May 27 2014

“Things We Need in Order to Do Our Jobs and Make the World Better Dammit” (TWNODOJMWBD)

From 2004 Hero's Journey WorkshopI strongly recommend all of you who (still!) read this blog and who work in nonprofits, care about the role of service in our communities, have been served or have served a non profit, (etc. etc. etc.) to read Vu Le’s post, General operating funds, admin expenses, and why we nonprofits are our own worst enemies . So that means ALL of you who are readers from the US. And this applies to NGOs as well, so that probably means ALL of you.

I have worked for non profits as staff, consultant and/or volunteer most of my adult life and all I can say to Vu is AMEN! The farce of fundraising language used to drive me crazy as a non profit staffer. The way we fund and account for money in US non profits is insane, and take that in the context of the proliferation of non profits, the whole thing starts sinking. And if you think the US is crazy, look into large NGOs and UN agencies. Mama mia!

And at whose expense is this farce? Those we seek to serve. So get our your checkbook, bitcoin, credit card or even cash. Walk over to your favorite non profit and give them money with no strings.

Accountability you say? Here is the magic sauce. After you fork over your money, fork over your time. Pay attention to what’s happening around you. Then you become part of the real accountability process. Is something good happening that the organization with and for its constituency? Is there learning happening through both successes and failures? Are more people talking about and aware of the organization and its mission, bringing in more support?

Vu also outlined 7 ways non profit staff can help shift towards more honest funding and accountability. I’m putting in some snippets here:

  1. Stop saying “100% (or 98%, or 95% or whatever) of your donations go into programming.” …The next time you attend a fundraising event that says “100% of your donations…,” forward them this blog post. Or, raise your paddle and then loudly proclaim, “I want my donations to support administrative expenses!”

  2. Publicly recognize funders who support general operating funds. …These are our strongest allies, like Unmi Song of the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation or Paul Shoemaker of Social Venture Partners. 

  3. Stop using the term “overhead” or “indirect.” We need to change these crappy words and phrases with all the negative connotations. …From now on, in all our annual reports and in general, let’s call it “critical infrastructure” or “core support” or “Things We Need in Order to Do Our Jobs and Make the World Better Dammit” (TWNODOJMWBD)

  4. Stop artificially deflating numbers and apologizing for percentage spent on critical infrastructure….“There is no standardized way to calculate admin expenses, so the comparison is meaningless. Plus, we strongly believe that investing in critical infrastructure like staff development leads to much better outcomes.”

  5. Stop seeking the approval of charity watchdog organizations like Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and Better Business Bureau/Wise Giving Alliance. …until they figure out a way to accurately measure organizations’ effectiveness, their rankings are misleading and distracting.

  6. Write in a line-item for reserve funds in your organization’s operating budget. … Build in a line for reserves, and if anyone whines about it, explain why it’s important and ask them to support it or else to stop asking about sustainability.

  7. Push back, and be willing to lose a funder. …Sometimes, telling the truth or refusing to break down our expenses and forcing people to focus on outcomes, or refusing to accept funds to do things that would ultimately cost us more than it brings in revenues, may cost us a funder or donor, but this short-term sacrifice may be far better for our organization and for our sector in the long run.

I’ve forked over my money. Now I have to hold ME accountable and return to forking over time.

A confession: A few years ago I did some work for Social Venture Partners here in Seattle. I was deeply impressed with how they operated at every level and their strong intentions to see and work at a systems level. I almost became an investor, but personally felt outside of the culture of the other investors so I shied away. But as I read Vu’s comments about the value and importance of how SVP invests in its communities with both money and time, I am reminded how important these approaches are. Whether I join an SVP, or I find a kindred approach, I reconfirm my intention that it is not just what we do to support our communities, but how we do. And funding all facets of the work is critical.

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May 14 2014

Puddle Jumping @ the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education Conference

DSC_0013~2Well, it is on the schedule for tomorrow morning, so I had better be ready for my keynote at the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education Conference. This is a placeholder blog where I’ll post the talk artifacts (song lyrics, visuals, and whatever else we create) and resources. The resources below are placeholder for now, so stand by until tomorrow night! I’m talking without slides, with uke and probably (as usual) trying to pack too much in. But hey, if you aren’t learning, why do a keynote, right? Wish me luck

Resources

Related and Interesting Stuff

6 responses so far

Mar 05 2014

Ponderings on Network & Community Governance Part 1

Warning: LONG thinking-out-loud post! And note, the best stuff is in the comments!

