When Wikis Trump Email

j0404960.jpgGlad I discovered Stewart Mader yesterday.  What drew me was a discussion of wiki versus email on Day 2 of his series, “21 Days of Wiki Adoption.”

Last month, I wrote how email might not be going away anytime soon, and I stick with that.  But having held jobs where I’d leave my desk for a meeting, returning to find 100 emails, I know there must be a better way.  My email-from-hell experience was during the implementation of a rather large project–welfare reform–in one of the largest state agencies in existence.  I was top assistant to the Deputy Secretary overseeing this sea change. 

Everyone would “CYA” themselves by copying me on every email…it was how they “collaborated.”  Sound familiar?

Oh, if we only had wikis then.  Development of regulations, retraining of staff, outreach to constituencies, new policy manuals, IT apps–all under deadline with thousands of people involved.  How many days we broke our momentum to attend front-office meetings to explain where we were on the project(s) and “collaborate.”  Some staff had to come from across town or across the state. 

Collaboration and a Smaller Inbox

Fortunately, wikis are now idiot-proof and easy to set up.  I’ve used them (from PBWiki) for my college teaching, in both traditional and online classes.  In all cases, I’ve been the only person involved who knew what a wiki was at the outset, but most participants adapted quickly. 

 duqprojectmanagementwiki2.jpg

The screenshot here was for a Project Management class I ran of adult (mostly National Guard) students enrolled in a Masters of Leadership program run by Duquesne U. 

We were spread all over central PA during the week at our jobs, but had 8 weeks (and 8 evening classes) to run a fundraiser from scratch to finish to benefit The American Legion Legacy Scholarship.  We used the wiki to get our ducks in a row for a mission statement, then used subsequent pages to share word documents, timelines, tick lists, etc.  In projects, a wiki lets you:

  • Avoid the barrage of email
  • Have one source for the most current version of documents
  • Get input from multiple sources in an orderly manner
  • See the most recent updates, comments and postings by your colleagues
  • Let participants view parallel activities that might affect their portion of the project
  • Be more nimble, reacting to new input and altering direction, if needed.
  • Cut down on meeting time (if you need meetings at all).

If you need an easy-to-understand resource on what a wiki is, check out this video by Lee Lefever of CommonCraft.com

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Are “late” adopters “twits?”

At least I am. 

I confess, I’m “late” with getting on board with Twitter (ok…it launched in late 2006; only in the cyberworld is this late).  Lots of reasons: 

  • Concern with time management 
  •  Already have plenty of work flow interruptions
  • Too busy to take the time regarding how it all works. 
  • Not sure if there was anyone to tweet with (as most of my peers don’t use it)
  • Fear that the Twitterati will regard me as a late adopter that should just go away (blog posts on how Twitter should get back to how it was a year or more ago instilled that one…..)
  • Okay, and maybe the concern that I won’t be able to keep up with the fast-paced lives of others.  I’d look quite boring online. 
  • I need to detach from my electronic devices quite frequently during the day to stay sane.

You get the drift.

Why I’m taking the plunge.

Darren Rowse at problogger   has a recent post that he worked on over several days.  He discusses the Benefits of Twitter to bloggers, showing how, during his blog writing, things were popping.  Other recent posts include:  How to Use Twitter: Tips for Bloggers and 35 Twitter Tips from Twitter Users.   I’m still digesting these tidbits, diving in nonetheless and hoping to find my “voice” and time management tips for getting the most from the technology.  Still figuring out which desktop client, if any, I should use.

And the ever savvy Beth Kanter again showed how we can all benefit from Twitter.

