The mission of the Vancouver Community Network (VCN) is to operate and promote a publicly accessible, non-commercial, community network in metropolitan Vancouver and the 604 toll-free area. In operation since 1993, our vision is to be an inclusive, multi-cultural, community-based organization that ensures the free, accessible, electronic creation and freely accessible exchange of the broadest range of information, experience, ideas, and wisdom.
The Vancouver Community Network’s first three objectives (Appendix 1) are to:
· Encourage the development of a wide range of electronic community information and communications resources.
· Encourage the broadest possible participation of community voluntary sector and other organizations in making their information available on the VCN.
· Work with community and non-profit organizations to make VCN a capacity building tool.
How VCN contributes to development of the region
The community network is an Internet-based service, offering a 90-line modem bank with both text and graphical access connected to a cluster of web, mail, and news servers, a high-speed data link that is shared with the Vancouver Public Library, and 60 community access stations, which are located in public library branches and neighbourhood centers. VCN is community-owned and membership-governed. It operates under charitable tax status and is a provincially registered non-profit society. It has over 7000 individual users and 500 community organizations using its Internet related services.
Organizations throughout the Lower Mainland which make up the community network use their increased information and communication capacity, that arises from being part of the network, to meet their goals more effectively and serve their communities better. The community network works closely with groups to help them integrate and use information and communication technologies more effectively.
1997: With support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade VCN provided Information and Communication Technology services to the People’s Summit on APEC including an on-site web cafe, an email listserve, and a web page. (www.vcn.bc.ca/summit/report/apecrpt.htm)
1998-1999: With support from the Legal Services Society and the BC Ministry Responsible for Multiculturalism and Immigration, VCN helped Vancouver’s Spanish-speaking communities create community, health and legal resources online. (www.vcn.bc.ca/spaweb)
1999-2000: With support from the Vancouver Foundation, VCN is collaborating with community groups to use the VCN as a community capacity building tool, targeting activities that will strengthen the links between ecological responsibility, community development, and equitable access. (www.vcn.bc.ca/public)
1999-2001: The VCN is a delivery agent for Industry Canada’s VolNet program, providing Internet access, computer equipment, training, and support to 400 non-profit voluntary organizations in the local 604 calling area. (www.vcn.bc.ca/volnet)
2000-2002: VCN is proposing to HRDC to work with a number of community partners to build a working and self-sustaining community learning network (CLN) servicing the Vancouver area. Learning nodes will be placed in local urban neighbourhoods, which will provide an online component to existing literacy, learning, and community development projects.
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.
· Develop and implement an intake process for 60 volunteers between Vancouver Community Network and participating educational institutions and volunteer centres
· Develop and implement an orientation and training program for 60 technical support volunteers to work in non-profit environments
· Develop a volunteer deployment plan and process, to place 40 technical volunteers with pilot voluntary sector groups in the Lower Mainland
· Develop an implement a network for collaboration, problem solving and informal learning for 60 volunteers and 10 participating non-profit groups
· Develop and implement a participatory evaluation process to identify transferable elements of successes, failures and areas for expansion
Two related needs have arisen with the emergence of voluntary sector community groups using the Internet as a tool to help them achieve their information and communication goals:
· Groups need technical volunteer help to sustain their Internet presence
· Technical volunteers need experience and support to function effectively
The use of information and communication technologies (ICT) by voluntary sector organizations is quickly becoming ubiquitous. It is essential for communication and collaboration, access to government information and forms, learning about developments in their sector, gaining access to timely funding information, accessing resources for people served and increasing their capacity for advocacy.
Many small to medium sized voluntary sector organizations depend on volunteer support to build and maintain their ICT capacity. Currently these groups often develop technical volunteer programs in isolation from larger technical support networks. There is frequently little continuity when one volunteer leaves and another takes over. Skill levels are inconsistent and technical implementations idiosyncratic. There is little opportunity for technical volunteers to benefit from networking with others doing similar work and their technical ability is often developed without reference to the bigger picture of ICT developments in the public sphere.
