Tag Archives: technology

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.

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 


Technology, the Internet & Social Work Practice: call for papers

This special issue of Advances in Social Work will explore the themes of changing technology and media and their impact on social work practice. Taking a broad stance on defining practice, articles may focus on any element of the practice landscape including: clinical work, social work administration, policy advocacy, community organizing, and others.

The use of technology in social work practice has risen dramatically over the past 10 years. Clinical interventions such as psychotherapy using telephones, interactive video, and the Internet are gaining in popularity (Parker-Oliver & Demiris, 2005). Additionally, new technology is revolutionizing policy practice in the United States, giving rise to new interventions collectively called electronic advocacy or online advocacy (FitzGerald & McNutt, 1997; McNutt & Boland, 1999). Both in the practice and policy arenas technological innovation is changing the way that social workers do business.

We are looking for manuscripts of up to 4,000 words (no more than 5,000 words including references) relating to any of the following themes:

  • The impact of mobile technologies on social work practice
  • Confidentiality in an age of open communication tools
  • Challenges and opportunities for using technology and communication tools to help clients
  • Accountability practices, data use, and management in human services agencies
  • Social networking’s impact on social work practice
  • Electronic advocacy
  • Digital community organizing
  • Ethical dilemmas that arise from use of technology in practice

The submission deadline is September 30, 2014. The issue is scheduled to appear in May or June, 2015. Authors should follow the guidelines for writing articles for Advances in Social Work which may be found here: Author Guidelines. Submitted manuscripts will be anonymously peer reviewed.

For more information, please contact:

William H. Barton, Editor, Advances in Social Work: wbarton@iupui.edu 


Guest Editors:

Lauri Goldkind, Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Social Service, Fordham University, New York, NY Goldkind@fordham.edu

JohnMcNutt,Professor, SchoolofPublicPolicy&Administration,Universityof Delaware, Newark, DE mcnuttjg@udel.edu

Enhancing Inclusion of Women & Girls In Information Society

Found this via Zunia: one of my favorite leads for publications and studies about issues relating to women’s empowerment in development countries and under-served areas:

Doubling Digital Opportunities: Enhancing the Inclusion of Women & Girls In the Information Society

This Report studies the role that ICTs and the Internet can play in advancing gender equality agendas, including equal access to new technologies by women and girls. It examines the central question of how access to the Internet and ICTs can help redress some of the inequalities women and girls face in their everyday lives, and whether inequalities in access to the Internet, and the types of content available online, are in fact reinforcing social attitudes towards women. Issues in fact extend far beyond basic access, including the availability of relevant content and the participation of women in public policy-making processes. The Report explores measures of inequality in access to ICTs, the importance of ICTs in educating and shaping the aspirations and hopes of the next generation of women and girls, and the implications of lack of access to ICTs by girls and women.

Also see: Women’s Access to Public Internet Centers in Transitional and Developing Countries (my resource)

Assessing the Flow of Tech Talent into Government & Civil Society

Assessing the Flow of Tech Talent into Government & Civil Society: An evaluation of the technology talent landscape shows a severe paucity of individuals with technical skills in computer science, data science, and the Internet or other information technology expertise in civil society and government. The report investigates broadly the health of the talent pipeline that connects individuals studying or working in information technology-related disciplines to careers in public sector and civil society institutions. Barriers to recruitment and retention of individuals with the requisite skills include compensation, a perceived inability to pursue groundbreaking work, and cultural aversion to innovation.

This report was written by Freedman Consulting, LLC, and was commissioned by the Ford Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Excerpt from the executive summary:

Technology now mediates a vast set of relationships, but the number of individuals who can understand, build, and work with these evolving technology tools and platforms remains relatively small… through the effective use of technology is among the greatest contemporary opportunities for the public sector.

Civil society faces a similar set of challenges and opportunities. Technology has emerged as a transformative tool for how non-governmental organizations are able to build movements, raise money, disseminate information, provide services, and generate conversation.

