NetAction Notes

Published by NetAction Issue No. 92 April 24, 2003
Repost where appropriate. See copyright information at end of message.


Online Tools for Technology Planning
Taking Risks with Templates
Conference Chat
About NetAction Notes

Online Tools for Technology Planning

As our reliance on technology grows, so too does our need to plan for it. But technology planning is seldom on the "to do" list of nonprofit organizations, and if the subject does come up it could generate lots of kicking and screaming (speaking metaphorically, of course) from busy staff. It doesn't have to be that way.

In a nonprofit organization, technology planning isn't just about deciding if it's time to replace your computers or upgrade your software; it's about connecting your technology needs to your organization's mission. Typically, the steps involved in preparing a comprehensive technology plan include assessing your existing technology infrastructure, determining your future technology needs, identifying the available resources, and establishing a time line for implementation. Ideally, this type of planning process starts with a team that includes board members as well as staff, and concludes with the drafting of a written plan to guide implementation and possibly also help your organization secure the necessary funding to implement the plan.

There are many useful online resources to help nonprofits plan for their future technology needs. In this issue of NetAction Notes we highlight some of the resources available to help an organization navigate the steps that are typically involved in preparing a written technology plan. Even if your organization isn't in a position to undertake a full-fledged planning process, you may find some of these online planning tools useful.

Online Technology Planning Tools and Resources:

This is one of the best all-around tools for assessing an organization's tech-savvy as well as its existing technology needs. Users rate their organization's technology practices against "best practices" benchmarks by responding to a series of questions. One section deals specifically with best practices benchmarks for technology planning, so users can quickly see how they compare. The tool is available as a downloadable PDF file at NPower or the Benton Foundation.

This is a useful tool for assessing your organization's existing technology resources. Once you've filled in all the blanks, you'll have a comprehensive picture of your organization's resources, including costs. OneNorthWest works closely with environmental organizations in the Pacific Northwest, and developed the form to assess the technology status of the groups they assist. But the form is available online for use by other organizations and can be downloaded from OneNorthWest as a PDF or Word file.

Both of these are interactive online tools that require users to fill in the blanks. TechSurveyor is an assessment tool that can help you survey staff, gives you a "snapshot" of your organization's technology resources, and lets you generate reports. TechAtlas is similar, but actually takes you through the steps involved in developing a technology plan. Users start by reviewing their organization's mission, assessing existing resources, and identifying and prioritizing needs. It also helps you track your progress in implementing your technology goals and lets you create written reports. The tools are free but NPower requires users to register before they use them. Both are available from NPower.

In addition to a virtual library of technology planning how-to articles, TechSoup offers dozens of worksheets helpful to organizations in the process of creating a technology plan. Unlike the assessment tools described above, TechSoup's worksheets are basically lists of questions that an organization should ask and answer in planning for technology. The worksheets each address a specific aspect of technology. For example, one worksheet will help you assess your organization's accounting software, another will help you assess your staff training needs. Links to all of the technology planning articles and worksheets are on the TechSoup website.

This may be the Cadillac of technology planning resources. In addition to a detailed series of lesson plans on all aspects of the technology planning process, the web site offers a variety of planning tools and fact sheets, articles, plan templates and examples of completed plans. The lesson plans and other resources are available as downloadable PDF files on the Strategic Technology website.

This tool helps users determine the true costs of technology, which is not just what the cost of hardware and software. In addition to the worksheet, which is downloadable as an Excel spreadsheet file, a guide to using the worksheet is offered as a downloadable PDF file. Both are on the NPower Seattle web site.

The technology planning curriculum from the New York Foundation for the Arts may be especially useful for cultural organizations. Not quite as comprehensive as Strategic Technology's curriculum, it also covers the complete planning process and includes a variety of useful tools. It's available on the NYFA web site. Art Wire's budget worksheet is also useful.

Taking Risks with Templates

Search engines can greatly enhance the functionality of a nonprofit web site, and templates are useful tools in site design. But if you plan to combine these tools in an interactive site, think carefully about the results that users might obtain. A recent posting to the Risks Forum illustrated what can happen when you don't.

The poster was searching Google for information related to terrorism, and the search results included a sponsored link with the following text: "Terrorism - Huge Range, Low Prices, Great Service - CLICK HERE!"

While some may find this particular result a bit humorous, the poster pointed out that the reaction would probably be very different if the key words for the search were "child pornography" instead of "terrorism."

See "Careless Use of Web Templates" at for the full text of the post. The Risks Forum is a moderated list that highlights the potential risks to the public that derive from using computers and information technology. Archives and subscription information are on the web site.

Conference Chat

WiFi and chat software can add a whole new dimension to the way people interact at conferences. In a thought-provoking article entitled "In-Room Chat as a Social Tool," Clay Shirky describes how the use of real-time chat enhanced communication at a two-day conference attended by about 30 people.

Among the advantages was the ability of participants to comment on a speaker's presentation without interrupting the speaker's presentation or train of thought. The software also allowed participants to share personal insights, supplement the speaker's material with information gleaned from the web, and engage in private conversations without disturbing other participants.

As Shirky noted, "Real world groups are accustomed to having tools to help them get their work done - flipcharts, white boards, projectors, and so on. These tools are typically used by only one person at a time. This experiment demonstrated the possibility of social tools, tools that likewise aid a real-world group, but that are equally accessible to all members at the same time."

See the O"Reilly web site for the complete article.

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