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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Lynx

The first two links today are motivated through my participation in Emily's Non Profit Blog Exchange. For this round I've drawn two blogs - one new to me and one I commented on just last week.

Random Thoughts on Life and Work
I'd never run into this blog before - this is why the blog exchange is so useful! Random Thoughts is written by a non-profit development professional, so a lot of the material is fundraising and marketing oriented. But the writer, whose name is not given, seems to be quite astute technologically as well. Elegant template, too. Here's one I'll be adding to my blogroll.

Today's post shares a resource developed by Sally Funk at McConkey/Johnston International that discusses how to go about selecting donor management software in a rational way. It's a very nicely put together piece - I intend to get in touch with Sally immediately to see if I can share this with the prospects we meet who clearly need to sharpen the tools they take shopping with them.

Zen and the Art of Non-Profit Technology.
And here's the other blog I drew in this month's blog exchange. It's Michelle Murrain's nptech blog, subtitled "Conscious, minimalist, neo-luddite perspectives on nonprofit technology. " Her most recent post is a longish review of social media - blogging, podcasting, and videoblogging - vlogging, to the initiated - and what their implications are for non-profit managers. Michelle brings a great perspective to the discussion because while she obviously loves playing with - and philosphizing about - all this technology, she's quite clear that not every non-profit will serve its mission better by getting involved with every new gee-whiz approach.
So, now the question - should a nonprofit organization have a blog? Should staff of a nonprofit blog? Would this help: 1) gain donors? 2) communicate the message? 3) keep stakeholders informed? 4) provide collaborative opportunities within, and between organizations?
This bread and butter focus on mission is what should motivate all technological decisions in any organization.

More on Accessibility
I received an email about Wednesday's post on accessibility from Graeme Attkins, a U.K. based developer who writes a blog all about website accessibility issues. Take a look at this most recent post of his - on common myths about building accessible sites. He'd like us to be aware that there is more to designing an accessible site than using all the right technologies.

Activities versus Accomplishments
In the software world, we developers are always reminded by our marketing consultants not to try to sell features, but to sell benefits. The potential customer does not want to hear for example that you have a "communications log where each contact with a constituent can be tagged with concepts from a user-defined taxonomy". Instead, they want to know that they can "instantly put their hand on each conversation or email they had with a consitutent about a specific subject." I struggle to internalize this advice when touting our wares. Kivi Leroux Miller points out that non-profits can make the same mistake by selling their activites rather than their accomplishments - especially in annual reports.

And now for something completely different
Here's a site I'm afraid we'd have to give a big zero on the accessibility scale.



Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Website Accessibility

Web Accessibility standards are not new, but as the internet becomes more central to American life, the issue of website usability by people with disabilities is getting its day in court. My colleague Jack Dill, marketing director at the YMCA of Greater Omaha, sent me a link yesterday to an article in the Non-Profit Times discussing the lawsuit by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) against Target Corp. It's been a matter of debate whether the law requires such accessibility. The judge's decision let the case go forward, however, gives weight to the inclusion of websites as "places of public accomodation" under the ADA.
Meeting Internet accessibility standards in terms of the disabled takes on increased importance for all organizations with the possibility of a lawsuit now a real threat. Judge Patel’s basis for her decision to allow the suit to proceed -- that although Title III of the ADA doesn’t specifically talk about the Internet, the statute applies to the services of a place of public accommodation -- makes this so.
What is the standard? Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act sets forward requirements that must to be met by federal agencies acquiring data systems. This has become the de facto standard that all accessibility of Information Systems has been measured against. Section 508 has no authority over privately owned Web sites unless they are receiving federal monies. That's why this lawsuit, claiming that the ADA covers websites, is truly breaking new ground.

How would your site fare in an accessibility audit? has developed a comprehensive and comprehensible compliance checklist you might want to take a look at.
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Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Unbearable Stickiness of Information

A few days ago Susan Richardson raised the issue of Sticky Information in her "Joining Dots" blog.
On the one hand, we can be very lazy about acquiring information (Google trumps the local library for starters), spectacularly avoiding it when we don't like what it tells us. But on the other hand, when we find information that fits our expectations, it becomes very sticky and we are reluctant to let it go. I believe this has important consequences for information systems design.
Susan talks about the importance of bearing stickyness in mind when publishing information on organizational intranets or extranets. The importance of information as determined by staff and board may bear little relation to what is truly sticky to the readers.

The stickiness of information needs to guide the communication efforts of IT project managers - and I'm thinking of both in-house staff and external assistance providers. In a recent post I explored briefly Ciborra's ideas of hospitality and hostility towards information systems. I bet each user's position on this spectrum will determine to some extent what news and information about his organization's technology is the stickiest in his mind. The one or two temporary glitches in your big server migration may be remembered long after all the users are routinely enjoying all the benefits of the new platform.

