Thursday, March 15, 2007

METRIC ESPIONAGE? JUST WHO IS THIS DASHBOARD SPY?

Last November, in a post called "The Limitations of Dashboards" I wrote about my disappointment with the promise of electronic "dashboards".

But when I was about to waive the white flag, I found him. Who? The Dashboard Spy, that's who. And who is this spy guy? Nobody knows, and nobody has to really care either (see spy bio at the end of this article if you really want the scoop). The point is, he introduced me to some very inspiring applications of what a dashboard can do for a nonprofit (or the community in general).

Let's get down to specifics. Whatcom County's Community Dashboard uses red-yellow-green gauges as indicators of everything from Annual voter turnout, to Suicide Rates. They have gauges for women owned firms, violent crime, domestic violence incidence rate, rental affordability, releases of carcinogens into the air. And more! A girl who loves data might find her match here.

The site does offer the raw data, and drills down to great explanatory commentary. It also offers the following advice:

Caution: (These) gauges merely compare Whatcom County to other places. An arrow pointing to the green only means that we are doing better on a particular issue than other communities, it does NOT necessarily mean that we should be comfortable with how we are doing.

Still, I suddenly see (to mix my metaphors) what a power tool a dashboard can be. These icons convey information in an easy to understand context. Who is really going to study the raw data? Me? Yes. The general public? not so much. These gauges will give you a sense of community "at a glance"! And you don't have to be a statistics major to get it.

The only point of this article is that I have to pull the dashboard notion out of the trash bin and re-examine its application (and implications) for the nonprofit sector.

WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE SPY?
There is an air of mystery about "Dash". This is probably due to the fact that some early executive dashboard screenshots were “borrowed” for display on this site. Before this resource became popular and dashboard project members started to freely contribute samples of their dashboard work, some sneaking around was required to grab the screenshots. In fact, in a few enterprise dashboard samples, you’ll find names censored and logos removed.

Who is The Dashboard Spy? We can't tell you who he is, but we'll tell you a little about him. The editor of this site is an industry insider who has seen many IT projects and worked with many analysts, designers, programmers and business users on dashboard projects. He leads an Interactive Services department and has lots of ideas and opinions on User Experience-related matters.


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Monday, March 12, 2007

THINKING CLEARLY?

Thinking Clearly
by pam ashlund


Remember Hobbes describing life as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short"? Well how about this quote from the critical thinking website:

"much of our thinking...is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced." Critical Thinking Website

I'm thinking about nonprofit effectiveness today (again). Why is it one of my favorite topics? Because...IF WE AREN'T EFFECTIVE WHY ARE WE BOTHERING???? It seems even Bill Gates Senior is asking this question. I have to paraphrase him here (from a talk at a small gathering). The essence of his statement was this: Historically most efforts to cure social problems had little or no effect or (this is the frightening part) only made them worse.

What a disturbing claim; even more so because of how it resonates.

In a February post I wrote about the counterintuitive nature of social problems. That article (more than many) has influenced (haunted?) my thinking ever since. After reading that article (way back in the 80's!) I've looked at "our work" askance. For example, when someone tells me about how their services help the community, I ask myself "but how do you know?"; "what was your research methodology?"; "what was the size of the group?" Even more so, yes it sounds logically like it will work, but why do you think that "you think so" has anything to do with what the actual outcome will be??

Here's where our psychology comes into play. How open are you to an idea that you initially don't agree with? Can you even pause and ponder it? Most of us can not. Hear the opposing view and the door closes.

Years ago in the early days of computer micro-processing, a wise professor (Barry Godolphin) introduced a discussion on programming thusly: "if the computer doesn't give you the right results it is always right and you are always wrong". There was something profound there akin to Ronnie Reagan's quip "Trust, but verify". In fact, the advice, which is that we are so darn vulnerable to bias, that we ought discard our opinions and revisit the data...was a pivotal point in my higher education.

Now, if we can only get there in nonprofit micro-processing!


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NONPROFIT TECH MENTORS, INCUBATORS AND INSPIRATION

It was back in April, 06 that I first got "blog-itis". Finally a technology that conformed to my need. I don't know why, but I've always "choked" when I try to write; but a blog post let me capture an insight without overwhelm (after all, you can always write another post).
I started out with a copycat approach. I used my friends blog as a template. I took the easy road with Blogger. And then the fun began. I covered this journey in Birth of a Blog way back when. So today I just want to give props to the bloggers that gave me that critical guidance, resources and inspiration to get me going:

Beth Kanter's Beth's Blog
Allen Benamer's Non-Profit Tech: Confessions of an IT Director
Michelle Murrain's Zen and the Art of Nonprofit Technology Blog
Michael Stein's Non-Profit Technology Blog

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH, & NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH: THE WAY OF ORGANIZATIONAL HEALING

"Since untruths can be unintentional, the truth must be intentional" Arline Belton

The greatest obstacles to truth telling are: "time is limited" and fear that "truth will hurt us, or someone or something we care about." Arline Belton
I'd never heard of an "Organizational Healer" before. That is, until I read Erline Belton's article Truth or Consequences? in the NonProfit Quarterly.