In addition, both government and civil society will play a crucial role in making decisions about how technology should be used across all sectors of contemporary society. This includes identifying opportunities to utilize technology as a solution, but it also involves a sophisticated and challenging set of conversations about limitations on the use of technology, whether by private or public institutions…

Recent examples illustrate in vivid detail both the complexity of these issues and their growing relevance. The launch of President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy initiative health care reform has been stymied by significant malfunctioning of HealthCare.Gov, the online portal intended to provide health insurance to millions of Americans… In particular, because HealthCare.Gov was built largely by private contractors, questions have emerged about whether government agencies employ enough individuals with the skills to knowledgeably manage outside vendors for extensive technology projects…

…deep questions remain about the ability for many areas of government and civil society to identify, cultivate, and retain individuals with the necessary skills for success in a world increasingly driven by information technology.

I like the report, upon first glance – but I missed anything about recommendations about how there must be a change in how FUNDERS think. Without a change in how funders think about paying for overhead at nonprofits and community initiatives and about how they pressure nonprofits to keep administrative costs low, the funding needed for the changes recommended in this report isn’t going to happen – and therefore the changes aren’t going to happen.

New report NOT by me re: microvolunteering

At long last, someone that is not me has conducted a fact-based, non-hype review of micro volunteering, and not just from the volunteers’ point of view, but from the volunteer-involving organizations point of view as well. Hurrah!

Published by the Institute for Volunteering Research and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), the report, The value of giving a little time Understanding the potential of micro-volunteering, is focused on United Kingdom-based efforts, but is applicable to other countries regarding what micro volunteering really looks like, and what it takes for it to be successful.

Do I agree with everything in the report? No. For instance, the writers don’t believe micro volunteering is episodic volunteering; I’m adamant that it is. The writers include offline activities within their definition of micro volunteering, something that is a very new way of thinking. But every researcher has to define the parameters of their study, and I respect how they’ve chosen to define the practice, even if I don’t agree with it 100%.

And is it micro volunteering, microvolunteering, or micro-volunteering? I just do whatever spell check tells me…

That said, it’s a good report and worth your time to read, particularly if you are skeptical of the idea of micro volunteering. My favorite part was part 6, “What are the challenges of micro- volunteering?” It’s the part of the report that breaks new ground, because (1) it admits that there ARE real challenges to creating micro tasks and involving volunteers in those tasks, something people promoting micro volunteering to date have been reluctant to admit, and (2) it offers a detailed list of those real challenges, and a start on how they might be addressed.

I have managed probably hundreds of online volunteers in micro volunteering projects – though it didn’t have a snazzy name for most of the years I did so. In September 2013, I blogged at TechSoup about what it’s like to manage its micro volunteering initiative, Donate Your Brain, pointing out just how much time and effort it takes to look for micro volunteering opportunities in relation to the TechSoup community forum. I’d like to see others that are creating micro volunteering tasks and supporting the volunteers in them do this as well: talk about what it REALLY takes!

I have to say that Table 3 in the report, “Are organisations experiencing the benefits of micro-volunteering?”, made me laugh out loud – it reads oh-so-much like the benefits of virtual volunteering for organizations that was written back in the 1990s!

Here’s more of my own recommendations regarding micro volunteering. And in January 2014, The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook will be published, and it includes practical guidelines on how to create micro tasks for volunteers, and how to support volunteers in those tasks. But more information, and voices, are needed! We need more, real research that answers these questions, in detail:

  • What does successful micro volunteering look like for an organization? I don’t mean just a list of tasks; how do they measure success? What measurable impact does engaging with volunteers in micro tasks look like, for the organization and those it serves?
  • How much time and other investment, in detail, is required by the organization to create successful micro volunteering that makes the investment of time and effort by the organization worth it?

Let’s hope that national institutes that study community engagement, as well as traditional volunteer centers, will, at last, embrace micro volunteering (and all virtual volunteering, for that matter) and start including it in their studies, workshops, publications and trainings.

With all that said, and as much as I really do like this report, the reality is that not every organization is going to be able to create micro tasks for micro volunteering. Just as not every organization can, or should, create opportunities for family volunteers, or other group volunteers. Not every task can be altered so that any volunteer can do it. Not every task can be done by episodic volunteers – sometimes, the best person for a task or role is a long-term volunteer who can give a substantial amount of time every month. Different tasks require different kinds of staffing. And all volunteering, including micro volunteering, takes real time – let’s NOT say it’s perfect for people that don’t have time to volunteer, because it DOES take real time, even if it’s just a few minutes.

The challenge isn’t creating micro tasks for volunteers; the much greater challenge is supporting those charged with supporting volunteers at organizations large and small with the resources they need to create all of these different avenues for volunteer engagement. Are you ready to fund and equip your manager of volunteers with the resources he or she needs to make this a reality?

