Thursday, January 11, 2007

ICT for Collaboration in Voluntary and Community Sector

Looks interesting --> I-See-T final report:
The final report for the I-See-T project is now available to download as an Adobe PDF. It is also available to read and comment on online in the style of the dotOrganize report: Online Technology for Social Change
The just-completed project's purpose was:
A year long project was undertaken to explore Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for collaboration in the voluntary and community sector (VCS) in the UK. Using action research principals and a participatory approach the following questions were addressed:

* What do we mean by ICT for collaboration (blog, wikis, shared database, forums, extranets, diaries etc?)
* Why is ICT not used for collaboration?
* What are the barriers to ICT use for collaboration?
* How can we overcome those barriers?
The findings, with my emphasis:
* With high-speed broadband connections, relatively cheap hardware and minimal software required, it is possible to collaborate using ICT more easily then ever and it is happening in the VCS

* Finding the right tool for the right job requires an awareness of what is available and a way of evaluating the tool and seeing how it fits into an organisation’s (ICT) strategy – these areas are both lacking in the VCS

* The application of some ICT tools can be misunderstood and the rapid change in types of new tools can be a barrier to uptake

* Although the tools may be free or low-cost, significant investment in time and animation of other users are still needed to make effective use of ICT for collaboration

* Case studies, examples, demonstrations and games all help overcome initial fears and lack of knowledge of users in the VCS

* Individual, organisational and technical factors influence collaboration using ICT
As I read the findings, the first thing that strikes me is that this report talks about the need for technology stewardship. Who are the people in your community or organization who have an interest in and sufficient technology skills to help you scan, select, implement technology and, very importantly, steward technology in use? This is the intersection between technology and practice which feels so natural for early adopters, but may be a barrier for the rest of us. (This is echoed in their comment about the challenges of rapid change.) Choice alone is overwhelming, and practices are not always obvious. In fact, people are inventing great new practices every day, but their spread seems slow.

Second, is their noting the "significant investment in time and animation." This is a direct follow-on to the stewardship of technology practices, into the stewardship of group processes. This is not to diminish the power of self organization. What I notice online is that self organization of talking has firmly taken root. Self organization of action is lagging far behind. Now animation or facilitation is NOT the only reason. But I think it is part of the mix.

Etienne Wenger, John Smith and I are on the home stretch of the Technologies for Communities report, which has really turned into a book about technology stewardship. I am SO EXCITED that we are taking it to our editor tomorrow for a first high level review. We've had our dear friends and colleagues reviewing and then have spent many hours in revisions. My eyes are crossed from it, but I'm happy. It will not be perfect. There is so much to cover and explore. But I'm hoping it will be a useful contribution, especially to the non profit and civic sector and that it will respond to some of the challenges surfaced by the I-See-T project!


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