Journey of a Newbie: Installment 1  

What I’ve figured out so far, in terms of Twitter use:

  1. I’ll use Twitter for mostly professional reasons. (You don’t need to know when I’m running to the grocery store).
  2. However, I’ll be a little more informal then my blog (which is in itself more informal than my presentations).
  3. For now, I’m using Web access only. 
  4. I’ll follow a couple of key people, lurking a little but tweeting concepts I’m working on.
  5. I will start to “tweet” links I find interesting for upcoming blogs, maybe even items that don’t yet make it in, in the hopes of getting other perspectives.
  6. I will learn to think in 140 words or less….but will communicate enough info that followers get the drift.
  7. I will “tweet” more on what I’m thinking, than what I’m doing.   (Advice from Todd Mintz).
  8. I need to learn the lingo.  We use Twitter where we “tweet,” and we are “tweeting,” were “tweeted” but never “twit?”   😉

Stay tuned.  Tips for productive use of this medium actively solicited! 

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BAM: Board Buy-in for Social Media, Part Two

In my previous post, you began to lay the groundwork for board signoff on your web 2.0 initiatives.  

It’s a myth that boards won’t support (increased) usage of web 2.0 technology.  They are simply unfamiliar with the potential of what exists.  They may have seen their teenager use MySpace or a school blog. Your job is to connect the dots. Ultimately, they are accountable for the financial well-being of the organization, which includes ensuring resources are available to achieve the mission.   In BoardSource’s “Twelve Principles of Governance That Power Exceptional Boards,” they state:

Linking budgeting to strategic planning, they approve activities that can be realistically financed with existing or attainable resources, while ensuring that the organization has the infrastructure and internal capacity it needs.

Coupled with the fact that the board’s duties include advancing the public perception of the organization, why wouldn’t they provide the resources and support to more-fully utilize social media?   Now you have your background, let’s get the rest of the ducks in a row:j0314273.jpg

 Questions your presentation should be able to answer:

  1. What do you want the board to sign off on? 
  2. How does this (your web 2.0 suggestions) solve problems or allow staff to do their jobs better?
  3. How does it further the organization’s mission?
  4. How does it link to the organization’s strategic plan?
  5. Are the costs justified? Remember costs include time and money.  Address concerns about learning curves.

Who should do the presentation?

You have two options.  An internal staff member or someone from outside the organization.

  1. Internally, who “owns” your web 2.0 initiative and will be knowledgeable and passionate about it?  It may be the marketing or fund development staff.   Make sure this person presents from an overall strategic standpoint, not their stovepipe, however.
  2.  Sometimes, it might be beneficial to use someone who is perceived as an outside, impartial expert.  You know best.  Consider a consultant (we’re out there) or someone from a larger nonprofit association (perhaps you are a member). 

By getting your Board “on board” with web 2.0, you’ll feel more confident as you build your initiatives. 

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BAM#1: BAM your Board of Directors

Yesterday, I made this comment in response to others on Ken Goldstein’s blog:

In a perfect world, even smaller nonprofits have some semblance of a strategic plan, signed off on by their board of directors. Web2.0 usage would be integrated into the plan (in general terms-I don’t want to indicate micro-management or, heaven forbid, sound too corporate). Buy-in in general terms by the board really frees up staff to do what they do best. In reality, most usage of Web2.0 is probably first seen coming out of the marketing and fund development staff (or consultants). The staff using it (including the Exec. Director) gets put in the position of have to explain where it fits, why resources are being used, etc. No resource is completely “free”—staff time, at minimum, is required.bam.jpg

  

There are many steps to strategic planning, but we’re only requiring small, incremental steps here on your journey to get buy-in from your board.  I envision a presentation that would be done in more than one part.  Once you “hook” them, you’ll need to then layout what resources you need and what your results will be.

In preparation for step 1, examine your external operating environment and how it is being or will be impacted by web 2.0.  This would include:

  • Identify your key constituencies.  Volunteers, donors, potential supporters, advocates–you know best. 
  • Lay out the external environment in which your organization functions.  You’d need to look at:
    • Social Factors, such as the lifestyle, attitudes and values of your key constituencies (the need for transparency, engagement,  shift in giving patterns, loyalty, etc. Back yourself up with facts.)
    • Technological Factors, such as the innovations that now exist in web 2.0
    • Contending Forces (in the private sector, I might call this “competitive factors”).  Who else is out there who deals with your key constituencies? Who is vying for funds?
    • Economic factors, such as the need to seek alternative ways of fund development. given local and regional trends.
    • Best Practices–how others with similar missions are effectively using new social media technologies.  A quick review (and demonstration) of some select best practices that best serve your purposes.  Should also include bullets on ease of implementation.  
  • Where possible, cut the jargon.  Even the term web2.0 might not be used in a board presentation, at least not at first.

