Using Maps to Deliver Your Message
I had the opportunity to attend the Planning and Conservation League's annual Symposium this past weekend. There were many sessions to choose from but one in particular caught my attention. The topic was using maps to persuade and mobilize. The presenters were Larry Orman and Tim Sinnott from GreenInfo Network and Rebecca Moore from Google Earth Outreach.
Larry Orman started off with a great point: we're overloaded with geographic information. We've got access to road maps, mash ups, interactive maps, climate change maps, election maps, and geotagged photos. But Larry pointed out that mapping is about having a point, not just about showing data.
Why are maps a popular choice for displaying cross-sections of information? One reason is that data is not an obstacle. It's available and much of it is free. Also, computers and mapping software are less expensive. And new generations of folks are map-savvy.
GIS (geographic information system) is one mapping tool that marries data and places. GIS can be used to analyze information, such as land use, commercial development, pollution impact, and to define alternative outcomes.
Maps, in general, can be used to tell a story or convey a message. Mapping tools let you unfold data in layers to reveal parts of the story. It is important, Larry emphasized, that you think about mapping as communications. Technology is whizzy and great, but it is still critical that you have a good story. You need to know who your audience is, what your message is, how much time people will have to view your map as well as at what distance and in what context.
Rebecca Moore reinforced that maps can be very effective for telling a story or delivering a message, particularly when you don't have much time to deliver it. She noted that maps can change an abstract concept into something personal for people. When done right, maps can show what is at stake instead of just telling what is at stake. They can inspire action, influence decision-makers, reach the media, and impact public policy.
Top Ten Online Tools
Ruby Sinreich, who blogs at OrangePolitics.org and lotusmedia.org, recently re-posted her top 10 social networking tools for activists on the Netcentric Campaigns website. This list is especially useful for those organizations who are just getting into the world of social networking and want to know the best tools to use.
Ruby lists Bloglines as an aggregator to use. "Collect and organize RSS feeds. See how many other users subscribe to each feed. Now you can read (or at least skim) lots of blogs and other sites with feeds." I use Bloglines and think it's very easy to use and great way to organize all your feeds in one place.
TechSoup has also posted their Top Ten Cool Tools in their blog. Check these out to see the top 10 Web2.0 tools your organization should be using right now. One of these includes LinkedIn (which GMT staff is currently on), where you can "connect to a network of other professionals, recruit employees, or even post your own resume online."
RSS in Plain English
Are you using an RSS feeder? If not, then watch the video below to find out why you need one. Common Craft created the video to show people why an RSS reader is so important and what you are missing out on by not having one.
Apply to netCorps to Gain Help in Building Your Technology Capacity
netCorps is accepting applications from Southeastern U.S. environmental organizations wishing to build their technology capacity.
According to netCorps' Executive Director, Matthew Latterell, this project, supported by the Mott Foundation’s Conservation of Freshwater Ecosystems in North America program area, will provide selected organizations with comprehensive technology plans, assistance and funds to implement key technology priorities. Priority items funded in the past include websites, database, computers, servers and more.
Twenty organizations from across the Southeast have participated in this project since 2005. netCorp will be selecting up to ten more participating groups this time around.
"netCorps helps groups find funding and in-kind support, implement technology solutions appropriate to their mission, programs and organizational resources, and help groups with budgeting, training, support, consultant selection and all the other aspects of sustaining their technology investment."
To obtain the application materials, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you will receive an automated reply with links to the application materials. Applications must be emailed or postmarked by June 8th, 2007 to be considered.
Go here to learn more information.
Sign up for TechCamp
The Progressive Technology Project's TechCamp is coming up soon.
June 12-15, at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN
Deadline for registration is May 25th.
PTP has designed a special training program for new and old organizers who are interested in building their technology skills. TechCamp training is designed to build the basic skills of community organizers in the key technology competencies for community organizing. If you're working in community organizing, you'll want to get to one of our TWO TechCamps in 2007!
You can register here.
If you have questions, call 866.298.6463 or email email@example.com .
Why Your Organization Needs to do an Online Audit
One World U.S. recently held a training about online strategies and tools. The training gave some really great tips for improving your presence online. One of the presenters, Alan Rosenblatt of the Internet Advocacy Center (check out their site for some great roundtable discussions if you are in DC), talked about why your organization should do an online audit and how to do one, gathered from his experience conducting online audits for other groups:
With an online audit you are basically re-evaluating your efforts to make your group visible online. Your organization needs to know where to begin. The one key thing to remember is to use the audit as a way to assess your efforts to promote your groups mission and reach your target audiences. You can also use it for budgeting purposes - you want spend money on solutions rather than just technology, so you get the best bang for the buck.
When doing an audit, Alan explained that it could be done in house, but getting a 3rd party to do it for you can have a big impact, since they will know what to ask of your staff so they can figure out what your group needs.
