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CBOs - Essential Conditions

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CBOs - Introduction

CBOs - Challenges

CBOs - Essential Conditions



Factors influencing successful adoption and sustainability of advanced technologies (eg. GIS/GPS) in a nonprofit community-based organization are listed in order of frequency of appearance in the literature. How these factors relate to Jacobsen's 10 essential conditions are described below.


(1. = Most frequently observed factor)

1. a champion who can envisage, demonstrate and articulate the appropriate "fit" of technology to the organization's cause

2. need a road map - how to use the IT - ways of communicating others' implementation efforts

3. seeing appropriate need or use for technology

4. funding needs to be greater and flexible to allow investment in IT

5. need to be well informed of the choices available, risks/benefits, and complete costs

6. need to develop strategy, IT budget

7. responsive, strategic leader

8. open-source, available data, interoperability

9. proven field use



1 - Strategic Leadership (Essential)


Moving forward with aphoba (without fear): A leader who is open to new ideas, responsive to the changing needs of their staff, clients and accepting of changing capacities of technology, facilitates technology adoption within an organization. In CBO's, this is particularly important, because of the diverse stakeholder interests, general lack of funds to dedicate to technology, and paucity of examples of technology solutions from other nonprofit organizations. Solutions need to be creative, innovative, and therefore require a leader who is willing to take a risk to invest effort, time and funds into something new and often unproven. A leader also needs to judge how to implement a new technology considering long term sustainability for thier organization. An example lies in the case of Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (2005) for her work in the Green Belt Movement in Africa, an effort to reverse environmental degradation and building community supports for women through reforestation. Her grassroots work was started without technology, but other individuals involved in geographic information systems saw the benefit of using the technology to monitor tree plantings, measure environmental health and provide sophicated analyses of the impact of her work - a critical piece to generate more support and investors and increase awareness of her work. The first person to approach her suggested she pay him to create the datasets and any subsequent derivatives. She chose instead a second offer, bringing training and the technology to her volunteers and building capacity within her group. From a simple beginning with GPS receivers marking where trees were planted (35 million so far), they have since gone on to develop their own laboratories, creating 3-D maps with satellite imagery of forest change, and most importantly, showing the impact the group is having on the ecosystem health at an international level. While Dr. Maathai did not necessarily believe in the NEED for technology innovation, she was certainly responsive and thoughtful about implementing technology once aware of the benefits to her organization (Maathai, 2007). Her strength lies in strategic decision making, and the importance of this element is re-emphasized in other CBO examples.


2 - A learning, risk-taking culture among staff - Staff who share the CEO's beliefs, and are willing to put forth the effort required to change the tasks they are comfortable performing. Openness to new solutions/innovations step away from the traditional ways of doing things (Essential)


Staff in the nonprofit sector are generally characterized as risk-takers - they work to change society, they subsist on grants and inconsistent funding. There is little security, and no guarantee of rewards. In a CBO, this characteristic is magnified by the need to use an advanced technology such as GIS or GPS, and the pressure this puts on the organization. GIS requires significant investment of time, money, and effort long before any impact is visible. This "impact lag" can be detrimental to the attitude and support of the personnel involved, and they must continue investing and believing until the impact becomes evident their efforts can be realized.


The willingness  or sense of need to forego tradtional methods can happen quickly or drastically. In Oregon in 1997, a bill that would allow new development in a recreation area was  revived at the last minute in a State Legislature session. 1000 friends of Oregon, a nonprofit organzation devoted to protecting quality of life through land use balance and environmental conservation, had one hour before the hearings began to build a campaign to lobby against the bill. The traditional venues of communication they used (mail, telephony, door-to-door) could not be utilized in such a short time frame. They looked to an electronic solution, and were aided by ONE/Northwest, a technology support nonprofit specifcally designed to aid conservation nonprofits in their technology requirements, to begin an e-advocacy campaign, and networked using ONE/Northwest's extensive e-mail list (Kirschenbaum and Kunamnemi, 2001. They succeeded in stopping the bill  Beyond the willingness to rise to a new challenge, and attempt new methods of communication, the cooperation of a technology intermediary was crucial in this instance (see #15).


