Vancouver Community Network
Technical Volunteer Web Project
Interim Report to
Ministry of Community Development, Cooperatives and Volunteers
The Technical Volunteer Web project aims to develop a set of practices for connecting technical volunteers in voluntary sector organizations with a larger technical resource network that can provide additional recruitment, training and support to complement the non-profit organization's volunteer program. This Interim Report outlines some of the key activities undertaken in establishing the Management Committee and Project Team, the participatory evaluation process, presentation kits and collaboration tools, and community technical volunteer orientation, training and mentorship programs prior to May 31, 2001.
Project Team and Management Committee Activities
In January, the Project Team was hired and the Management Committee was established. The list of current project personnel, including Management Committee partners from Vancouver Community Network, Vancouver Community College's Information Technology Specialist (ITS) Program, Volunteer Vancouver, Self-Help Resources Association and the Administrators of Volunteer Resources BC is attached as Appendix 1. A press release announcing the project was distributed to major and community media following a meeting with the local MLA on January 29, 2001 (Appendix 2). Three Management Committee meetings were held in which the committee discussed the project and stakeholder objectives, workplan, and an intake model (Appendix 3) for participating students, volunteers and non-profit placement organizations.
Two models for recruitment and placement evolved based on the Information Technology Specialist Practicum Program and VCN's regular Volunteer Intake and Orientation Process. The first model would involve recruitment of students from the ITS Program and other post-secondary institutions for a two month full-time practicum in which a defined period would be spent in orientation and training in User Support, Training, Hardware/Software Installation and Web Site Support on-site at VCN, with deployment to non-profits with specific practicum project requirements. The second model takes into account the regular time commitments of volunteers and the ability of non-profits to engage and support volunteers on a part-time schedule.
A Non-Profit Technical Volunteer Needs Survey (Appendix 4)was distributed to 450 groups and posted to the project website (http://www.vcn.bc.ca/vcn/involve) in order to gauge how non-profits could utilize and accommodate volunteers and students from either model. This Survey (http://www.vcn.bc.ca/vcn/involve/grpsrvey.html) forms the foundation for the Online Matching Form to be developed later in the project and the responses indicate the type of educational programs and hands-on training and orientation required for volunteers. The survey results were split, with just more than half of the respondents in need of practicum placements. The majority of all projects identified were website development, with a few Database Design, Local Area Network and Training/User Support projects.
Longer term technical volunteer jobs involve ongoing User Support, Training and Hardware/Software support to Community Access Program (CAP) sites and Community Learning Network (CLN) partners, as well as ongoing Website Administration. The CAP project will establish sustainable public access to the Internet on sites with two terminals, scanners, printers and other peripherals and software programs to be determined by the community interest. CAP sites are being established in partnership with a network of diverse non-profit groups in Vancouver and the surrounding municipalities over the next year (http://www.vcn.bc.ca/cap).
The Community Learning Network (CLN) will explore the effectiveness of using online interactive tools and public Internet access to support an 'assets based community development' process. Participants in at least three neighbourhoods within Vancouver will explore ways to map community-based assets, improve the local economy and develop plans for resolving critical issues in their communities (http://www.vcn.bc.ca/vcn/cln).
Taking into account the goal of developing a sustainable network of technical volunteers to support these Internet-based community development initiatives over the long term, as well as the results of the survey, the Technical Volunteer Web project will use a 'rotation' of the practicum model and the volunteer model, with long term VCN volunteers providing mentorship and assisting with training for incoming volunteers and students.
Participatory Evaluation Process
A Request for Proposals for the Participatory Evaluation was posted, and Lee-Anne Ragan of Community Works was selected as the Evaluation Consultant due to her excellent credentials in community development, facilitation and participatory evaluation goals and methodology. The Stakeholder Meeting for the Participatory Evaluation was held in April with survey respondents, CAP and CLN partners, Volunteer Vancouver, Vancouver Community College, and currently active Technical Volunteers. Using a Program Logic Model, participants contributed to the long term objectives of the Technical Volunteer Web by identifying inputs, activities, outcomes and indicators from all stakeholder perspectives. The feedback gathered through the Group Technical Volunteer Needs survey and this stakeholder meeting feeds directly into the development of several aspects of the Technical Volunteer Web, including the information packages for all partners, the intake, training and orientation process for students and volunteers and the formal data collection methods for an integrated, ongoing evaluation of the program from all participant perspectives. The full report from the Stakeholder Meeting and the resulting data collection methodology workplan is attached as Appendices 5a, 5b, 5c.
