After five very productive years at Tech Networks of Boston (TNB), I am now looking for my next professional challenge. I’m ready for a career shift! I’ve notified the leadership at TNB, so this is not a covert search.
If you know about any job opportunities at organizations that need someone with my skill set, I’d love to hear about them. In my next job, I’d like to focus on some or all of the following:
Weaving networks among nonprofit organizations in order to build collaboration, peer learning, and communities of practice.
Building the capacity of philanthropic and nonprofit organizations to achieve and document their desired outcomes.
Fostering equity, inclusion, social justice, and corporate social responsibility.
Aiding philanthropic and nonprofit organizations in seamlessly matching resources with needs.
Establishing best practices in the strategic use of information and communication technologies among mission-based organizations.
Facilitating candid dialogue and successful collaborations between grantmakers and grantees.
In the past few years, it’s become fashionable to talk about the importance of a “theory of change” for nonprofits. This is merely a way of underlining the importance of making an explicit statement about the causal relationship between what a nonprofit organization does and the impact that it has promised to deliver. I applaud this! It’s crucial to say, “if we take all of the following resources, and do all of the following actions, then we will get all of the following results.” An organization that lacks the capacity to marshal those resources and take those actions needs to reconsider, because it is on track to fail. If its capacity is not aligned with its commitment, it should acquire the resources or change its commitment to results. Of course, it some cases, it will merely need to revise its theory of change. In any case, it will have to work backward from its mission, and understand how each component contributes to achieving it.
This kind of thinking has lead to a lot of conversations (and a lot of anxiety) in the nonprofit sector about performance measurement, outcomes management, evaluation, and impact assessment.
I’d love to have some of this conversation focus on the information/communication technologies that nonprofit organizations are using. In other word, it’s time to be explicit about a theory of change that explains in detail how every component of the technology an organization uses contributes (directly or indirectly) to its ability to deliver a specific kind of social, cultural, or environmental impact.
Likewise, I’d love to have the conversation address the ways in which the efforts of a nonprofit organization’s performance measurement, outcomes management, evaluation, or impact assessment team contributes (directly or indirectly) to its ability to deliver the kind of impact that it promised its stakeholders.
It’s true. It’s so true in nonprofit technology that it hurts every time I think about it. However, I was immediately and immensely grateful to Tom for articulating so succinctly and eloquently what had been merely tacit knowledge for me.
One of the biggest problems in any nonprofit technology implementation is the difficulty in reconciling it with the organization’s culture. It’s not just that individuals within it may not want to learn new things or do things differently – it’s that every organization is a delicate ecosystem of incentives, disincentives, alliances, and hostilities. A change in information and communication technology systems can easily upset the organization’s equilibrium. Just the same, new implementations may become necessary, and at that point the challenge is not to arrive at an abstract understanding of group dynamics, but to gain the good will and participation of all the stakeholders by demonstrating that the potential benefits of the change are far greater than the threats to the status quo.
(And now for a full disclosure of financial relationship: I’ve served as a paid consultant to Kathryn’s organization, Community TechKnowledge, for some time. However, she did not ask me to endorse this white paper, and she certainly is not paying me to recommend it.)
I am not attempting to create a graphic that illustrates everyone’s ideas about the role of data in a mission-based organization. I am merely trying to illustrate my ideas.
Visualizing the role of data for mission-based organizations – Round II
Item #2 on the list notwithstanding, I am enjoying very much the opportunity to learn more about what others in the field think about (and visualize) when they ponder the role of data in our sector. Once again, I invite you to post your reflections, suggestions, and questions in the comments section here on this blog.
I firmly believe that if your organization is driven by data, you’re stopping too soon.
It’s important to roll that data (which is raw material) into information (which has been sorted and analyzed), to roll that information into knowledge (which has been enhanced by understanding of context), and to roll that knowledge into wisdom (which been enhanced by experience and intuition). From there you can proceed to good decisions, and ultimately to mission success; moreover, at this point you of course now have more data. From there, it’s an opportunity for continuous improvement and possibly even further innovation.