In humanitarian efforts, there is also physical risk taking as volunteers and staff put their lives in the aftermath of natural disasters, and often situate themselves within impending human crises.


3 - A mentor or expert each staff can learn and gain support from - A mentor or expert each staff can learn and gain support from as their learning journey evolves (Not Essential)


A key factor in adoption and successfully sustaining technology in CBO's is the presence of a "champion", which is slightly different than a mentor. A mentor may be passive though responsive when asked for help. A mentor does not need to lead the charge to technology innovation. A champion instigates opportunities to use and learn about the technology. A champion is proactive, and is a driving force behind the change, and fosters a receptive attitude toward the technology and subsequent applications. In the manner in which it is presented, a mentor is not essential in a CBO, however, a champion is, and a new essential condition has been established to represent this requirement (#13).



4-Technology consistently available anywhere and anytime (as the need presents itself) (Essential)



For nonprofits associated with humanitarian efforts, consistently available technology and data is the key to a successful mission. Information derived from mapping based technology builds the framework and guides operations for the rest of the mission. Reliable communication tools including e-mail, IM, satellite phone, and internet are essential for the communication within an organization and between organizations (Software Development Summit Disaster Response, 2007). In the case of natural disaster relief (hurricane, tsunami, earthquake, flooding etc...), multiple agencies, multiple governments at all levels, including international aid agencies are trying to work together and reliable technology is the key to sharing vital information. For CBO's without such crucial time requirements, reliable and accessible technology is still essential. As a key means of storing, analysing, and presenting data, a GIS is a vital link between an organization and its data and information. If this technology is not reliable or inaccessible, the organization is removed from the information it requires, and unproductive (Treuhaft et al., 2007). Using the technology as a framework upon which all information is referenced requires that is available and accessible at all times, because it is where the data, the information, lives.



5- Time to use, discuss, process, and share the learning (Essential)




Time to analyse and reflect on the impact of technology on a CBO's work is crucial. Sharing this information is as important, as nonprofits generally suffer from lack of communication about the effectiveness of technology, and many others are hindered from starting because of a lack of "roadmaps" to guide their efforts. The lack of involvement of nonprofits in technology research and development means that they are starting with generic "proven" products, or products and data designed for a custom use typically different from their own. This is like borrowing another's custom made shoe and expecting it to fit. There are likely gaps and tight spots and in some cases, they will not fit at all. Participating with other similar groups to see what solutions have worked, and how technology solutions  have been stretched or modified to fit, provides a key stepping stone for many non-profits, and empirical validation for the sector as a whole. This condition, incorporating both time to reflect internally, and time and resources to share within the sector is an essential condition for success.


Just as in other sectors, time is required to share, to collaborate, to reflect. And as in many of sectors, time is lacking. Nonprofit CBO's are not necessarily creating the space and place to communicate, however, the technology intermediaries are beginning to fill this role. Their goal is to help with the technology needs, and they need to determine those needs and address them through best practices to validate their own existence and satifisfy their own driving motivation, which is helping people help (Craigslist Foundation, 2007). Craigslist Technology Boot Camp, offers technology advice and sharing conferences for nonprofits in New York and San Francisco Bay Area. The Society for Conservation GIS recently held its 10th annual conference to provide a forum to debrief, share and learn about GIS use in conservation efforts.



6- Community and family support (Essential)



Community support is essential in a community based organization, which emphasizes the interactivity and participation of its community members to develop solutions to their own issues (Blau, 2001). In fact, the goal of GIS adoption is often to foster support and communicate with the community, as the maps generated allow for complex information to be visually presented to a broad audience easily and effectively. The use of public participation GIS REQUIRES the support of the community to generate their own data and develop their own queries as they explore information about their neighbourhoods and communities. It is the ultimate constructivist community activity!


The Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) uses participatory mapping projects to delineate areas used by indigenous South American tribes to help protect and preserve the rainforest. When illegal forestry activities are noticed, the tribes can mark the locations with GPS or identify the locations and coordinates on Google Earth. The information is then passed on to authorities. This is an example of reactive use of the technology; but there are also proactive applications. In the past, tribesmen, aided by the conservationists, would indicate their village area on a map to define areas worth protecting. Now armed with global positioning system receivers and geographic information systems, the tribesmen map out their own meaningful landscapes. Modern technology is harvesting explicit locally gathered knowledge, to be used with government officials, forestry companies to protect the land, and empowers the community itself. The map products and images on Google Earth also show the indignenous peoples the extent and distribution of change which may not be visible from their grounded perspective, thereby spawning greater community motivation, initiative and involvement in self-sustainability.




7- Funder support (Essential)


Funding was identified as an essential condition (and major limitation) in many studies of CBO's technology adoption (Corder, 2001). However, it is not as simple as "getting more money means getting more technology". Funding donors are often moved by the social issues at heart of the CBO's missions, and therefore target funding to very specific programs or strategies, not for general IT support or maintenance. Funding needs to be flexible to allow for spending across mission objectives, administration and IT. Secondly, directors require discretionary spending with those untargetted funds, to allow for the most appropriate technology to be brought in (not the donors' choice which might be informed by a different agenda), and to allow for technology support. Funding comes with expectations of visible and quick accomplishment, and CBO's often reflect this in their allocation for technology tangibles (hardware/software) versus intangibles (personnel training, data clean-up/translation costs, technical support). This strategy alone guides an organization toward technology adoption failure. Therefore, generous funding support, and realistic expectation and flexibility tied to that support, is essential.




8- On-site capacity and leadership (Not Essential)


Technology for nonprofits is difficult. As Allen Gunn mentions in his address at the Craiglist Foundation 2007 Boot Camp "unless your mission is technology, technology is a moving target". Having volunteers work on technology implementation is also not ideal because of the lack of consistency and high turnover. Hosting servers is expensive, prohibitably so for many CBO's. So, while some CBO's build in-house capacity for technology in general, and GIS specifically, are tremendously successful, many do not, and are still successful in using the technology for their efforts. This ability appears to be unique to the nonprofit sector, at least in the area of spatial information systems. Examples include the Greenbelt Alliance in San Francisco, who developed full in-house capability, and eventually spun their capacity off into a nonprofit "technology service-centre" to accommodate their own requirements, and needs of other nonprofit groups. In terms of GIS, the expense and dedication required house and support a system is too great for one organization. A  modifed outsourcing model using application specific specialists helping groups of nonprofits has been working efficiently for years, and also addresses ancillary concerns about data quality, data standards and interoperability (#15).




9- Interest in innovation spreads as new people understand technology's benefits - Team Centered (Essential)



For CBO's, the use of GIS technology in response to the tragedies of 9-11, the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina provided exemplars of the use and benefits of mapping applications to community efforts. Humaninet provides the following testimonial:


"Since the Asia tsunami disaster in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a growing number of nonprofit and humanitarian organizations have recognized the tremendous potential of Web-delivered maps and map-based analysis. Existing geospatial tools and available data will enable nonprofit teams to analyze “layers” of data in community projects, better characterize and understand health trends and needs in areas such as HIV/AIDs, and create digital maps for disaster response teams with critical information on shelter and medical needs, logistics, and security" (Humaninet, 2007).


The success of diffusion of technology innovation in nonprofit is linked to other specific conditions. Though not explicit in the list stated here, "technology establishment" is a valid condition here; nonprofits need to use "boring" technology (Gunner, 2007), that is to say, proven, not bleeding- or even leading-edge. This is certainly true for GIS diffusion; though the technology seems cutting edge for the organizations, it has been used in other sectors for decades. The technology must be low cost, low in complexity, highly relevant and highly established in order for the diffusion within the organization and the CBO subsector to occur.  Another linked factor is the presence of a technology intermediary (#15). The role of these organizations constitutes the role of the vendors, the research and development laboratories, and consultants in the private sector (Treuhaft et al., 2007), allowing for sharing of the technologies' benefits to promote diffusion.




