership with the South East Asian Foundation B-Change Technology.

In order to improve the understanding of the online habits and behaviours of MSM, two anonymous web surveys were launched online to collect information among MSM (living in Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia), recruited via Facebook and instant messaging channels. The first survey assessed technology use and included questions about mobile devices and tech-based sexual networking. The second survey collected further data on social media behaviours, with questions about using social networks, interpersonal communications, and negative experiences online. The results confirmed the penetration of internet and mobile technologies in urban centres, and highlighted the widespread use by MSM of mainstream social networks (predominantly Facebook) and global gay dating apps, especially in the evening. The predominant website for sexual networking was reported to be Planet Romeo; the predominant smartphone app for sexual networking was Grindr. The results also revealed that while MSM use smartphone instant messaging (SMS and Whatsapp mainly) to communicate and chat with friends, they tend to use the telephone when communicating with health providers. Sexual networking among this cohort demonstrated a preference for web-based methods versus offline (public space) networking. A significant proportion of negative experiences using social media or apps was also reported, in particular cases of breach of confidentiality online.

Based on these findings, the partners designed a pilot information and communications technology (ICT)-based intervention. Experienced peer educators created avatars representing different profiles of beneficiaries, collectively designed an online peer outreach intervention and developed the corresponding standard operating procedures and M&E framework. This was identified as the most feasible output based on existing resources and ICT experience. Building the capacity of community groups for this intervention would result in more effective use of popular social media platforms for MSM-peer outreach activities. Local trainings of ‘online peer educators’ were organised to strengthen digital security, content creation systems, online outreach procedures, conduct of peer educators online, and M&E framework to measure the outcomes towards the HIV continuum of care.

The trained ‘online peer educators’ created ‘virtual peer educators’ accounts/profiles and contacted MSM though internet and social media in their respective countries, mainly on Facebook, Whatsapp, Grindr, Hornet, Planet Romeo, Badoo, Tango and Babel, and mostly during evening and night shifts. The objective was to contact MSM not reached by the usual outreach in public spaces, and hence continue expanding the package of prevention services available to MSM. They provided interpersonal communications on HIV and STIs, disseminated IEC materials online, encouraged them to take an HIV test and referred them to prevention services provided by the partner organisations, as well as public health services in their country.

This test phase lasted from July to September 2015 in Agadir, Beirut, Tunis and Sousse. The results were promising; during the month of September 2015, the six online peer educators of ASCS in Agadir for instance reached 546 MSM via chat rooms, websites, apps and instant messaging. They referred 148 MSM for an HIV test and 86 MSM for an STI consultation. During this period ASCS noticed an increase of number of MSM visiting the association to collect condoms and lubricant; ASCS peer educators appreciated this new type of outreach work compared to street outreach, the latter being uneasy due to growing harassment of police. Some challenges that peer educators faced online were similar to ‘traditional’ or face-to-face outreach work: high interest in sexual health, initially reluctance to visit association or uptake services, or to change risk behaviour.

“The virtual prevention pilot project has allowed us to reach a significant number of MSM, in particular those who remain hidden and aren’t reached through our outreach activities in the streets.” — peer educator and university student in Morocco

Some of the lessons learned from this pilot project:

  • Overall high acceptability: many MSM are eager to engage in an online conversation about HIV and STI prevention, rights and services; virtual spaces are perceived as safe to talk freely about sexual practices with no face-to-face bias; however, a significant proportion of MSM contacted online refused any discussion relating to sexual health and HIV.
  • Strong operational procedures and human resource capacity are required to maintain a high quality ICT tool that maintains privacy and confidentiality; consequently, organisational ICT capacity needs to be assessed and strengthened before initiating an online prevention project.
  • Monitoring and evaluation challenges: it is not easy to measure service use or user engagement online or to clearly show the link between use of ICT and uptake of services; monitoring of referral pathways between outreach CSOs and friendly providers needs to be aligned to track referral from virtual spaces to services.

One thing I do wonder: were any of these people involve volunteers?

Also see:

Short-term deployments with Peace Corps & UNV

From February 2001 to February 2005, I worked at the headquarters of United Nations Volunteers, in Bonn, Germany. Sometimes, people outside the UN would say, upon learning where I worked, “Oh, you’re just a volunteer?”

My UNV colleagues would get this comment too, and would visibly bristle at the idea that anyone would think they were a volunteer!  They would quickly assure the person that they were not merely a volunteer – they were, in fact, a fully-paid staff person with a UNDP contract!

By contrast, here’s how I would answer such a comment:

Oh, no, I’m not a UN Volunteer. I don’t think I’m qualified to be a UN Volunteer. I would probably be turned away if I applied. International UN Volunteers are experts in their professional field, highly skilled and experienced. I’m just an employee at headquarters, and my role is to support UN volunteers out in the field, doing amazing things.

