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Working Through the Community




Jan 16, 2001


Jonathan Peizer

This is a very good point. When I work with NGOs or civil society communities, I focus very much on "trusted source relationships". Who knows who, who works with who and who respects who. In the end, and for better or worse organizationally, many civil society initiatives are extremely personality based. While this is not necessarily the best way to run an enterprise, the benefit on the not-for-profit side is that people in this sector are willing to invest their heart & soul (and thus their personalities) into the endeavors to keep them afloat, even with limited resources. People (and de facto organizations) in these situations are more likely to be influenced by others whom they trust that have had a good experience with technology and who have made it work for them. Commercial enterprises on the other hand do not have to be sold like this. They have a bottom line focus on revenue generation through efficiency and productivity, and understand technology provides them an edge in meeting their objective.

I have a modus operandi when implementing technology projects. Because they are not intuitive, people tend to get defensive and put up "blocks" when confronted with something they don't understand. So I never try to push any solution. Instead if I am working with multiple groups, I always look for the so called "early adopters" and work with them to create a successful solution. It is the nature of people that if they look over the fence and see something that works for someone else, they want to try it as well. So the secret is pulling people into using technology rather than pushing it upon them. You create a success with those who are interested first, and in fact don't work with those who aren't in the first phase. However, you always leave the door open for them to come in later and be sure to advertise your successes. I've used this methodology successfully in the operational and programmatic IT sphere within and across countries.

One of the real problems with technology solutions is that they can be costly failures if not implemented correctly. There is a higher degree of failure if human technology resources are scarce -- this is the case in most not-for-profit environments. Basically one cannot afford a failure in this environment, because people will be much less likely to try again and spend precious resources. Technology is still looked upon as somewhat of a diversion from mission in the not-for-profit sector. Organizations spend money on what looks like an administrative cost rather than doing the primary work of the organization or initiative. The reality is that partly as a result of the Internet and partly as a result of more user friendly technology overall, IT has moved from a back office to a front office benefit that can improve program delivery. But that still is not very well understood in the not-for-profit community.

To mitigate IT project failure it's best to spend limited resources on projects, people and organizations who proactively wish the project to succeed. Therefore the "pull" methodology also focuses IT implementation resources on the people who want the project to succeed rather than on those who are skeptical or defensive about it at the outset. These people become less skeptical when they see positive results and a successful project, but are far more likely to have an adverse affect on a successful implementation if they are dragged into it kicking and screaming in the first phase.

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