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

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

Everything old is new again, & again

People watching TV and writing about it online with their friends at the same time?!. Breathless buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz!!!

Am I talking about the Super Bowl last weekend, and so many people live tweeting it? Or the last episode of 30 Rock last week? Or the Olympics last year?

No – I’m talking about something that’s been happening for at least 30 years.

I’m talking about Usenet, a worldwide Internet discussion system that started in the early 1980s. Usenet was not only the initial Internet community – in the 1980s and 1990s, it was THE place for many of the most important public developments in the commercial/public Internet: it’s where Tim Berners-Lee announced the launch of the World Wide Web, where Linus Torvalds announced the Linux project, and where the creation of the Mosaic web browser was announced (and which revolutionized the Web by turning it into a graphical medium, rather than just text-based).

It was also the place where there were discussion groups – called newsgroups – for everything imaginable: volunteer firefighting, accounting, classic cars, computer repair, tent camping, hiking with your dog, nonprofit management, college football teams – and, indeed, television shows.

Yes, as early as the 1980s, many thousands of people all over the USA were gathering online with friends to talk in realtime about what they were watching on TV. While I didn’t write online during the X-Files in the 1990s, I fully admit to running to my computer as soon as an episode was over, to read what everyone thought and to share my own reactions. Usenet TV and entertainment-related communities fascinated me so much at the time that I ended up writing about them at my day job: about how members of the online communities for the X-Files, Xena, and other entertainment-focused newsgroups engaged in online volunteering & various charitable activities. That was in 1999.

There’s nothing really new about people live tweeting what they are seeing on TV, except that more people are doing it than were on newsgroups and that it’s being done on Twitter now.

And I bring this up because I keep finding articles and research that claims online volunteering or microvolunteering is new. It’s not. Helping people via the Internet, in ways large and small, is a practice that’s more than 30 years old, and just-show-up volunteering without a long-term commitment, which until recently was called episodic volunteering (and I called online versions of it byte-sized volunteering back in the 1990s) has also been around for decades.

We’re not in uncharted territory regarding volunteering or any human interaction online – so let’s embrace our past, learn from it, and give the true innovators, the real pioneers, their due! Rebranding practices and approaches is fine, but let’s not deny our past in the process – there are some great learnings from back in the day that could really help us not so make many missteps online now!

Also see:

What did you learn today? Or this week?

Are you an employee, a consultant or a volunteer at/with a nonprofit, library, NGO, school, government agency, charity or other mission-based organization?

Then these questions are for you:

What did you learn today, or this week, or recently, about computer or Internet/networked tech while working with or for a that mission-based organization? Or some other thing you learned about tech that would be helpful to others? And per this learning, what else do you need to know?

It could be:

“I learned to do this cool thing with Outlook – I can now…”


“I learned that I really don’t like such-and-such feature on LinkedIn. Here’s why…”


“I learned that washing my LG 500 feature phone in the washing machine leads to it no longer working” (Yes, that’s me).

I would really love it if you would answer that question here on the TechSoup Community Forum.

Registration on TechSoup is required in order to respond, but registration is free. And by registering, you can participate in TechSoup community activities in the future! Come on, let’s hear from ya!

Share! Spout! Debate! Discuss!

You’re work or volunteer at nonprofit or an NGO or a government agency – some sort of mission-based organization. Or you want to.

Therefore, you have things to say, or ask, about the Internet, or computers, or smart phones, or any tech that plugs into those. YES, YOU DO!

There are some terrific threads on TechSoup awaiting your comments and questions, like:

GooglePlus – forcing users to use it?

UNV campaign: #actioncounts

Scheduling Volunteers for Therapeutic Riding Center

Library computer system needed for equipment reservations and checkout

Bohemian broadband & fossmaker culture

small nonprofit seeks affordable, reliable automated reminder call service

How to start a computer distribution program for low-income/needy people

Will Facebook kill your web-based online community?

Writing for the web

Which apps would people like?

what video conferencing tools have you really used.

Or start your own thread! You have things to say, to discuss, to share, to whine about when it comes to how you use the Internet, or computers, or smart phones, or any tech that plugs into those. YES, YOU DO!

You can also:

View the TechSoup community by subject matter/branch

View the TechSoup community by latest post