10-Technology proves itself as superior to the previous ways of doing things (Essential)



CBO's are chronically under-resourced and can not afford the risk associated with implementing unproven resources, and this has often created a sense of wariness about technology adoption (Princeton Survey Research Associates, 2001). The urge to resist adopting or hesitancy in continuing a technology change once started are strong. Examples of this occur in conservation and human service organizations who see technology as opposed to their fundamental principles, as separating them from the "hands-on" goals of their mission. However, when proven technology and techniques are shared, and the subsequent adoption of technology facilitates better service and improved information handling, the urge to return to the traditional way is stifled (as long as values are not compromised), and there is perhaps no better incentive to move on with the change.


In the Greenbelt movement, the adoption of mapping technology fostered a new way of understanding the work of the organization. They were able to more thoroughly analyze their data, target their efforts more effectively, realize the impact of their work on a grander scale, and share that with stakeholders. It enabled a much more meaningful impact. "The ...software adds a whole new layer of analytical sophistication to our capabilities,” explained Tuite (Dr. Chris Tuite, director of GBM’s Washington, DC office). “It automates the process of change detection, which is critical for understanding what’s happening with Kenya’s forests and forests across Africa. It’s also critical to us as we plant the areas to be able to monitor the growth of the trees and the change in forestcover over time,” (Green Belt Movement, 2007). Indeed, it would be difficult for this organization to return to its traditional way of working.



Additional Essential Conditions


11 - A Culture of Trust (Essential)



A culture of trust is essential from two perspectives, within the organization and with regard to data. An advanced technology such as GIS has the ability to transform how work is conducted within an organization, generally acting as an equalizer in the access to critical information. In order to fully realize the benefits of the technology, those holding the traditional reins of power must relinquish, or at least loosen them in order to give all personnel access to information. A sub-condition here is the technology must align to the embedded values of the organization (Burt and Taylor, 2003). A second culture of trust is inherent in the reciprocal sharing of data between organizations/government sources/community members, and nature of data standards and open source software. Privacy concerns must be balanced with access to relevant data, which includes personal and socio-economic descriptors and addresses. In this case, the use of the technology (and inherent legal implications, eg. rights to the data) must align with the embedded values of the people being served by the CBO.





12- Flexibility to reallocate resources (financial, personnel) (Essential)


Besides having flexibility to divest funds across an organization as described above (#7), the structure of the organization must be able to accommodate any success of the technology implementation, or the implementation is a failure. Sustainability may come from a reorganization of structure or a more informal redeployment of personnel duties. In the case of CBO's, often working on shoe-string budgets, it is the lack of formal organizational structure and necessary creativity stemming from lack of funds that can catalyze technology innovation. Kirschenbaum and Russ (2002) describe how CBO's are often given missions that governments are deemed too bureaucratic to handle. The smaller size of the CBO allows for quicker response and calls for more personal investment in seeing a project through.


Technology may force re-shaping of an organization, and the ability to accept and engage in that shaping is often a condition of success or failure of the technology adoption. In the case of U.K. Friends of the Earth (with the ironic acronym of FOE),  serving to loosely coordinate activities of local environmental groups who traditionally concentrated solely on local issues, technology has challenged their inherent modis operandi. With a shift in environmental understanding from local to global, and the importance of interconnectivity, and similar shift in technology use from local applications to global networked communication, FOE had change how they coordinated activity. While the actual environmental paradigm shift did not sway some environmentalists from their autonomous and solely local perspective, FOE  added websites, e-mail, discussion forums, and bulletin boards, allowing the information from local studies to be shared across a greater community. This has been important in looking at extents of environmental impacts such as oil spills, air pollution, threatened wildlife habitats. Using a Web-based GIS has added to their information base and has now given them a voice in the community, as public access to the information is encouraged. Their whole focus has grown in scope and in value to their community.