Presentation Kits, Outreach and Collaboration
The project website (http://www.vcn.bc.ca/vcn/involve (also Appendix 6)), created in December, provides a foundation for all presentation materials, and the VCN Volunteer pages (http://www.vcn.bc.ca/vcn/volunteer) have been developed to reflect the general support areas of non-profit technical needs (Appendix 7). The online job descriptions and Volunteer Application Form will be refined to provide templates for use by non-profit groups seeking technical volunteer help.
Two new online collaboration and tracking tools have been developed. Request Tracker is a helpdesk problem management and tracking system providing a central repository for all public and group enquiries and suggestions and technical volunteer resolution and information sharing. Real-time graphs allow ongoing monitoring of intake and resolution of problems and a longrange view of activities. Volunteers are also members of various team majordomo mailing lists where developments and resources are shared and work is co-ordinated.
Quickplace, an online collaboration and program management application has been installed on VCN's main web server, as part of a new partnership with the United Community Co-operatives Association. The Technical Volunteer Web Quickplace provides an online space for collaboration, information sharing and informal learning for participating volunteers, non-profit groups, volunteer centers and educational programs. The Quickplace contains a 'room' for each project work area and enables both common interests and specific projects to be planned, developed and tracked. At the time of this report, the VCN's server equipment is undergoing a major upgrade, in part to accommodate this new application, so it is not accessible online. However, snapshots of some of the room welcome pages are included in a PowerPoint document attached as Appendix 8.
Orientation, Training and Mentorship Programs
Technical Volunteer Information Sessions are held twice monthly, with invitations and volunteer job postings distributed to all local Volunteer Centres and several post-secondary technical programs and career center boards. The full list of volunteer centers and educational institutions is attached as Appendix 9. This list is continually expanding to include new sources of students and community technical volunteers.
Attendance at the Information Sessions has increased considerably since the project began, as has the diversity of participants. Previously, the majority of prospective volunteers inquiring about technical volunteering were referred from Volunteer Vancouver. Currently, about one-third of all enquiries and attendees at the Information Sessions are from Volunteer Vancouver, one-third are from educational institutions and one-third are from other non-profit organizations and partners in various VCN community and technology building initiatives. Volunteers recruited through the information sessions participate in the Technical Volunteer Web, according to availability, skills and experience, involvements with other non-profit organizations and their own long term goals. Formal participants, including mentors, are being selected from amongst these core active members of the VCN Technical Volunteer teams. A practicum student intake is expected to begin in June.
Once accepted into the Volunteer Program, new volunteers receive a Welcome to VCN Volunteering e-mail on the off-vol mailing list with general tips for getting oriented and specific references to online User Support and other procedures. A three hour basic orientation session on general organizational and on-line activities is held bi-weekly. Detailed hands-on training is provided by a volunteer mentor in telephone, voicemail and user registration as part of this formal session, and new volunteers are scheduled to work with 'veterans' who provide mentorship and support while volunteers develop problem-solving, customer service and documentation experience.
Weekly Technical Briefing sessions are offered by the VCN Technical Co-ordinator, providing opportunities for volunteers to learn about the server network, share frequently asked questions and answers, and identify and co-ordinate project work.
Community Access Program site installations are underway with community partners in Vancouver. Three technical volunteers are currently receiving hands-on training in establishing the sites and providing user training and support (Appendix 10). These activities are providing a pilot for further development of formalized training and mentorship sessions and materials. In accordance with the participatory evaluation process, curriculae and schedules are being developed in consultation with the volunteers, non-profits and Vancouver Community College IST Program Director for the first practicum student intake in June. These sessions will include Train the Trainer, Hardware/Software Installation and Web Site Administration to complement the students' and volunteers' education and community experience in these areas.
The Technical Volunteer Web is already producing some of its intended results. The preliminary, qualitative evidence at this stage in the project shows increasing numbers of technical volunteers participating and connecting with non-profits and each other, increasing diversity of skills, experience, community involvement and background, and increasing collaboration for problem-solving and supporting sustainable use of Internet and communications technology in the voluntary sector.
Technical Volunteer Web
May 30, 2001