The "Sticky" factor does not just relate to your management of "news", but to the management of the technology itself. It may be worth delaying an implementation to be absoultely sure that there are no glitches, even in low-risk situations where the cost of additional testing is greater than the hard costs of staff encoutering a problem. There is a significant though hard to measure return on any investment you make toward moving your staff the Hospitality pole, and a very sticky penalty if you fail to do so!
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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Zen and the Art of NonProfit Technology

I've been called a Luddite in these pages before (in response to Software Bricklaying) but this is the first time it's been meant as a compliment. Michelle Murraine gives me the title after quoting approvingly from my posting on "interruptive technologies" and the need to manage them to permit attention. But after all, her new blog, Zen and the Art of NonProfit Technology is subtitled "conscious, minimalist, neoluddite perspectives on nonprofit technology." So it's not really all that surprising. But what does Michelle mean by that term?

Michael Stein might not like being called a "neo-luddite", but my definition is anyone who asks questions that potentially makes us think about our assumptions about technology, and it's present course.

Add her to your nptech readling list!


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Hospitality and Hostility: The Work of Claudio Ciborra

I've just become acquainted with the work of the late Claudio Ciborra, thanks to a posting by my friend Adriano. Ciborra's research was in the social study of information and communication technology; Ciborra felt always that Information Technology must be understood as a social rather than scientific discipline. In Ciborra's approach, the user of a system -- the "actor" typically designated by a stick figure in standard system diagrams -- must be understood as a person and not a robot. IT must take into account his “moods, feelings, affectations and fundamental attunement with the situation.” Ciborra talks a lot about the users' hospitality and hostility toward technology, not as an extraneous annoyance the implementor needs to be aware of, but as a fundemental aspect of the IT context.

The anonymous IT director blogging at Today I Cried reminded me of this in several recent posts that chronicle a systems upgrade he's been in charge of. He has frequently devoted a blog to an email he's sent or a report he has drafted, reminding us that IT's communication with the community of users is as essential a part of any implementation as a new server or a software service pack.

Earlier in the summer I had this brought home to me again. The new IT director at one of our long-time clients had been eager to make some real improvements for his users. He called us in to meet with staff and discuss enhancements they wanted in the software. We then wrote these changes up and submitted them for his approval. Before we installed the upgrade, we walked through them all with him and a team of staff members he'd asked to be involved to verify that the new features worked as intended. Then we held a testing session where he and I verified that our enhancements and fixes really worked. Finally, he installed them on his production server.

Immediately, annoyed users complained to him that changes were being made without their knowledge for no reason, and that the enhancements were not at all what they wanted. For all his attempts to keep his staff involved, and our attempts to make sure we were on the same page with them, something had gone awry. Not that staff felt a new feature might need some tweaking - that's normal. But I was concerned that for all of his efforts to raise the level of staff involvement, the emotional tone was so poor. The moral for me: It's impossible to overestimate the level and quality of interaction between technologists and staff needed to keep users "hospitable" to the technology.
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additional reading:
wikipedia aricle on Cibbora.
review of his book "The Labyrinths of Information"


Thursday, September 07, 2006

IT Innovation

I just wanted to call your attention to this article - I thought it's approach was quite interesting: by focusing on the concept of "innovation", rather than on more typical ways of extracting user requirements from business units, you can mine your users for ideas that might really more your organization forward. It's just another example of asking the Right Question. Thanks to Jim Berkowitz of CRM Mastery for finding this article!
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Monday, September 04, 2006

Am I interrupting?

On Sunday the Washington Post ran an interesting article about how the Amish and Menonite communities in Southern Maryland are adapting their general distrust of technology to the real business need for telephone access. Some of these communities are building shared phone sheds, maybe 1000 feet from anyone's house, where the phone is available for use but too far away to become part of the rhythm of the household. "If you keep them at a distance they're not misused."

I thought about this article today as two items crossed my desk. One was an article about potential applications of text messaging, that the West Coast Michael Stein pointed out in his blog. The other was a six month old email I came across organizing my desktop today - it came to me from Marshall Kirkpatrik of TechCrunch, suggesting I try out a new service,, that sends you RSS feeds over IM as they are posted. (This service no longer seems to exist - at least I cannot find the website.)

Observing my response to these two items helped me understand the Amish response to the ubiquitous telephone. I'm never without my Treo Smartphone. But I wouldn't dream of answering it during dinner, and I often let it go to voice mail during the day. As my coworker Krista says - "the phone ringing is an invitation, not a command. " People talk about "disruptive" innovations - seems to me the mobile phone as a highly "interruptive" technology that needs to be controlled. Unlike email, for example, that you can check when you are ready to.

Michael and Marshall are trying to get us excited about even more interruptive tools. And I notice that I am in the minority who shut my IM and email notifier off for good parts of each day so I can concentrate. Or am I? Where do you folks fall on this spectrum? Are you eager for more tools to stay more closely in contact, or are you finding constant communication damages your ability to concentrate on the people and tasks of the moment?
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