13- Technology champion (Essential)



A champion was the most common factor in successful GIS implementation in Sieber's 2000 study of diverse CBO's. Technology champions were also the most common factor observed in Treuhaft et al.'s (2007) research, serving as "primary catalysts" of technology adoption in all twelve cases studies examined. Whether out sourcing or developing capacity in-house, whether desiring analytic capability or simply consuming information products derived from the data, having a technology champion was cited as an a causal factor in successful implementation of GIS in the work of all CBO's studied. A champion goes beyond mentoring. A champion will envisage, demonstrate and articulate the appropriate "fit" of technology to the organization's cause, understanding the most relevant application of the technology to the CBO's objectives.




14 - Commitment - Unique to Nonprofits: Resource Substitution



Seibel (2000) found that nonprofits did not follow the traditional factors that influenced the success of GIS adoption in governmental organizations. One of the new factors, which he described as incorporating at least three of the traditional factors, was commitment, manifest in passion and will. In a study of four grassroots community organizations, he found that if the passion for GIS resided (in any or all of the following ways: upper management commitment, presence of a GIS champion, support from groups' members and associates), it would be enough to ensure success in GIS implementation, and could actually facilitate "resource substitution", where "will" and "perseverance" could work around a missing essential factor. This ability to substitute and creatively work around essential conditions speaks to the flexible structure of the nonprofit, the need for personnel to cover multiple roles, and the power of people wanting to accomplish a goal.


Corder (2001) emphasizes this point as well, noting that some nonprofits, despite disadvantages in personnel resources and lack of technical support, have surpassed public sector agency performance, due to "heterogeneous constituencies" of donors, leaders and champions. He suggests that given a static set of operating parameters, different nonprofit agencies would come up with radically diverse strategies to adopt technology, whereas different public sector agencies would be remarkable similar in their approaches.




15 - Facilitation by Intermediaries

Intermediaries facilitate innovation for many organizations in the nonprofit area. There excellent examples of intermediaries both holding and supporting the technology for nonprofits' use.


Craiglist Foundation is a nonprofit "catalyst for nonprofit organization" helping nonprofit organizations and leaders succeed by producing and providing resources (programs, materials, instruction, forums) and defragmenting communication.


Management support organizations, directories, software developments, articles, events: The number of resources supporting social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders increases daily. Similarly, platforms connecting compassionate citizens to causes, organizations, and opportunities to help are also on the rise. What's called for is an atlas that easily connects people to what they need to do good, rather than any further duplication of efforts. Our solution is a clearinghouse that connects people and organizations to the resources they need, streamlining the discovery of solutions and acting as a catalyst for more effective social change. In a nutshell, it's craigslist for the nonprofit sector. http://craigslistfoundation.org/index.php?page=Home



In the example of Healthy City (http://www.healthycity.org/), a GIS is used to spatially reference a database of numerous social characteristics, to make information about Los Angeles neighborhoods available online. Data can be obtained almost instantly in the form of text, graphs, or maps, and users can choose exactly what type of data they would like to examine.




Maps 2.0 is a nonprofit organization and concept dedicated to providing other nonprofits with an online resource for "sharing best practices in geographic information systems (GIS), geospatial analysis, and digital maps" with the goal of making these technology based solutions more accessible to these organizations.



It is vital for a nonprofit to maintain control of their "technological destiny" and data. They must be cognizant of what capabilities they already have (in-house and out) and what they want to accomplish with technology, understand their data, particularly privacy concerns, and be conversant with a facilitator about these isues.   This concept is behind the difference between fully outsourcing, as opposed to facilitation by a technology intermediary.




 Assessment of conditions for technology adoption and sustainability in community based organizations




Not Essential

1. Strategic Leadership

2. Learning Risk-taking culture

3. Mentoring


4. Reliable Technology

5. Time for review/sharing

6. Community support

7. Funder support

8. On-site capacity


9. Diffusion of interest

10. Technology proves itself as superior (Resistance is futile)

11. Culture of Trust (new)

12. Flexibility in reallocating resources (new)

13. Technology champion (new)

14. Commitment (new)


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