For the last month or so there have been some very interesting conversations on the KM4Dev email discussion. One of them has been a reflection on the governance of KM4Dev, particularly the role of the current Core Group and the overall business model. KM4Dev has been around for over 10 years and grown to be a vibrant and respected community. It certainly is one of my very central communities of practice and I love and fret over it a lot. I was on the Core group from its inception until about 18 months ago when I stepped out, partly from burnout, partly from frustration, but keenly aware that my “just do it” attitude had longer term ramifications of people expecting me and the other “do-ers” to, well, just get it done. That is dis-empowering. (And I can be, um, a little dominating? :-) ) Now, back to the question of governance.

This begs the question, what kind of animal IS KM4Dev? A community of practice (CoP)? A loose, affiliated network of people interested in KM in development? A service? How should this inform our choices? Are there sufficient distinctions in the governance and supporting infrastructure of a larger network, versus a more bounded community? Or is it more dependent on the nature of that community or network?

As I read the messages, there were those who advocated a strong group for governance, for a paid secretariat staff. For formality. Others suggested developing multiple local offshoots and centralize the support functions in those volunteer hubs. From ideas for spin offs that embrace diverse business models, pleas for funding, to a very open, “let it be” model, all struck me as models that reflected each person’s world view.  Some  fundamentally urged the group to become more of an advocate for KM in development as a community, while others kept a more CoP-traditional perspective of the group as a place for its own learning. Do academics prefer more formality? What causes people to think paid positions are more generative for the community than volunteering? Are there ramifications beyond reliability? SOOOO many things to consider.

I then sent the following message to the group (this is just part of the message. It was a rambly, early morning thing!):

Here is my perception (NOT FACT) Those of us who prefer structure and some degree of formality discussed more about governance and secretariat (and I suppose, have a clearer idea about that differentiation. It is not a language used outside of development much here in the US!) Those of us who prefer informality (or perhaps, just fleeing too much structure!) emphasize the more emergent and adhoc options. Those who are taking a strong community lens focus on the community aspects of volunteerism and self organization. Those with a KM lens, (which in fact, have not stood out in my memory of reading these threads — INTERESTING) advocate for structures which focus on KM and finally, some have advocated structure that in fact advocates for international development.

How do we find your way forward with all these options? Furthermore, how do you discern options where people will “walk their talk” and pick up leadership. It is all nice and good to say “YOU should do this or that.” But in the end, if no one in the community is willing to step up to the tasks, all is probably lost. If no one cares enough to value and use what is provided – paid or not, what is it worth?

Consider this:  if you look at the number of people posting in the thread (less than 20?) compared to the list of members on the email list and/or our NING site (2500+), how do you reconcile the individual advocacy for a particular path forward with the huge, silent, larger whole? To whom does this “governance” thing matter? Is it important to those who simply see KM4Dev as an email list they can dip into when they need it – a sort of service? To those who avidly read, but rarely or never post for a host of reasons? To those of us who perhaps love KM4dev too much? :-)

So I started doodling.  Is it useful to examine our governance and structure questions from a variety of lenses, and then find out if there is a sweet spot between them? From the conversation I discerned three possible lenses or perspectives including:  Community, KM (in development) and Advocacy for KM in Development. Here is what I sketched on my notebook.

governancescribbles

For example, philosophically I absolute love the idea that KM4Dev should be more altruistic and more actively serve development. The realist in me says this is a structural mismatch, that indeed, by focusing on community and KM, we become stronger agents of that wider change through other, more formalized structures (of our orgs, etc) and we become INFLUENCERS as a network.  But that does not exclude forays into advocacy. The lenses do not imply “either/or” but simply help us explore from a variety of perspectives. Here is a very imperfect first try and looking across the three example lenses :  

ThreeKM4DevLenses

If I look across the three, there is less difference between the community lens and the domain lens, while the advocacy lens presents unique benefits and needs. As noted above, it looks to be a far stretch for KM4Dev to pull that off. That said, KM4Dev might be an amazing incubator for a more focused group working on the advocacy.

So the next level of resource implications are about the degree of importance KM4Dev activities and artifacts have to be polished to the level of acceptance by development organizations and practitioners outside of the community. In other words, legitimacy beyond the community. This seems to require more infrastructure and thus more refined business models (funding) and processes.

So the question is, what does the community want and what can it pull off. And I’d personally add, how does it differentiate itself from yet another organization?

Help me improve my thinking.

P.S. If you look back up to the first image, you will see some scribbling on the lower right of the notebook sketch. I’ll post about that in the next blog post.  Stay tuned for Part 2 of Nancy’s Ramblings….

