Staff Development Solutions Part Two–Skype and videoconferencing

After reading part 1–wikis and staff development, we move onto a brief look at other web 2.0 applications and how a nonprofit exec can take advantage of them for staff development (this is not comprehensive, but meant to get your feet wet).   

The Value of Networking Among Peers 

One of the frustrations we had when I ran the small association of family service agencies in PA was getting people to meetings.  We managed to get our executive directors together four times a year.  The favorite agenda item was brainstorming/roundtable, when they just reported to each other on new developments or issues at their agency.  Sometimes it was the challenges of recertification by a national entity.  Other times it was on a decision to self-insure. Yet other times it was how to comply with HIPAA.  Interesting stories were shared, and I was limited in planning ahead to know where the conversation would take us.  The face-to-face peer interaction was invaluable.

 The EDs thought their front-line supervisors from similar programs would benefit from the same sort of networking, but we could never get our act together (mostly due to time-out-of office issues for busy supervisors).  Behold, Skype as a solution.

Skype as One Solution

Skype allows you to make calls from computer to computer, computer to phone, phone to phone–in audio.  Computer to computer (works on Mac and Windows) in audio and video.  Obviously, it’s this last option that best serves staff development or networking. Skype’s software is downloadable for free, and Skype-to-Skype calls are free.   I don’t mean to sound like a Skype salesperson; there are other, developing services, such as Oovoo–that offers similar service, but my impression is they are still working out some bugs…but their website and interface sure are hip. (See Beth Kanter’s photo on flickr).

Equipment is minimal

For audio calls, you either need a headset or you can use your computer’s built in speaker (at our home, we use the built in speaker, which means everyone can chime in–my son loves to talk to his aunt and uncle). To add the bling of video (don’t you want to see your peers as you discuss the pain of managing your program? LOL), you need a webcam.  You don’t have to bust the budget.  There are webcams with headsets that sell for $29.99 (adequate) and up ($50 is going to get you clearer video).  Walmart has partnered with Skype to sell “Skype” certified web cams, but you can go elsewhere, as the software will work with any webcam.  E-how has some advice for those concerned with selecting a webcam for Skype.  As long as you have Windows 2000 or up, a USB port and a decent internet connection, you should be okay to go.

Price is minimal, if not free

The free Skype-to-Skype service includes the ability to put up to 9 additional people in a conference call.  This is great for those smaller groups of program specialists who can’t get out of the office but could benefit from talking to each other.  Here’s how it works.  There are other services you can upgrade to, but for most smaller to medium nonprofits, this would be enough.

Cool Enhancements

Hat tip to an old post by Megan Keane of TechSoup for pointing me to Yugma,  which allows you to share your desktop during your conference call for free. You can also share mouse and keyboard (free feature for 15 days, then requires an upgrade).  Good overview by Voip-News here.

Better news is that Skype is certifying third-party developers (Skype Extra collaboration examples), so there are a growing number of collaboration tools. (Haven’t used it yet, but I like the Whiteboard concept. 

No travel time and cost, networking meetings with a short lead time.  If you aren’t convinced yet, read about how Professor Scott McLeod at Iowa State University uses basic Skype services with graduate students.

Staff Development Part 3 up next: Webinars, etc.

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Wikis, Skype and Webinars, oh my–Staff Development Solutions Part One

http://www.freefoto.com/images/04/31/04_31_1_prev.jpgTo many of those I network with online (either by reading & posting to blogs or via Twitter) –the three words in the title are routine: 

Wikis, Skype and Webinars

But for you nonprofit execs trying to manage agencies on a shoestring, one or more of these may be meaningless.  After all, these terms didn’t even exist a few years ago, and you don’t have time to spare to learn something new. If this describes you, I implore you to sit back for 5 minutes and take a deep breath. 

Challenges to Nonprofit Staff Development

Do these sound familiar?

  • You have minimal resources budgeted to improve skills, yet you know your organizational effectiveness could benefit from training.
  •  You are understaffed, so you have difficulty in letting staff have too much time out of the office to attend conferences that might let them network with peers or gain additional perspective.
  • The specialized training you need is not available online anyway.  You participated in a webinar or two as part of a national association or group, but it’s not always what you require.

Web 2. 0 (all this new-fangled technology on the web) offers some solutions to your challenges.  And the solutions aren’t as hard to construct as you think.