The emergence of the Internet has given rise to new models of geographically distributed content, information ownership and access to information. Technical support volunteers can help voluntary sector groups outside of regular office hours and away from the group’s geographical location. This development provides new opportunities for volunteers to help groups, but also creates new challenges in providing support to volunteers.
The Technical Volunteer Web will be an innovative set of sustainable and transferable practices to increase and improve technical support services to voluntary sector organizations. It will connect students and technical volunteers with voluntary sector organizations by developing a new collaboration between a community network, a volunteer centre and a community college. The web of technical volunteers will be sustained by a unique use of online tools over distributed geography and time to complement in-person support from host groups, volunteer centres, post secondary institutions and the community network. Once the primary objectives of the project have been met, the web will be expanded to include other volunteer centres, educational institutions and voluntary sector groups.
Existing training resources are focused around office procedures and providing help and support to individuals and groups from the offices of the community network. Volunteers learn about the individuals and community groups that use the community network and how ICTs are used in the voluntary sector. They learn about the services offered by the community network and how individuals and groups can gain access to them. They learn about how to interact with people in-person, over the phone and by email, and how to keep track of problems and issues. They learn about the different help resources available and how to refer problems when requests need to be routed to other sources of technical support. They also learn about hardware, software and other issues frequently encountered by users of ICTs.
Vancouver Community Network currently provides technical volunteer opportunities in user support, training, web design, hardware/software support, programming and Local Area Network (LAN) support. Prospective volunteers are recruited through volunteer centers, the VCN website, career placement programs and other community organizations. A general orientation session is offered weekly, with one evening session monthly. On average, VCN receives 15 inquiries a week, with 3 -5 volunteers recruited into the program. Most prospective volunteers perceive VCN to be a training ground for careers in computer technology and are seeking work experience to improve their job prospects. A minimum time commitment of four hours per week for three months is requested of all volunteers. The total number of volunteers generally fluctuates with the school terms and holidays, and ranges from 35 to 60. Volunteers gain hands-on work experience, backed up by access to online support and in-person mentorship, by taking on a role in the community network:
· User Support volunteers provide direct membership and telephone help-desk support to individuals and groups. A complement of 30 to 40 volunteers provide 2 to 4 hour shifts during regular office hours of 9 to 4:30 Monday to Friday. User Support positions provide an entry point and period of orientation for most volunteers. During this period, experienced volunteers provide mentorship, support and training. Supervision is provided by the Coordinator of Volunteer Services. As goals and skills are assessed volunteers may be assigned to other areas.
· Technical Support volunteers provide online technical support, hardware and software upgrading and installation, programming and LAN support. Volunteers filling these positions will have either completed a period of orientation in User Support positions or will have highly developed skills and training in their area of placement. Technical Support volunteers work in small teams supported by the Technical Coordinator. There are currently ten volunteers filling these roles.
· Training Support volunteers currently assist with full day basic and intermediate level skills development sessions offered to groups participating in the "604 Connect!" project. Weekly Introductory, Email and Web browsing sessions and occasional specialty topics sessions are also conducted by volunteers. The current complement of 10 trainer assistants have also progressed through the user support positions and receive training in the core curriculum prior to assignment.
· A Web Support team is under development with nine volunteers who will update and edit VCN's site and provide support to community groups developing their websites. The team will receive training from and will work with and report to the Web Content Committee.
The Technical Volunteer Web will build on the existing resources of the partner agencies including the successful training programs of VCC and the networked knowledge and intake structures of Volunteer Vancouver. VCN training resources include a large selection links to online resources both in Canada and around the world to provide a wealth of information and self-teaching tools. A Washington based agency has implemented a successful “volunteer matching” program with local environmental groups that has some points of similarity with the proposed model. Canadian volunteer centres also attempted to introduce initiatives over two years ago to address similar needs as those expressed above. The project team will consult with the Campbell River Community Network regarding their initiative to support volunteer organizations and the transferability of practices between community networks. Other round 1 InVOLve BC projects with virtual volunteering or Internet related components will also be consulted.
