5 Things Every Nonprofit Should Know About Their Hosted Data

Event Date(s): 
March 12, 2008

Download the seminar materials.

As nonprofits increasingly depend on hosted web applications to support their operations and programmatic work, each organization is creating a complex, unique and distributed set of information resources. These assets live on different servers, in different formats, managed by different software, under different licenses, in different jurisdictions. Online storage of membership and supporter databases, mailing lists, web applications, shared documents, remote backups, audio, video, and images comprise a larger volume of the nonprofit information lifeblood each day, but their long-term availability and cohesion is by no means a given.

And nonprofits are not always cognizant of risks raised by these new software and storage models. Data that is remotely stored can become unavailable and be lost in a number of ways. Ownership of hosted data is not always well-defined or well-understood, and control of hosted data is too often through individual staff members rather than through the organization. Nonprofits working on controversial issues expose themselves to new surveillance risks when information is managed by third parties, and security and backup take on new complexities when data lives outside the physical office. Just knowing where all the data lives is an ongoing challenge.

But there are concrete steps each nonprofit can take to retain control of their data destiny. The seminar will reflect on 5 critical things each nonprofit should know as they host their data remotely. The session will be interactive and participant driven, with specific scenarios addressed. Bring your hosted data questions!

Managing Nonprofit Technology Projects - NY

Event Date(s): 
January 10, 2008 to January 11, 2008

Aspiration and Idealware hosted the first-ever Nonprofit Technology Project Management event in New York in January 2008.

Managing Nonprofit Technology Projects examined the tools and best practices that help nonprofits deliver successful technology solutions - whether websites, packaged software implementations, or custom applications.

Interactive sessions and demos allowed a diverse group of participants to compare processes, tools, successes, and lessons learned. Topics discussed included team collaboration, project planning, software selection, migration, and project rollout, and map out the software tools – from project management packages to collaborative communication to issue tracking and more – that support successful technology projects.

Feel free to join the MNTP discussion list, which we're using to continue the dialog.

What were the Goals?

MNTP had three primary goals:

  • To strengthen the community of practice among those who identify themselves as nonprofit technology project managers
  • To enhance the knowledge and capacity of technology project managers within a rich, sharing environment
  • To map out the range of tools and best practices being employed in nonprofit technology project management

Participants exchanged project management tools and techniques that they could immediately apply to the management of any project, and discussed project management processes – from project initiation to project planning, project execution, monitoring and control, to project closure – in the context of stories and experiences. We inventoried resources and best practices for nonprofit IT project management, ranging from templates to trainings, and showed useful software packages as they are used in actual nonprofits.

Significant time was spent discussing appropriate practices and processes for defining requirements in nonprofit software projects to inform the "build, buy, or rent" decisions that vex nonprofit technology managers on a regular basis.

Who Was There?

MNTP was focused on growing the community of nonprofit technology project managers by providing support to those currently practicing as project managers, recruiting and offering support to those new to (or bewildered by) this craft, and creating a space for the "accidental project managers" to share their stories, discover their allies, and grow into more "intentional" project managers. A significant part of the event was built around mentoring relationships; experienced individuals with knowledge and stories to share will collaborate with participants who wanted to learn more.

Participants were encouraged to bring real-world projects to MNTP. We did some real-time project management, coaching, and assessment, and tried to measure our progress by the end of MNTP and beyond.

What Was On the Agenda?

The agenda was designed specifically to ensure participants interacted with and learned from each other, while also providing a solid grounding in essential topics. The following workshops were included in the proceedings:

  • Nonprofit Technology Project Management 101: For those who self-identify as new to the discipline, this session will provide an overview of nonprofit technology project management. Essential topics, truths, and tools will be presented, with the second half of the session employing a question-driven format.
  • Anatomy of a Well-Managed Technology Project: Drawing from case studies good, bad and ugly, this session will focus on key aspects of successful project management. The primary take-away will be guidelines on how project managers can maintain control of their projects.
  • Designing and Redesigning Web Sites: Any nonprofit that has published a web site understands the frustrating nature of the process. This session will consider how best to take on the task of casting organizational identity on the web while also serving target audiences and delivering value to web visitors accordingly.
  • What Should a Web Site Cost? One of the most vexing questions in any project is “what are appropriate costs for technology and labor?” This session will utilize anecdotal data and participant input to explore costing for different types of web sites, from simple “brochure-ware” sites to custom, database-backed applications and points in between.
  • Mapping Communication Tools to Tasks: There are a range of ways to collaborate with partners and stakeholders in any project. But which tools work best for which types of collaboration? This session will sort out appropriate times to employ email, instant messaging and chat, wikis, phone calls, file sharing, forums and other tools.
  • Using Wikis for Effective Collaboration: Over the past several years, wikis have demonstrated their value as a key tool in certain project management processes. This session will map out best practices and techniques for successfully utilizing wiki technology for project collaboration. Also discussed will be when not to use wikis, and when more structured information sharing tools are advisable.
  • Selecting and Recommending Tools – The Idealware Process: Laura Quinn will describe the Idealware methodology for gathering collective software knowledge in specific software categories, as well as their approach to assessing tools and evaluating appropriate uses. Case studies will detail past tool reports, and participants will work through key steps in the Idealware process in a software category decided by the group in the session.
  • Managing Nonprofit Software Development Projects: While a best practice for nonprofits technologists is to try and utilize existing tools and services, there are invariably times when the appropriate tools and applications don't exist. But software development is not a core competency of most nonprofits, and too often nonprofit software development efforts spiral out of control or end in less-than-complete realization of vision. This session will explore how best to get from concept to running code with out losing focus on mission.
  • Managing Consultants and Dealing with Vendors: This peer sharing workshop will invite participants to compare their processes and tactics for managing critical project relationships that fall outside of organizational boundaries.
  • Horrific Tales of Miserable Project Management Failure: Nothing is more instructive than the mistakes of others. Participants will be invited to swap stories and cautionary tales of the many speed bumps, pot holes, and multi-vehicles pile-ups on the road to project management success.
  • A Whirlwind Discussion of Project Management Software Utilities: This fast-paced session will allow participants to share the various project management utilities available, including time tracking, task management, source code control, and more.
  • Software Share: Basecamp, MS Project, DreamTeam and more – Nonprofit practitioners will provide a variety of 10-15 minute software demos to allow participants to see the packages in real-life situations and compare the strengths and weaknesses.