Wiki Wow

Wikis are my favorite tool for working collaboratively with staff.  Think of a wiki as a website where you don’t need to know how to program to make changes.  Where you can post documents, outline thoughts, post links to websites with relevant information.

Collaboration on Training Needs–Let’s say your supervisors have some ideas about what staff needs are for training and development.  Imagine being able to have your key staff collaborate AS they think of ideas, rather than wait for a staff meeting (which may not be conducive to free thinking anyway).  You can set up a free password-protected private wiki in 5 minutes that will allow them to collaborate on ideas.  They have the ability to create any structure they want,  post comments, additions and the most current version is always available. Best yet, the old versions are available as “history” so the group can decide to go back to previous versions.  And, users can automatically get email notices with updates (if they choose) whenever someone edits content.  Cool.

Continuing Education–Pass It On

Ever have staff come back from a conference or training day with materials, powerpoints and ideas?  Wish there was an easy way to pass it on to other staff?  There is.

  • Here’s one school district’s attempt at putting staff development materials online.  They have it as a publicly viewed site, but you can’t edit it if you don’t have their password.  Be sure to click on their right January 14 link to go deeper.  I hope they keep this updated, as it’s a great best practice.  They’ve used pbwiki.
  • Here’s a wiki that promotes best practices for staff training (not all in themselves wikis) in library science.  (Note: this site is laid out like wikipedia)
  • Here’s yet another progressive library group with a wiki with links for staff development (this is in the format I’m used to….from www.pbwiki.com.)  They have mostly text but I have used pbwiki’s WYSIWYG interface to add graphics, video, etc. 
  • And, here’s a great one:  a wiki dedicated to getting staff up-to-speed on and using web2.0 Social Media (including social media guidelines).  This is more from this site, called EduBuzz from East Lothian.  Kudos to them.

My thanks to the organizations that have kept these wikis publicly-viewable. 

Next up:  Staff Development and Skype, Webinars

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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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My Brain Hurts…..so much potential for collaboration

Beth Kanter, the technical maven of the nonprofit world, posed a simple question to me yesterday–  

“What do you think are some best practices in using these (social media) tools in terms of collaboration?”  

So much potential, it makes my brain hurt! (Sorry, too much Monty Python with my daughter last weekend).  I’ll focus on one aspect:

peer learning. 

As the former director of a small statewide human service association, I can tell you that at our quarterly meetings, the most cherished part of the agenda wasn’t the legislative report from Harrisburg.  Often, I felt we were hurrying through the meeting to get to the GOOD part—brainstorming and story-sharing among peers. 

There is a hunger among executive directors of nonprofits for opportunities to speak casually with each other about pressing management issues they face.  At least in the human service sector, they would also like to get supervisors of similar programs together.   What have I seen discussed?  Relationships with funders, corporations.  Benefits packages for staff.  Self-insurance.  Issues with HIPAA compliance.  Technology for case management.  Agency certification experiences. 

Although we allowed time for this interaction, it was tough to get everyone to attend the meetings.  Time was at a premium for executive directors.

A quickie on what holds potential (and what I would use if I were running the group today):

  • Wikis, for pulling together joint grant applications. We did a statewide grant application for federal funds—an intimidating undertaking requiring agencies from across the state to get letters of support, standardize their financial figures, etc.  It required input from our national association and a D.C.-based law firm.  Snail mail, email and conference calls were used, but the wiki would have made it less-time consuming and easier to get comments. (I use PBwiki.com, but there are many wiki farms).  

  • GoToMeeting.com or similar services to hold online meetings, allowing more frequent contact.  If an association picked up the fee for this service with membership dues, there would be no cost to the members for the actual meeting.  Meaningful guest speakers would be easier to schedule, since there is no travel time. 
  • A private Blog, for executive directors to share concerns and bounce ideas off peers.  Britt Bravo has some good advice for nonprofits thinking about taking the plunge into the blogosphere. 

 TIME & MONEY 

 Social media like these would especially benefit small- to medium-sized nonprofits, which have less staff to devote to grant-writing or cover work for those out of the office for conferences. Time and money are saved by using these technologies. Ironically, I believed that time and money are perceived as being a hindrance to using these media. We need to bust those myths.

Jim Tobin, at Ignite Social Media, does a great job doing just that.  After admitting social media can be a waste of time, he then busts that theory by discussing ways it can improve productivity.  That’s the appeal to management, and something we need to discuss more.