A UNV HQ colleague was with me once when I said that, and her eyes became huge when she heard my response. Later, she told me she’d never thought of UN Volunteers the way I had talked about them, and that it had never dawned her that, in fact, maybe she wasn’t qualified to be a UN Volunteer either.

I know of two UNV HQ staff, both my colleagues and dear friends, who decided to apply to become international UN Volunteers themselves, were accepted into the UNV roster, and were deployed for two years to a developing country. Both of these colleagues worked in ICT. After those in-the-field experiences, they went on to be employees at other UN agencies, and I thought it was a shame UNV hadn’t worked hard to entice them back to HQ, as they would have brought a much-needed perspective to headquarters.

As I was leaving UNV HQ, where I managed the UN Online Volunteering service and helped manage the United Nations Information Technology Services (UNITeS), I decided to apply as an international UNV myself. I decided that maybe I had acquired the qualifications at last to be a UNV. I was delighted when I was accepted into the UNV roster – the UNV staff that decided which applications to accept were in Cyprus, I had no personal relationship with them at all, and there was no policy (and still isn’t) on automatically accepting UNDP staff as UN Volunteers. I was available only for six-month assignments, however, and those were, and are, few and far between. I interviewed for two such assignments – and didn’t get either. Which should just go to show you how competitive the process to be a UNV is. I eventually got a six-month UNDP gig in Afghanistan, but it was as a consultant, not a UN Volunteer.

Now, at this time in my life, I can no longer do a full six-month assignment, so I doubt I’ll ever deploy as a UNV. When you read about me going to abroad for a UN gig now, it’s for less than four months – like in Ukraine – and, again, it’s as a UNDP contractor (which I love – great colleagues, fascinating work and the pay is good).

But there is this part of me that still really wants to go abroad as a volunteer.

So, for more than two years, I’ve been watching listings at the Peace Corps Response web site. This is a program by the Peace Corps that places highly-skilled volunteers in short-term assignments abroad, from four to 12 months. It’s open to US citizens. I’ve been looking for an appropriate four-month gig and, at long last, I’ve applied for a position. I think it fits my expertise perfectly. But I also know that this is a highly-competitive program, and I may not even make the interview round. Still, it was fascinating to go through part of the Peace Corps application process. I’ve also been a reference for a friend that applied for the regular Peace Corps, so I’ve seen that part of the online process as well.

Fingers crossed!

One last note: the Peace Corps Response program, the entire Peace Corps program, and all United States Agency for International Development (USAID), are under threat of severe cuts by the current Presidential administration in the USA, as well as by current Congressional leadership. I encourage you to write your US Congressional Representative, your US Senators, national media and your local media, and let them know what you think of these proposed cuts.

Also see:

 

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:

Building a team culture among remote workers: yoga, cocktails & games

Workforce.com has an outstanding article from February of this year, This Party’s Electric: Culture, Cocktails and Remote Co-workers, about some creative, effective ways companies have created a sense of team among remote workers. This article is about paid employees, but these practices would also work for those engaging online volunteers, in many scenarios.

The article notes that:

  • All 70 of the employees at FlexJobs, a telecommuting job service, work virtually, and many employees have never met in the same room, in-person. To build team culture, the FlexJobs leadership team uses collaboration technology to come up with fun ways to help employees develop relationships outside of work, including a twice-monthly virtual yoga class over Skype run by an employee with a yoga certification, and a trivia-themed happy hour using Sococo, an online virtual workplace, where employee teams gather in virtual rooms to brainstorm answers to questions posted by the CEO. “You would be surprised by how well it all works,” said Carol Cochran, FlexJob’s director of people and culture.
  • Katie Evans, senior communications manager at Upwork, an online talent marketplace formerly known as Elance-oDesk, created a “get to know you” exercise, and had remote employees submit three facts about themselves. She shared the facts anonymously with the team, then employees met using Google Hangouts video to guess which facts went with which person. “I thought it would last for 30 minutes, but it lasted two hours,” she said. “Everyone had a lot of fun.” The party made her realize that you don’t need to be live and in person to build company morale, and you don’t need to use complicated technology to make virtual celebrations fun. “The value is in the face time and storytelling, not the platform,” she said. Now she hosts quarterly all-company parties and smaller teams have begun using collaboration tools for team coffees and weekly “rocks and roses” meetings where everyone shares their best and worst moment of the week.

The key in these and other examples from the article is that these remote workers do already know each other, to a degree, through work – they work together already, they’ve interacted enough to know each other’s names and roles.

vvbooklittleFor more advice on working with remote volunteers, or using the Internet to support and involve volunteers, check out The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. Tools come and go – but certain community engagement principles never change, as the aforementioned Workforce.com article confirms. Successfully working with people remotely is a very human endeavor that people who are amiable, understanding and thoughtful tend to excel in.

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.