I offer an executive summary of the article, but highly recommend reading the real thing.

Arline is the CEO of the Lyceum Group in Boston. She has been identified by clients as an organization healer, and feels honored to be of service as she practices organization development from her heart and head.

It seems like honesty would be a given in the nonprofit sector; afterall we're the good guys right? Yes and No. Arline identifies barriers to telling the truth:

  • Groupthink (you are a team player AREN'T YOU?)
  • Imaginary Conflicts
  • Hidden Agendas
Why would anyone lie? Reading the "Conditions that support untruths" makes it all too clear:
  • Exaggerating or underplaying the truth: This is often done for one’s own benefit, for that of the team, or for a teammate. These lies usually reflect (or exceed) desired expected outcomes.
  • Shading the truth (it's noble to protect yourself and your team right?)
  • Beating around the bush - the "smoke screen" (can't say no? delay it!)
  • Pretending certainty or expertise: (Don't want anybody to think you're not on top of it do you?)
  • Not letting others know your true position: (Anyone heard of a CYA memo?)
  • Consciously withholding relevant info: (Don't want to loose your power? Keep important info to yourself)
  • Perceptions of powerlessness: (I have a strong leader, I must not know what I'm talking about, must be my imagination!)
  • Perceptions of invulnerability: (I'm “in the know”, after all I have a unique advantage over others who are outside the average circle; i'd never get careless and let facts slide by without diligent examination and discussion!)
  • Misplaced loyalty: (Oh heck, I've known him a long time, I can still be objective about performance and job competence!)
  • Self-deception (probably the worst and the easiest path of least resistance, I can't fall prey to this one!)
After reading that list it's a miracle we just don't lie all the time; fortunately here are conditions that support truth, that just might be a check and balance to the daunting challenges listed above:
  • Individual examination/accountability: The critical role of the leader: through consent that is informed, uncompelled, and mutual.
  • Visible commitment to truth telling: Explaining thoughts, acknowledging the power of our words, and being accountable to one another for our actions will demonstrate that concept.
  • Collective truths and collective responsibility: It's all about ownership! Hint: it involves personal risk, courage and time, darn it!
  • The Whole Truth: Access to reliable, solid, and truthful information is the one commodity every person, regardless of role or position, needs in order to succeed.
Arline identifies four critical components to the whole truth: "information must be complete, timely, accurate, and true."
  • Information Flow: "All available facts and information (including personal stories, feelings, and visible and invisible reactions) are on the table in an accurate and accessible way;" Now, who's crazy enough to do that?
  • Free choice, sustained environmental spirit, safety: There can't even be "a hint of social, political, or economic coercion." How do you know when it is “safe” to tell the truth? Actions speak louder than words: "there must be visible examples of situations where the truth was told, acknowledged, and acted on—and the consequences were not punitive."

Now go read the whole thing, it's amazing! And buy some copies for everyone at your place!

This article was so on-point that I feel compelled to plug NPQ. For only $29 bucks a year you get four issues of seriously high-quality articles. OK, voluntary commercial message over!

Note: no payment was received for this endorsement.



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Friday, March 02, 2007

I COULDN'T SAY IT BETTER: GREAT NONPROFIT IDEAS

Last week I wrote a "hate" post and created a del.icio.us tag "IhateMeetings"; Today I offer an antidote: a new del.icio.us tag: "Icouldn'tsayitbetter"

I've tagged articles (and blog posts) that are so well put that I'm left humbled. These authors write what I've felt for so long, but could not articulate.

When you're feeling overwhelmed by the insanity in the nonprofit world, here are some ideas that will help you find your way back to sanity (some already becoming "classics"):

1) Clara Miller talks about why the "normal" rules of accounting get very weird when applied to nonprofits in: The Looking-Glass World of Nonprofit Money: Managing in For-Profits' Shadow

Clara steps "through the looking glass" asking (and answering) the following true/false questions:


Rule 1: The consumer buys the product.
Rule 2: Price covers cost and eventually produces profits, or the business folds.
Rule 3: Cash is liquid.
Rule 4: Price is determined by producers' supply and consumers' ability/willingness to pay.
Rule 5: Any profits will drop to the bottom line and are then available for enlarging or improving the business.
Rule 6: Investment in infrastructure during growth is necessary for efficiency and profitability.
Rule 7: Overhead is a regular cost of doing business, and varies with business type and stage of development.

2) Erline Belton, an Organizational Healer, blows the roof off of corporate B.S. in: Truth or Consequences: The Organizational Importance of Honesty

3) Ever look around and see a lot of "dead weight" and why someone hasn't evaluated them out of there??? For a real breath of fresh air, read a post in my latest favorite blog, The Agitator: When a Nonprofit Isn't Good Enough


4) Kim Klein's keynote at a 2006 CAN conference was called Transparency, Integrity and the Nonprofit Sector. With that title I might have overlooked her revolutionary exposition on the shadow-side of nonprofits. Read Kim's article as she examines both sides of our longest held nonprofit myths.


Related Nonprofit Eye posts:

The challenge of working for (and staying in) a Nonprofit Job

Nonprofit Confidence Problem: Kim Klein Names the Shadow Side of Nonprofits


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