How can I stay informed and get involved?

Stay informed about key dates and registration information by signing up for our low-volume announcements list

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Aspiration Leads Telecentre Leaders' Forum at GK3

Event Date(s): 
December 9, 2007 to December 10, 2007

Aspiration was delighted to lead event design and facilitation of the TLF that took place before Global Knowledge 3 in Kuala Lumpur.

The Forum provided a unique opportunity for people leading grassroots telecentre networks around the world to deepen relationships, share skills and shape the future of the community.

The agenda followed Aspiration's standard interactive and collaborative patterns, and was designed to help network leaders share their knowledge while seeking insights and finding answers to challenges they are facing in their work. Sessions featured projects and innovative practices, while also addressing issues of strategy and sustainability. Network leaders were able to get involved in shaping, leading and growing the community.

All participants were encouraged to take an active role in shaping the dialog and creating concrete event outcomes based on four primary objectives:

  1. Gather network leaders to shape the future of the community, with the aim of catalyzing increased collaboration across the telecentre movement.
  2. Share concrete strategies and services that networks are using to support grassroots telecentres.
  3. Define specific collaborative activities amongst telecentre networks, especially in: telecentre manager training; sustainability; network capacity; research; and knowledge sharing.
  4. Explore what it means to belong to the community, and develop a concrete vision that will guide this community into the future.

Aspiration was delighted to once again be working with an amazing network of telecentre leaders and practitioners brought together by and IDRC.

Aspiration was also invited by the Global Knowledge Partnership to facilitate a session at GK3 entitled Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships in Education, where over 40 participants worked through highly collaborative processes to identify common areas of interest for partnership, and then engage in discussions on potential partnership opportunities.

Open Translation Tools 2007

Event Date(s): 
November 29, 2007 to December 1, 2007

Aspiration designed and hosted the first-ever “Open Translation Tools Convergence”. This 3-day event brought together two passionate communities: those creating open source software tools to support translating open content, and those with a need for better tools to support translation of the open content they create.

Aspiration published a paper entitled "Open Translation Tools: Disruptive Potential to Broaden Access to Knowledge", documenting learnings and outcomes from the event. In addition, a video and inventory of open translation tools were also produced.

The event took place in Zagreb, Croatia, from 29 November to 1 December 2007, and was co-organized by Aspiration and Multimedia Institute - [MI2]. Open Translation Tools 2007 was supported by the generosity of the Open Society Institute, with additional support provided by TechSoup.

The event was convened to:

  • Document the open source translation tool landscape - What's out there? And what should we create to fill the gaps?
  • Inventory “open content translation use cases” - What translation support is needed?
  • Strengthen the community of practice around open source translation tools for open content, with a particular focus on delivering value to nonprofit and non-governmental organizations (NPOs and NGOs).

The agenda was collaboratively developed by participants in the time leading up to and during the gathering. Also see additional event background.

All event proceedings were captured on the event wiki. An ongoing discussion is taking place on the event mailing list.

Overall, we followed a user-driven approach to map tools to use cases, assessing what is supported by currently available open source software tools and services, and identifying the most pressing needs. Primary focus was placed on supporting and enabling distributed human translation of content, but the role of machine translation was also considered. “Open content” encompasses a range of resource types, from books to manuals to documents to blog posts to multimedia.

The event targeted three complementary outcomes:

  • A mapping of the open source translation tool landscape, enumerating tools and tool categories as well as services, projects and resources, and assessing gaps and opportunities for development. There is currently very little in terms of a directory of translation tools for content publishers, and this event will serve to create such an inventory.
  • An inventory of “open content translation use cases”, with open content creators and publishers describing how they would like open source software tools and technologies to support their translation needs. These use cases will cover a range of tasks (“I need to translate a document into a second language”) and usage scenarios (“I need a widget for my blog that links to open content translation request services and lists available translated versions of my content”).
  • A strengthened community of practice around translation tools for open content for NPO and NGO needs. While many amazing projects are in play all around the globe, there are relatively few opportunities for practitioners in the field of open content translation to meet and collaborate as a community. Open Translation Tools 2007 will provide such a venue.

