ideas, innovations and apps for social work in the age of smartphones and social media
Deborah Elizabeth Finn
Strategist and Consultant
Technology for the Nonprofit and Philanthropic Sector
Boston, MA, USA
When it comes to information and communication technology strategy, the social workers (and other line staff at nonprofit organizations) often feel intimidated by the geeks.
However, as organizations put greater emphasis on online engagement strategies, user-generated content, and online community building, the social workers can bring crucial resources to the table: their formal training and real-life experience in community organizing.
Increasingly, I find that the technology professionals are coming to me for advice about how to get nonprofit stakeholders to use a new set of technology tools. I think that we’re all pretty clear that “if you build it, they will come” usually fails as an outreach strategy. You may be able to persuade stakeholders inside and outside the organization to visit your new Web 2.0 site once, but it’s much more difficult to give those stakeholders incentives to become passionate participants, content providers, outreach workers, and organizational advocates of your cool tool. No matter how cool a tool seems to the geeks, it won’t be used if the stakeholders don’t see an urgent need to use it.
Lately, I’ve been telling the geeks that creating buy-in for Web 2.0 resources is a simple problem in community organizing, and that they should humbly petition the distraught technophobic social workers for guidance.
I can think of several possible benefits of this approach:
• The organization will benefit from making use of in-house talent that has not yet been tapped for its online strategy.
• The technology team will have an opportunity to forge new relationships with technophobic colleagues, in which the former approach the latter as students and colleagues rather than aliens with mysterious powers.
• The social workers will have some fun explaining things to geeks that seem self-evident to former, but which are completely baffling to most of the latter.
• The organization’s programmatic and technology planning can be more closely integrated.
I often tell my clients that I learned a lot about fostering good relationships between technology staff and non-technology staff through experiences in interfaith dialogue. In order to work, the participants need to go into the dialogue with the goal of mutual education and relationship building, rather than evangelizing and demonstrating the superiority of one’s own viewpoint. Speaking as one of the geeks, I think we should acknowledge that we have not always been the best of interfaith dialogue partners, that that we should redress the imbalance by acknowledging that we have something to learn.
Deborah Elizabeth Finn brings resources and needs together for nonprofits and philanthropies, mostly through strategic use of information and communication technologies. She serves as a paid consultant to Community TechKnowledge.