What’s digital life like for a community enabler?

Following my rather theoretic post about developing a how-do kit and networks for community enablers I’ve had a couple of exchanges that fill out the reality. Here’s an amalgamation of those, combined with my experience and workshop discussions.

The voluntary sector community enabler’s story

I’m a development manager in a voluntary organisation that supports local groups, so I work with colleagues and volunteers on training, providing information, helping with fundraising, dealing with the council and programmes funded by Big Lottery and other agencies. Life is too many meetings, too many calls, too many emails, too much paperwork.  I enjoy it, but would love to find ways of using technology better to be more effective.

We need to be on top of the latest information nationally and locally, and already use sites like KnowHow NonProfitKnowledgeHub, Locality, Getlegal, Directory of Social Change for advice. Then there’s Zurich’s Community Starter site for groups planning action, and Community HowTo for digital tools.

Despite all that it is really difficult to put together help for people that I support – and manage my own personal information. I’ve got an iPhone but know I only use a fractional of what’s possible, and on my computer I’ve ended up with collections of bookmarks, lots of pdfs in different folders, spreadsheets storing contacts. I know I should transfer to our website and share with others, but there’s never the time.

Communications online is a mess. One large project is using Basecamp, some groups have Facebook pages, and Twitter is OK for quick messages, but not for groups. Mostly we end up with lots of cc emails.

I’m interested to see what Urban Forum found in their survey of social media use, and might try Yammer when I have a moment … but it’s no good if others won’t use it.

As well as managing our own communications we have to try and help some local groups who have been told that they must set up blogs to report how they are using funding under one of the big national programmes. That’s pretty challenging for volunteers who may be excellent at face-to-face relationships and newsletters, but just don’t have skills or confidence to do much online beyond email and standard websites. A few did manage to use the simple Posterous site, but that was bought out by Twitter and closed and they had the nightmare of trying to transfer elsewhere.

It’s tempting to think that some sort of new platform for everything might help … wasn’t Your Square Mile aiming to do that as part of the original Big Society plan? The problem is getting people to move from the familiar, particularly if their friends aren’t there and they are doubtful whether it will be maintained.

I would love to see someone trying to develop useful ways to help people like me and the groups I support – and would do what I can to help.

But it can’t be one-size-fits-all, and it shouldn’t duplicate what’s happening already. We need better connecting of existing resources, and ways in which people can pick and mix the simplest set of tools they need, with some confidence that they will continue to be available. Of course it’s not just about the tools, it’s about developing digital literacy as well as all the other literacies we need in this sort of role.

Where can I find other people like me interested in learning together?

Does this ring true? As I wrote yesterday, enablers might be councillors, community organisers, people running local groups, citizens developing a campaign and/or generally working to revive local democracy. Do please drop a comment, or email me and I’ll fictionalise if you prefer. Then we can run a workshop like this one.

I have embedded links to most of the references above, but they aren’t showing up too well. I hope to fix that shortly.

Thanks to the enablers who shared their digital lives. More please!


One comment

  • Lorna Prescott
    May 23, 2013 - 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Hi David

    I really can relate to the story above, and have been trying to find ways just to organise my own stuff better online and on various devices, before I even get to effective ways of sharing things. I’ll add a few more thoughts on your related posts. I think the key in relation to this post is what is said in relation to the idea that would be useful to develop ways to help community enablers and for them to identify how they can help others, and I totally agree that it can’t be one-size-fits-all, and it shouldn’t duplicate what’s happening already.

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