In BAM#1, Part 2, we’ll talk about how to and who should present this to the board and subsequent steps.

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BAM, breaking down barriers that keep nonprofits from taking advantage of social media

In a swirl of links only the blogosphere could manufacture, Beth Kanter brought to my attention (aren’t feeds great?) a post by Ken Goldstein on why Web 2.0 is important to small nonprofits.  I couldn’t agree more, but posting a comment to his blog got me to thinking some deep thoughts.  

As I look around at the best practices with regard to web 2.0, I see that:

  • one size doesn’t fit all, even in the nonprofit world.  Everything that works for the SPCA won’t necessary be employed (or should be) in the same way or with the same results for a family counseling agency. Yes, there are common concerns, but different constituencies, legal implications regarding confidentiality, visions for the organization, etc. 
  • social media not only has the potential to help nonprofits build constituencies, raise funds, and get their message out, but it has the potential to totally transform the business model and internal operations of nonprofits. 
  • in spite of that potential, there are some very real obstacles impeding the ability of small- and medium-sized nonprofits in their adoption of web 2.0.   I count any obstacle as real, whether it’s perceived or tangible. 
  • Most nonprofits executives with streamlined budgets need to know what can quickly create opportunities and what solves problems without creating more of them. 

bam.jpg I’d like to start periodically blogging on what I’ll call “BAMs”  for “bust a myth.”   Really, it’s about breaking down obstacles. BAM. 

Next: BAM your Board.

Email is for old fogies…but it’s not going away anytime soon.

j0423020.jpgLast night, I began teaching a college class in strategic planning.  It got me to thinking about a recent conversation with my hubby, who also teaches college part-time.  We’ve had difficulty lately getting in touch in a timely way with our students.  We try our darndest to help students succeed, often in spite of themselves–sending reminders about upcoming or missing work, or concerns about incorrect assignments that were submitted, or any range of issues.  (I once had a student upload a geology paper instead of his e-business paper–could have been a stall tactic, but I’m willing give the benefit of the doubt).

I’m Junk Mail 

Yes, we use wikis, blogs, an occasional audio file and utilize a range of hands-on projects (often web-based) to create as rich and collaborative a teaching environment as we can. But when we need to contact a student directly, is usually means several things:  using the online teaching platform (often some version of Blackboard) to post an announcement or discussion board response or email.  Email usually means either the personal or college email account for a particular student.  Intuitively, I know their personal email is checked more often. But the experienced professor in me also knows that I can better track when, where and to whom the emails were sent and whether they responded through the school’s email.  This is especially needed because students often claim “but I sent you an email about my problem, didn’t you get it?”  No, I didn’t.  Or “What, you sent me something?”  Yes, I did.  And I don’t have to route through my personal email to prove it.

Of course, I shouldn’t take it personally….they’ve just used their personal “college spam filter” to ignore me.  You know, the one that filters out as junk anything institutional.  And as much as I try not to be, I’m part of the institution. I’m junk mail.

The Chronicle of Higher Education had an article back in late 2006 about just this issue.  Entitled “Email is for Old People,”  it pretty much sums up the way most college undergrads and teens view email.  It’s supported by a several-year-old survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.   Yes, teens declared then, email’s for “old people.”   But many of my current classes consist of, well, adult learners age 40 and up.      

