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Making the Case for Technology Within the Community

Post:

05

Date:

Dec 8, 2000

From:

Mario Morino


My name is Mario Morino and I'm with the Morino Institute. This is my first interaction with the discussion, although I've been reading the materials and suggestions as they've been coming forward. Before I build on Daniel's comments and those of his CompuMentor team, I'd like to express my appreciation and that of all of us involved with this effort at the Morino Institute. We've received over 15 standalone written commentaries on top of the many inputs that have been presented to this forum. They've been very effective.

This group reflects a tremendous collective knowledge base on this subject and the depth and insights of many of the writings have been excellent. Hopefully, when we attempt to incorporate what we've learned, we will do justice to the rich critiques you've provided us.

But, the purpose of this posting was to add to Daniel's and CompuMentor's comments.

It was not our intent to place excessive faith in technology for that is not what we believe -- and thanks for pointing this out to us. I would, however, take the points made even further.

The issue of effective technology application goes well beyond just knowing or even being able to apply the technology. When we spoke of "good organizations" we did not mean to speak to their purpose, but more to their capacity and effectiveness in how they are managed and operated.

The implication we wanted to make was more like "well run" than good. And "well run" starts with clear mission and hopefully one that itself is advancing social progress (and ideally in a meaningful way). Well-run organizations have leadership and basic management. The reason I stress this, is because without these fundamentals, so much is in vain or lost with investments in technology or for that matter with any other investment until the root causes of an organization's ineffectiveness are cured.

This is why in another section of the report we stressed the importance of funders being more strategic in their investments with regards to deploying and demonstrating technology. Although this may appear hard to many, by creating really compelling demonstrations for how technology can be applied in effective ways to advance the mission of organizations and the social progress they exist to advance, then the overall case for investments in technology is furthered for all.

Technology can be remarkable in its application, but it can also be calamitous. There is a Maslovian foundation that underpins its effectiveness within organizations ---

- clear, meaningful and relevant mission (in our case ones that strive to address the root causes of issues facing low-income communities)

- strong leadership -- that ensures the organization is first staying on mission and that any application of the technology is made to support and advance that mission

- good management -- for without a reasonably well-functioning organization, from service delivery to client service as the CompuMentor email noted, there is little basis or context within which to apply technology -- what one must never fall prey to is the trap that technology solves management or people problems; it doesn't and it often exacerbates them

- Adequate staffing -- in terms of the number of people in an organization, their level of commitment, and, how well prepared (skill and staff development) they are with respect to the roles they are performing

I know how unrealistic this may all sound to many, with so many great nonprofits that run on a shoe-string, being severely underresourced. But that's exactly the challenge. Because of this rather fragile structure of organizations, technology can have good or bad impacts on the organization's effectiveness. It all comes back to people, leadership and management.

Our use of the phrase "good organization" was the wrong one and we need to better represent that we are referring to the state of the organization's capacity -- both organization and delivery capacity and how well it is managed.

As to the second point raised, about understanding why certain technology works and in which situations, I can only echo that critique. If anything, the real essence of the technology is not just about information, but rather about when it is applied for communications and engagement.

Using pagers with children, mentors and families can be a great assistance to reducing time to critical intervention.

Using a palm pilot loaded with poison control information to assist an emergency medical team to diagnose the poisoning of a child or person, is a good use of technology.

Using multi-media technologies in a way to teach and enable children to express themselves, may be much more important than mastering Windows.

We tend to think of technology too much in terms of what it did in building data bases, producing reports and churning out statistics. This is all very useful in the right context, but technology is broader, more pervasive.

I don't believe that technology is any more or any less relevant to the NPO world than it is to commerce, to higher education, to medicine, to emergency response or any other sector in life. It can be highly relevant and as in any sector, we do have to understand what we seek to do, what we need to do, and then ask if and how technology can help us do it better, it ways we could not do otherwise, and in a cost-effective manner that is affordable and sustainable. There are very unique attributes and characteristics of the NPO world, but the more we insulate our thinking to the NPO world, the more we run the risk of excluding relevant learning from other sectors of society.

Sorry for the lengthy response. I know Daniel Ben-Horin and CompuMentor well and very much respect their work. And, I'm in agreement with the points being made and wanted to amplify them and place them more within the context of what we hope to eventually communicate through the report we are discussing.

By the looks of things, you all have been wonderful in helping us understand the strengths and weaknesses of our work and the omissions. We look forward to this continuing dialog.

My best to all,
Mario

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