For more information, email or call +1.415.839.6456.

Aspiration MC's "No Slide Zone" at Oracle OpenWorld

Event Date(s): 
November 12, 2007 to November 15, 2007

Oracle invited Aspiration to MC and facilitate the first-ever No Slide Zone at Oracle OpenWorld 2007. Bucking long-held conference and trade show tradition, the No Slide Zone track prohibited the use of projected "slideware" decks, instead encouraging presenters to engage in creative and interactive presentation formats.

Sessions included a Jeopardy spoof focused on database security, a caged death match between old school and new school database admins, a content management cook-off, and a mad scientist laboratory cooking up "Enterprise 2.0" experiments.

While it was a tad outside of our nonprofit technology mission focus, the event provided Aspiration a great opportunity to introduce our collaborative event philosophy and participant-driven session formats to a very large new audience at this 42,000-attendee gathering. Plus it was fun to play with all the high-tech event toys not normally found in the nonprofit sector, including state-of-the-art SWAG.

FLOSS Usability Sprint V

Event Date(s): 
November 2, 2007 to November 4, 2007

Aspiration and Blue Oxen Associates co-hosted the fifth FLOSS Usability Sprint November 2-4, 2007. FLOSS Usability alums Daniel Schwartz and Jon Slenk stepped up to lead the event planning, outreach and logistics. Once again, Google graciously hosted the event at their headquarters in Mountain View. Project participants included Firefox, Chandler, and WiserEarth.

"FLOSS" stands for Free/Libre/Open Source Software, and at FLOSS Usability Sprints, open source software projects partner with usability practitioners to address specific usability challenges in the software tools they are creating. Each team identifies usability outcomes they want to achieve during the course of the 3-day sprint, then collaboratively designs and implements processes for realizing the stated outcomes.

Event proceedings were tracked on the FLOSS Usability Wiki.

Aspiration Directs "Good to Great FOSS" event in Nairobi

Event Date(s): 
October 24, 2007 to October 26, 2007

At the invitation of IDRC and in partnership with PRIDE Africa, Aspiration directed the first-ever “Good to Great FOSS: Open Source Software Development in Africa” convening in Nairobi from October 24-26. The workshop provided a collaborative venue for discussion on Open Source software development in a developing country context, and was attended by a diverse group of open source projects and practitioners. The workshop goal was to facilitate an open assessment on how ‘Open Source’ approaches do (and do not) improve the impact of software initiatives in a developing country context. Also discussed and documented were reflections on the most successful approaches and strategy to implementing Open Source.

Participating projects included AVOIR, DrumNet, OpenMRS, Mifos and TradeNet.

The main objectives of this workshop were:

  • To provide an opportunity for reflection and learning about how to develop successful Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) initiatives in Africa;
  • To promote collaboration and understanding of what it takes to have a successful FOSS project;
  • To document community processes and tool sets of featured projects, profiling best practices required to apply FOSS expertise to add value to various technology driven IDRC-funded projects;
  • To provide knowledge on business process in the context of FOSS projects.

An event wiki was maintained to store session notes and project profiles.

Following from the event, Aspiration will be authoring a paper that details community processes and tool sets of featured projects from the event; a profile of best practices, required resources and processes in the developing country context; as well as points of disagreement on the subject of how to develop an Open Source project in the African context; and finally, recommendations for focus areas in future support and collaboration.

Mott Grantee Focus Groups

Event Date(s): 
September 25, 2007 to October 9, 2007

The Mott Foundation invited Aspiration to design and facilitate a series of convenings to engage Mott grantees on how the foundation's web site could better serve their needs.

Grantees in Flint, Michigan, San Francisco, California, and Washington, DC were invited to review the current slate of online services, and offer feedback on both the value of those offerings and their ability to take advantage of the same.

Sun Digital Divide Summit

Event Date(s): 
October 4, 2007

Sun invited Aspiration to design and facilitate an event that brought together senior Sun executives and technologists with Sun Foundation staff to discuss how Sun could play a role in addressing the digital divide on a global level.

The day-long meeting was an extremely interactive opportunity for participants to cast long-term visions and to weigh in on what was viable and advisable in applying Sun technologies to assist those living and working in under-served and offline parts of the world.

YouthNoise Youth Summits

Event Date(s): 
September 1, 2007 to November 17, 2007

YouthNoise invited Aspiration to design and facilitate a series of Youth Summits in cities across the U.S. The goal of each Summit in the series was to engage youth in cause-based local activism by extending the YouthNoise's “MyCauseIs” program to offline contexts. The ultimate purpose of the process was to grow the connection between youth-driven ground action and the benefits of online networking, resource building, community organizing and project management.