Commun-IT, COCo’s own community technology wing, just wrapped up an exciting survey process where we asked organizations across Quebec to help us better understand the ICT needs of the community sector. ICT — or Information and Communication Technology, refers to the tech tools we use to communicate with one another and our members, and to organize information. Your email is an ICT tool, and so is your website, email newsletter, your computer, accounting software, and so on. The survey yielded important insights about the needs of community organizations in this area. There were three challenge areas that stood out in the responses from almost all of the organizations:
- Integration and Maintenance
We wanted to share our our learning, and our reflections, on these areas, because thinking ahead about good training, strategy, and long term integration and maintenance of IT and communication tools can really help organizations fulfill their missions. We hope it’s useful!
Overall, community organizations are not getting training on tech or communications tools. According to our survey results, this is because:
- Relevant, high quality training is hard to find, and training that is widely available is not tailored to an organization’s needs or capacity
- Resources (both in terms of time and money) are not often allocated to training internally, possibly because quality training options are not well known within the community sector
The results of not having a good training plan are considerable. To start with, consider how this could impact an organization’s website! Staff may get some training from an outgoing team member and/or use free online resources to learn how to use a website. They’ll learn how to log in and do simple functions, but not understand how the website works or how information should be organized. Using the website will be frustrating and unsatisfying. Usually, at this point, we see that staff, will become reluctant to put time into a project that doesn’t feel like it is worthwhile. As a result, only the most important information is inconsistently posted to the website, and visitors to the website will not get an accurate idea of the organization’s mandate, services, or relevance. This pattern can have negative long term consequences since web users will not return to an out of date, unhelpful site.
Hands-on training can empower an organization to use a tool, like a website, to help achieve their mandate, and avoid an (anxiety inducing!) accumulation of work.
Put simply, having a communications strategy is about breaking down the reasons *why* we are using a specific technological tool. Having a strategy, however simple, ensures that you are choosing tools that are a good fit for your mission, and forces us to clearly diagnose the problems and choose clear and measurable goals. Not having a strategy often means we use tools that end up being a waste of resources and time, and are hard to implement (or get people to adopt!). Even tools that seem ubiquitous (like gmail, for example!) should be thought through before investing resources in their implementation.
Let’s go back to the example of a website. Organizations often choose to set up a website as a ‘digital pamphlet’ to show that they exist and are active. “Showing signs of life”, however, is a by product of an effective website, not a great goal in and of itself. A website can achieve much more ambitious goals, that reflect the mandate and objectives of the organization — like spreading important information, engaging your community, increasing your fundraising, and so on. Having a strategy for your website would allow you to move from having an expensive digital pamphlet, to having a tool linked to your organization’s specific problems, objectives, and priorities.
Knowing the reasons a tool exists in turn helps motivates the staff, while simplifying and clarifying their work.
Integration and Maintenance
37% of organizations identified integration and maintenance as their greatest technology challenge.
One of the most common problems we saw in the survey was that organizations were not thinking about how an ICT tool was going to “fit” into the rest of the work until late in the game. Organizations have been sending newsletters, creating communications strategies, and organizing their internal documents for longer than computers and the internet have existed, but that doesn’t mean that we can substitute a new, tech tool for an analog one without changing anything else about the way that we work. This problem is not limited to non profits: most organizations haven’t actually updated their internal structures or practices for the digital world.
Think about the way that your internal documents are organized. Electronic file storage is not as straightforward as a file cabinet. Office computers, personal laptops, and “cloud” storage can result in a mish-mash of tools, inconsistent from person to person. Organizations often end up with some files saved on individual computers, some on personal laptops, others saved in the cloud as Google Drive and/or Dropbox documents, as well as others saved on a shared file system within the office. Each location makes sense at the time, but might result in problems in the future. Will your fundraiser be able to find last year’s grant applications? Will your program coordinator be able to find promotional materials or activity outlines from the previous year? Time can be wasted searching through documents, and work will need to be repeated when documents are lost.
Thinking about integration and maintenance proactively, and creating clear guidelines, can seriously increase efficiency and clear up confusion among the team. As we all know, it can be tough to get your team to adopt new tools — having very clear reasons and strategies for adopting new tools can help staff fully commit to a tool and integrate it into their workflow.
Conclusions (and the money question!)
Training, strategy, and clear implementation are clearly linked to each other– and most likely, we need to do a better job of all three if we want to see a real difference.
Maybe most interestingly, though, was how they are linked to the other biggest issue our survey identified: money. Organizations consistently named a lack of resources for ICT as a significant barrier. While finding new resources can be hard, getting better at training, strategy, and implementation can save a lot of time and money. And while time and funding are important resources for community organizations, energy and enthusiasm are also valuable. As we all know, frustration and confusion around tech tools is a real pain, and can be detrimental to the long term health of an organization!
The entire Commun-IT team thanks all of the organizations who took the time to participate – your contributions are invaluable! The full results of the survey are available below.
Note on data collection:
Of the 30 organizations who responded:
- 10 had previously worked with Commun-IT
- 10 had previously worked with COCo (but not Commun-IT services)
- 10 had not previously worked with COCo
Our goals in collecting this data were to:
- understand the major challenges that community organizations face in using communication and information technology
- learn which tools organizations are currently using, how they chose those tools, and their level of satisfaction
- identify technology needs that are not currently being met within the community sector
The report, attached below, lists the questions from the survey in the order that they were asked with responses represented as graphs.