Evolution: building a better Timeraiser+ workshop 

By September 23, 2014Uncategorized
by Andi Argast

On Monday, I attended my first Timeraiser+ workshop. Having only recently joined the team here, this was a great opportunity for me to participate in and evaluate the workshop with fresh eyes. Since one of the keystones of Timeraiser+ is “Work in Perpetual Beta,” we’re always looking for ways to improve and innovate, and this includes the workshop format.

When I conduct Website Audits, the findings are summarized into Successes, Challenges, and Opportunities. This is a good way to balance what works and what doesn’t about a particular site, and I thought it might be useful to apply the same analysis to the Toronto Timeraiser+ workshop I attended.

Successes

A clear success was the explanation of the sharing imperative, and showing how Timeraiser+ walks the talk when it comes to the 4 keystone habits. The workshop covers several web-based tools, and attendees got a succinct overview and some hands-on practice with each. This practice component is key. Learning to use new digital tools can be daunting, but group work empowers people to fail and try again since someone is there to lend a (troubleshooting) hand.

Challenges

Time! It’s challenging to explain core concepts such as open architecture and the sharing imperative, and get hands-on practice with Weebly, Google spreadsheets, and Eventbrite in the space of 4 hours. The individual concepts–and tools–could be discussed for hours, but the brisk pace of the workshop doesn’t allow for this. The other big challenge, of course, is overcoming technophobia and ensuring that participants feel empowered to use the tools covered in the workshop.

Opportunities

Opportunities are my favourite section of the Website Audit, and the same is true here: after all, this is the realm of digital possibility. There are three themes that I think would make the Timeraiser+ content even more relevant to participating non-profit organizations: Approach & Practice, Interoperability, and Privacy & Security. I cover each of these in more detail below:

Approach & Practice: Focusing on these two areas will help workshop participants apply the new digital tools and practices to their own organizations, post-workshop (which is really what this is all about.) ‘Approach’ is shorthand for the work that goes into assessing whether a digital tool is right for a particular non-profit. Since each organization is different the factors they consider in the approach to a new tool will also vary, but some ideas to consider are:

  • How well is the tool supported and maintained by its developer community?

  • What are the privacy implications of ad-supported freemium services?

  • How will a new tool fit into existing IT workflows? 

Once a tool has been selected, it’s important to consider how it will be used in practice. What workflow processes are needed to manage and support the new tool? What decisions should be made to establish what information is public and what is not? Thinking through Approach & Practice will help organizations make smarter decisions about which tools they use, and how they use them.

Interoperability: Related to the above idea, by weaving interoperability issues into the workshop we’ll be able to talk about how well Weebly or Eventbrite work with popular CRMs for non-profits such as Sumac and Wild Apricot. We might also want to consider solutions for common IT-related roadblocks to adopting tools such as Google Apps for Nonprofits. Although we strive to be platform agnostic — it’s about openness and not the brand — collectively working through common interoperability issues will make adopting new tools easier in the long run.

Privacy & Security: These are two critical issues for organizations to consider before using a new digital tool. What does the USA PATRIOT Act mean for Canadian organizations using web services hosted in the US? How do so-called “boomerang routes” impact privacy? What is the relevance of the recent anti-spam legislation (CASL)? It’s also crucial for organizations to understand document and file permissions, and to adopt simple measures to ensure that personal information is kept secure. This topic is much too big to tackle in a single workshop, but by discussing some of the key issues workshop participants will be able to continue the conversation within their own organization.

The opportunities for change are nearly limitless, and these are just a few thought-starters on reshaping the workshop format. I’m excited to see how it will evolve in the coming months.