Alan explained what he does when he conducts an online audit:
-Interviews every staff member that has anything to do with the internet (whether it's the webmaster or someone who simply posts to the group's blog).
-He asks each person how they are using the internet and what they'd like to do with it, throwing out ideas along the way to see who they are recieved.
-He reviews the group's website, including the look and feel and any tools they have available for visitors.
Your website needs to serve the needs of the site visitors and your audience, not those of your organization. Think about who it is you are serving and what tools they would need to complete the actions you ask of them. Convey your message outright and have a link to an action right on the homepage, requiring only one click. For every click-through, you end up losing close to half of your audience. Also think about this when sending emails to your members and supporters - the less clicks the better and make sure the emails are personal, making your supporters feel personally invested.
Don't just audit your website, look at your overall online presence. Do you have any profiles on social networking sites like MySpace? Are you blogging, linking to other blogs, leaving comments on other blogs? Are you using Google ads? You have to go beyond your website and bring your campaign/message to where the people and where your audience is. The web allows you to do that easily and effectively. Think about all the ways you can do this, through podcasts, YouTube, e-newsletters, etc. Integrate this into your online audit.
Want an example of a before and after? The Council for a Livable World recently did a website overhaul. Here is their old site: http://old.clw.org/. And here is their newly improved site: http://www.clw.org/.
Do you need a feed reader?
And it just keeps coming... the GMT staff had a great time at the annual SEJ conference in Burlington, VT. We got to hang out with some members that we've only ever talked to on the phone. We met some great folks. We got taste Vermont cheese and delish maple syrup. Oh yeah, and we did some work.
On Friday night, we attended beat dinners on current hot topics. Each dinner was attended by about 15 folks and was hosted by a reporter or two. I attended "Reporting Outside the Traditional Newsroom," hosted by Amy Gahran, media consultant, and Rob Davis, reporter from Voice of San Diego.
Topics (& margaritas) were flowing, but one particular conversation focus was on the use of feed readers not only to stay on top of the issues you're interested in but as a way to filter out the information overflow. Those of us that are non-media should take note: reporters are using feed readers as a way to not only read other bylines but to keep tabs on issues and possible resources.
What's a feed reader? Wikipedia says it's a news aggregator that uses a web feed to retrieve syndicated web content such as weblogs, podcasts, vlogs, and mainstream mass media websites, or in the case of a search aggregator, a customized set of search results. These kinds of aggregators are user-controlled and are known for saving time since you no longer need to regularly check websites for updates. It sounds like there are many possible free feed readers out there -- Bloglines, Feedzilla, Google News, and FeedReader. (Note that this is not meant to be a comprehensive list, it just includes a few of the feeders discussed during the dinner.)
The benefits of a feeder include that you get to subscribe to the feeds that you're interested in -- content is customized by the topics you select. One downside could be that even though you're being fed the news you're requesting, you might miss out on other stories and topics that you'd normally see when visiting an outside site.
But, like Amy said, using a feed reader may not be the right fit for you. It's all about matching personal preference with your goals. Amy ran the unofficial (volunteer) SEJ 2006 Blog and you should also check out Amy's personal blog, Contentious.
Katrina Zone: Maps of Potential Sources of Environmental Contamination
This looks interesting and useful for groups doing outreach on Katrina and environmental damage work. Also check www.scorecard.org
Link: GridSphere Portal
The GIS maps on this site depict demographic and infrastructural data as well as potential sources of environmental contamination and storm damage data in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Dynamic GIS information will be found in the Aerial Imagery and GIS Data Layers application. These pre-formatted maps are intended to support the environmental health community's efforts to address the uncertainty of risk of exposure to the contaminants entering the environment as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The Cost of Non Profit Software
A new non-profit, Idealware, conducted a survey in July to reasearch the time and money that goes into researching non-profit software and to see how strong non-profits' software infrastructure is. This survey also helped Idealware prove that there is a need for an organization like theirs. They were formed to provide non-profits with information on software that can be useful for non-profits in a Consumer Reports way.
The results are very interesting and the report can be viewed in pdf format here: http://www.idealware.org/IW_software_survey_report.pdf.
They were able to get 261 participants. $6.8 million is being spent per year on software by this number of groups alone. This is a huge amount when you take into consideration that there were 550,000 non-profits in the US as of last year's tax filings.
With so much money being spent, only 58% were confident that their organization had the right software tools that will help them do their job well. Money isn't the only factor here, so is time. With so much software out there to research and compare, that's valuable time being eaten up. And in an age where technology is a huge part of our lives, especially when it comes to our jobs, time can become an even bigger factor as new software gets introduced or the current software we have gets updated so frequently. So an organization like Idealware could be very useful to help the non-profit world decrease the time and money spent choosing the software out there that will best fit their needs.