Personal musings. Views are my own.

Technology and community organizing

Dotorganize just released a report they did after interviewing 400 social change groups on how they’re currently using technology, what challenges they face, but more importantly, what they could be doing better. One part of the report I found especially exciting:

Organizers do not request any sort of universal ‘killer app’ or mention one runaway toolset. And no two organizations express exactly the same need. We are witnessing a sector that is far too nimble and specialized for a ‘one-size fits all’ solution, or for a ‘one-stop shop.’ Social change organizers needs are too varied to render any single tool suite a viable sector-wide solution. As one organizer put it, ‘We have no way of combining all of our needs into one package. [We need] customizable integration — at an affordable price!’

How many organizations out there have their ‘prospective funders database’ in Microsoft Excel? Or have tried to implement an open-source solution that was either way more than you guys needed, or not enough, and either way, virtually impossible to customize? To me, it seems that both scenarios result in a lack of current development in technology for the non-profit sectors happening without the above stated in mind.

One thing that I’ve noticed about a lot of open-source technology is that they do try to be everything for everyone, the “next Microsoft Word.” from the end-users’ perspective, if you try to implement one solution with the intention of tweaking it for your own needs, it’s a massive pain to do… so inevitably, we all end up building brand new, custom applications that have 75% already been done before. After more recently working with Hibernate at work and even TextPattern on my own sites, it’s been refreshing to see “all-encompassing” software that actually does do most of what I want it to. But in the case of Hibernate, it’s a more general framework to accomplish one part of a much bigger project at work. TextPattern is a piece of software that targets a more specific need (content management), and is built flexible enough to handle pretty much anything I’d need to do on a simple website. But it’s not very ready to be coupled with other technologies that would manager other more complex types of content (e-commerce, workflow management). Developing with open hooks into critical pieces of the system is more of the next level this report is talking about.

I went to volunteer with SAPAC last night for voter registration up in the Devon neighborhood. Me and the main coordinator of the project went to an elementary school that was having a parent teacher conference to ask parents if they were registered to vote, and register them on the spot if they were up for it. It was pretty fun, it’s hard to get people past the initial idea that’s I’m about to impose a sales pitch on them, although much less-so than it would have been like if I rang the doorbell to their house. But once I got past that initial discomfort, it was interesting to see how people responded. Some people didn’t speak English, and one woman’s daughter told me outright that she was undocumented. Many others were still waiting on citizenship, and of those who were able to register, some who new they needed to were ready to just go ahead and sign up, and others seemed still confused on what the point of it all was. One South Asian or Middle Eastern woman asked me “why should I vote, what difference does it really make?” I told her if she didn’t vote, then she definitely wouldn’t make a difference. After thinking about it for a second, she did sign up. But there was definitely a good mix of attitudes towards the whole political process…