30 responses so far

Mar 05 2014

Clay Shirky and “the collaborative penumbra”

Some words just catch us.

I was scanning this transcript of an interview with Clay Shirky (thank you Twitter network) and came across this quote:

So the collaborative penumbra around 3-D printing is a place where you don’t have to have someone who can do everything—from having the idea to making the mesh to printing it. You can start having division of labor. So you’ve got all of these small groups that are just working together like studios and still able to play on a world stage.

via The disruptive power of collaboration: An interview with Clay Shirky | McKinsey & Company.

I just loved the term, “collaborative penumbra.”

I continue to rabbit away at what has become my hobby research, how international development organizations plan for, pick, provision, monitor and evaluate their online collaboration platforms. What comes up again and again is that organizations have very limited ideas about the meaning and possibilities of collaboration. There is still this idea that it is composed of two things: document sharing and project management. And document sharing covers the territory of “knowledge sharing.” Sigh. I keep looking for useful anecdotes to demonstrate the rainbow of possibilities. But each example then points to the fact that this is a fundamental shift in the way work is done. That scares people. They like their “habitus” as Zaid Hassan talks about in his book, “The Social Labs Revolution.”

Here is another quote from the interview (emphasis mine):

“And all the way at the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got these collaborative environments where almost no one has to coordinate with anybody else. When I upload something to Thingiverse, or I make an edit on Wikipedia, it’s not like I need anybody else’s help or permission. So the collaborative range is expanding. The tight groups have more resources, and the loose groups can be much more loosely coordinated and operate at a much larger scale. And I think the people who think about collaboration want to know what’s happening to it, and the answer is everything.”

Go read the rest. There are more gems there… go to the source!

3 responses so far

Mar 04 2014

Faciliplay: Play as an Online Facilitation Technique

Note: Faciliplay: Play as an Online Facilitation Technique was a post I wrote way back in the early life of this blog, before I moved to WordPress. A lot of those posts feel lost, so I’m picking a few and reposting them. Some, like this one on play, need updating or at least contextualizing. This was written in the day when online interaction was centered on discussion forums, so the advice is framed in that context. It is almost quaint.  Today we can imagine and improvise a much broader repertoire of faciliplay. If you have any great examples, please add them in the comments.

Faciliplay: Play as an Online Facilitation Technique (in discussion forums)

by choconancy

First of all, the members of the Fall 1999 Knowledge Ecology University (now defunct) Online Facilitation Course inspired me write this. Their wonderful expressions in “Just Three Words” confirmed what I’ve felt for a while that play can be a liberating, powerful tool for groups and individuals.

The online manifestations for play are varied. Like offline humor, we need to take care that our choices respect or bridge personal and cultural differences. Segmentation of “playful” spaces and activities help maintain topical and project work in the “serious” spaces. The terms “playful” and “serious” don’t need to be so separate, so inviolate. They can be merged with some attention to group dynamics. But that’s for another time.

What I’d like to share here are some resources on incorporating play into your facilitation repertoire for online conference/discussion spaces; a “bag of toys,” if you will, which you can spread out on the “virtual table.” These are primarily for use in asynchronous bulletin boards or discussion forums but if you use your imagination, I bet you can find many other ways to use them.

As background on the use of play in facilitation, you may wish to check out Bernie DeKoven’s “Deep Fun” site at http://www.deepfun.com. Bernie is the author of The Well-Played Game. Bernie has created a playground to share ideas on play for facilitators, therapists and healers.  Check it out. Add your ideas. Let’s play!

Playful Topics

There is a rich tradition in online play topics from social communities across the net. Many of them became “institutions” at such places as the http://www.well.com,  and other communities. Here are some examples:

  • Just One Word/Just Three Words: as the topic explains, each post has a word limitation. This creates a quick interaction opportunity, allows each poster to “riff” of the previous and can spawn some interesting creative runs. Good for freeing up thinking while brainstorming or using other divergent, creative facilitation strategies. Safe place for anyone to post… you don’t have to create a great literary piece to post! If you want to ratchet it up a notch, try approaches like “rhyme two lines:”

It’s better to jump in and try it yourself
Than let a forum linger, closed, on the shelf…