The Virtual College

Today, Campus Technology has an article  by Trent Baston that discusses web2.0 in the college environment.  He notes that “Web 2.0 is becoming a tipping point for creative energy in higher education’s use of technology, moving its center from the campus desktop or server to the Web.”   Some profs are even using platforms like SecondLife to pull everything together for learning.  In a simpler application, the use of lecture-capture systems is growing, enabling students to study anywhere, anytime.  Some colleges have been providing iPods for students, allowing professors to do lectures in podcast (or even videocast) form.   The iPods are either available for rent or at drastically-reduced prices. Overall, the way we help students build knowledge is changing–and anyone who has snoozed through a 1-hour lecture will tell you, it’s due for a change.

Hello, is anyone out there?  Email Etiquette 101.

But that doesn’t solve the problem of one-on-one communication on private issues.  When I email an entire class and get not one response, I feel like I’m shouting in the wilderness. You’d think students would at least check email on their mobile devices.  Last week, Campus Technology wrote about a survey done by Eduventures (thanks to SmartMobs blog for pointing me to this) detailing the technology owned by current college students. A web survey found that 97% of 4-year college students had cell phones and 79% had laptops.  (Of course, the flaw in this is that it was web-based, probably eliminating the students who didn’t have ready web access…but I digress).  Their finding show that students were online for up to 5 hours a day and that email remains the communication of choice for school purposes.

In a perfect world, I would know every student’s phone, they would all be cell phones or other mobile messaging devices.  Maybe they’d even all be tweeting.  But I can’t rely on that for a personal message.  Sometimes I don’t want to build a community or connect with thousands–I just want to communicate with one.  Even with the ability to text message or phone, I find email more preferable.  I send attachments related to class, longer notices about changes in deadlines or clarifications (even if it is also posted on the class web).  I don’t have to worry about if they are in class, at work or what time it is. 

I still say email will be sticking around.  Other forms are preferred for casual communication, but in some situations, email serves the purpose best.  Maybe we need a required short course in Email Etiquette for all college students.  For now, all I can say is:

Chck Ur Email Plz

 …and hope that one of the readers of this blog has a suggestion for better communication options.   I’m open!

ZUP 4 Nonprofits

page-float-trip-small2.jpgZup world?  Specifically, my friends in the nonprofit sector.  This site is for you and your busy lives. 

Welcome to the maiden voyage of ZUP 4 Nonprofits.  Like their counterparts in the private sector, nonprofit executives are increasingly busy, sophisticated and engaged in managing growing organizations.  Vibrant nonprofits, like business, have to keep their sights on the horizon for emerging trends, storm warnings and the occasional tsunami. Yes, you even have to keep an eye on that “upstart” new nonprofit coming up from behind you in that new speedboat.  The vital services provided by nonprofits are often a lifeboat to the constituencies they serve, so keeping abreast of the external operating environment as well as internal factors is critical. 

In case you’re wondering about all the boating/water verbiage, take a look at my header graphic.  Nice calm water? Yes.  Also capable of giving you hypothermia in 3 minutes…even though the air is 100 degrees.  Fabulous place (see photo at right).  Smooth water float trip the family took in Page, AZ this summer, down part of the Colorado.  No rapids, but things aren’t always as smooth as they seem.  Between the rocks just under the water and frigid temp, you have to know what you are doing. Remind you of your recent “smooth” operations at your nonprofit? ‘Nuff said.

Generally, I’ve found nonprofits have to operate in a more transparent way then their business counterparts (although that is changing, as private sector stockholders demand more accountability).  This need for transparency combined with the already tight budget (and dare I say, competition for funds?) creates a situation I call a “triage” budget—throw funding at what really needs it first, with no time to think about the future impact.

In the past, that affected the quality of things like technology implementation.  Still, it tends to affect (to differing degrees) areas that are seen as noncritical: board development, non-mandated staff training, and use of web 2.0 media. 

The intent of this site it to promote best practices in some of these areas.  Why reinvent the wheel when we can learn from others?page-float-trip-small2.jpgpage-float-trip-small2.jpg

Next up:  Do U YouTube?