My challenge right now is to come up with a clear image to convey this. The one that springs naturally to my mind is linear, but trusted advisors seem to favor a more cyclical illustration.
Please take a look at these two logos (which were created by yours truly), and tell me which one gets my message across most effectively:
And please feel free to post comments here (or send me email) to elaborate on your thoughts about this!
Engage with people at all levels of the client organization so that they can learn, manage information, and communicate easily in a safe and supportive computing environment.
Use experience, skills, and knowledge to help our clients build a mature information technology function that aligns with organizational mission and goals.
Enable nonprofit organizations to use innovative and effective information technology tools to serve human needs.
Talk about mission alignment! I’ve already dedicated my professional life to these goals (plus a few others), but now I will be an integral part of an organization whose motto is “we’re better together,” rather than a lone nut! The ultimate in desired outcomes is that the world will be a better place, because the organizations that Tech Networks of Boston is serving will be succeeding in their missions.
Most days of the week, I tend to think of information technology as morally neutral. It isn’t inherently good or evil; the applications of a technology are good or evil.
But I do find some forms of information technology irritating or counter-productive – especially as they are often used in the nonprofit/philanthropic sector.
PowerPoint happens to be in that category.
I came to conclusion through my favorite research method. (I.e., staring off into space for about half an hour.) During this strenuous research, I asked myself two questions:
When have I enjoyed giving a presentation based on PowerPoint?
When have I enjoyed or learned a lot from someone else’s PowerPoint presentation?
Although I try to avoid giving PowerPoint presentations these days, I had no trouble answering Question #1 on the basis of previous experience. I almost always liked it. It’s great to have my talking points, my graphic displays, and my annotations packaged in one document. Assuming that there’s no equipment failure on the part of the projector, the screen, the computer, or the storage medium that holds the PowerPoint document – it’s very convenient – although it’s not very safe to assume that none of these factors will fail.
In short, PowerPoint is designed to make presenters reasonably happy. (Except in cases of equipment failure.)
The answer to Question #2 is a little more difficult. I can be an exacting judge of how information is presented, and of whether the presenter is sensitive to the convenience and learning styles of the audience.
Perhaps the presenter put too many points on each slide, or too few. Perhaps I was bored, looking at round after round of bulleted text, when graphic displays would have told the story more effectively. Perhaps I wondered why the presenter expected me to copy the main points down in my notebook, when he/she knew all along what they were going to be. Perhaps the repeated words, “next slide, please,” spoken by the presenter to his/her assistant seemed to take on more weight through sheer repetition than the content under consideration. Perhaps there were too many slides for the time allotted, or they were not arranged in a sequence that made it easy to re-visit specific points during the question and answer period.
In short, PowerPoint as a medium of presentation does not tend to win friends and influence people. (Of course, the best designed PowerPoint presentations succeed spectacularly, but the likelihood of creating or viewing one is fairly low.)
However, all is not lost. If you have struggled to attain some high-level PowerPoint skills, and your role in a nonprofit/philanthropic organization calls for you to make frequent presentations, I can offer you advice in the form of the following three-point plan:
Knock yourself out. Create the PowerPoint presentation of your dreams. Include all the bells and whistles. Be sure to write up full annotations for each slide.
Print out this incredible PowerPoint presentation in “handout” format, and give a paper copy to each person at the beginning of your talk. As a bonus, you can also tell your audience where they can view or download it on the web.
Cull out all but five or six slides for each hour of your planned presentation. These should only include graphics that must be seen to be believed, and text that is more effective when read silently than when spoken. This severely pared-down version will be the PowerPoint document that you will actually use during your presentation.
I realize that this will probably not be welcome advice, but the interests of your organization will undoubtedly dictate that you deploy a PowerPoint strategy that will, at the very least, not alienate the audiences at your presentations.