  • The Never-Ending Story/Limericks, and other Continuation Topics: Group creation of a story, poem or limerick draws people back because they want to see how the next person has built on their contribution. This also demonstrates how responding to others and reciprocity can help build the group. Plus, it can be a creative kick in the pants. In watching these topic grow, a facilitator can also get an idea of what type of team player each participant might be. There will be those who will adhere to the story line, and those who always veer. Both are important parts of a group. But it’s nice to know who is who, eh?
  • Community History Topics: Online architect Amy Jo Kim is a strong proponent of a community “backstory” or history. By providing space for the group to record and comment on the history, to actually create it, you can provide ownership and a place to be “seen” by the community through specific additions to the record.
  • Bars/Grills/Coffeeshops: Hanging out, shooting the breeze, playing around with simulacrums of food and drink is very engaging for a portion of your group. These places are safe spots to let us slowly reveal more about ourselves, both in and out of our “task” or “work/business” concepts. They provide some metaphorical “body language.” 
  • What Are You Reading/Eating/Thinking: Easy places to drop information, have fun without a high intellectual or time overhead. And get great tips on new books, movies or chocolate recipies. Good for longer term communities and groups. These topics don’t build the critical mass in shorter, time-delimited settings unless, of course, it is a topic about chocolate (only kidding…) 
  • Confess and Be Absolved: Sometimes you just need to get it off your chest. Master storyteller Paul Beleserene of Vancouver BC started this topic in the old Electric Minds. It was a people magnet. It could be funny, poignant, it could be a safe way to apologize to a fellow community member. And Paul, as host, absolved every single person and sent him or her on their way feeling just a little bit better about themselves. I confess I still love this topic.

Playful Applications of Interaction Spaces

  • Bulletin Boards/Forums/Discussions: Consider creating a segment of your online space for play to ensure it doesn’t jeopardize your “serious” topics. Not everyone likes to goof around. Make sure your names reflect the purpose of those spaces.
  • Chat: Provide open chat room areas for people to spontaneously chat and get to know, talk about non-project issues or just goof around. Schedule chat times for the group as a coffee klatch or cocktail party as a “get to know” function.
  • Instant Messengers: Quick compliments, silly one liners or a quick emoticon wink can create deeper context for your more serious, recorded activities in a conference. Find a place to share IM contacts.

Playful Communications Tools

  • Emoticons: There are tons of emoticons that serve as text “body language.” Some disdain them, but it is helpful to include a little ;-) if you are using irony or sarcasm in the space where tone and facial expression are absent. Here are a few along with some acronyms commonly used online:

:) or :-) are smiley faces composed of a colon and a right parenthesis mark

;) or ;-) or or ;-> is a more tongue in cheek smile, wink, employing a semi-colon
:O = surprised face (and there are hundreds of variations)

<g> = grin

D or :-D = big grin

:/ or :-/ = chagrin, disappointment, etc.

:( or :-( = frown

btw = by the way

imo = in my opinion (or imho = in my humble opinion)

rotfl = rolling on the floor laughing

lol = laughing out loud

For more emoticons, see Emoticons: Online Body Language

  • Images and Fonts: Sometimes adding a little color or images to a communication can help enhance a message. Here is one of my favorite animated gifs that a member of one of my online communities made in reference to people getting a wee bit too touchy about issues and feeling attacked:

  Image courtesy of Steve Ruano, ©1999 (alas, gif is gone!)

  • Snarfs and Post-a-thons: These are really down-and-dirty techniques that are not for just any online interaction space, but for die-hard online addicts. Most often found in purely social communities, they can inspire quite intense participation and engagement. Now, definitions! A snarf is a post with a particularly toothsome number. Century snarfs (100, 200, 300) are pretty common in big, public communities. Big K’s (1,000′s) are rarer and more prized. Then there are the other odd number combinations which include repeat numbers (555, or the infamous Karen Valentine snarf — 222), numbers with other significance (777, 69) or sometimes people like to snarf numbers that have personal significance like birthdays (51558) or anniversaries. It is totally silly. It can catch like wildfire. It can also destroy the experience for those who do not like snarfing. Consider yourself warned.Post-A-Thons are group efforts to drive up the number of posts in a topic. Again, this is a social community thing. Don’t ask me. I’ve done it. I confess. I really burned out a wrist one weekend trying to get 7,000 posts in one topic as a form of social protest to site management’ capricious decisions at a community that will go unnamed. But you would be amazed how it builds a group over a short period of time. Kind of like a strong, addictive drug. Again, you’ve been warned…. ;-)

The best way to understand these playful applications is to visit some online communities and join in. (ALAS, so many of these are gone!) Check out http://www.electricminds.org, (especially the Playground conference),http://www.salon.com (click on Table Talk) or http://www.utne.com . And have fun!

Image of purple lady from Jeffrey Zeldman Presents

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