The immediate communities to benefit from the Technical Volunteer Web are those represented by organizations that are directly involved in the project by taking advantage of the network of technical support made available. The Lower Mainland groups to take part will be selected from those, approximately 400, who have taken part in the Industry Canada, Voluntary Sector Support Network Program (VolNet). These are groups which were not previously using the Internet and have annual budget under $0.5m. Groups were drawn from throughout the Vancouver local dialing area and included 25% which are considered isolated either by geography or by social and economic factors of the people they serve. Groups include:
· Latin American Community Council
· Self-Help Resource Association of BC
· Seniors Housing Information Program
· West Coast Domestic Workers Association
· Surrey Aboriginal Cultural Society
· Newton Advocacy Group
· North Shore Multicultural Society
· Mount Pleasant Family Centre Society
· 127 Housing Society
A further source of voluntary sector groups to take part in the project will be those, from over 150 groups, who will host Community Access Program (CAP) sites established under an Industry Canada, Connecting Canadians program. For example:
· Westcoast Child Care Resources Centre
· Alliance for Arts and Culture
· Progressive Intercultural Community Services
· Broadway Youth Resource Centre
· 411 Seniors Centre Society
· North Shore Community Information and Resource Society
· Senior Support Services
· Langley Family Services
· New Westminster Arts Council
· Hispanic Community Centre
Some of these groups will benefit by incorporating new technical support volunteers with a minimum standard of entry to their personnel while others will benefit by connecting their current technical volunteers to a larger network of resources and support.
It is the intention of the project to approach other volunteer centres for instance:
· Volunteer Burnaby
· Greater Coquitlam Volunteer Centre
· Deltassist Family and Community Services
· North Shore Community Services
· Richmond Connections Information and Volunteer Society
· Surrey Community Volunteer Services
Other programs, colleges and post-secondary institutions will be approached including:
· Vancouver Community College - Network Support Professional Certificate Program
· Langara Community College - Computer Information Systems Program British Columbia Institute of Technology - Information Technology Professional Program
· University of British Columbia - Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
· Technical University of British Columbia - Information Technology Program
· Simon Fraser University – School of Communication
· Douglas College - Computer Information Systems Program
· Vancouver School Board - Career Placement Program
· Pride Centre - Computer Applications Support Assistance program
· Kwantlen University College - Computer Information Systems and Computer Systems Technician Programs
Students and others who are seeking volunteering opportunities, hands-on work experience and employment in the ICT field will benefit from training, mentorship, supervision, placement and ongoing support. Volunteers will be matched with organizations that are close to their interests and geographical communities. The orientation will increase the likelihood of a positive volunteering experience for both volunteer and host organizations because both parties will be better prepared, have clearer expectations, better understanding of each others needs and a larger network of ongoing support.
The community college will benefit from expanding its opportunities for placing students in the non-profit sector for the work experience component of its technical programs, from a more formal, uniform set of procedures and from a more direct feedback with the community on skill requirements for graduates. The volunteer centre will benefit from expanding its opportunities for placing volunteers in non-profit organizations with increased possibilities for meaningful contribution to their communities.
Indirectly, many other students, volunteers, community networks, community colleges, post-secondary educational institutions and volunteer centres will benefit from transferring the successful practices developed during this project to similar situations in British Columbia and across Canada.
To promote volunteerism and strengthen the voluntary sector
· Promote volunteerism through education, advocacy, and the effective management of volunteers
· Build capacity through training opportunities in non profit and volunteer program management
· Connect individuals with organizations through recruitment and referral
· Convene individuals, organizations, businesses, and others to provide a forum for cross-sectoral collaborations
Vancouver Community College
Vancouver Community College welcomes a diverse and global community. We provide quality learning opportunities which promote and support personal development, employability and responsible citizenship.
Vancouver Community College responds to existing and emerging community needs. In cooperation with other educational institutions, licensing and accrediting bodies, employers, community groups and governments, the College offers flexible and responsive instruction. Our accessible and transferable programs help students reach their personal, educational and professional goals.
Vancouver Community College is committed to delivering innovative instruction in developmental education, adult basic education, English language programs, special education, vocational, career, technical, academic and continuing education programs. We use creative instructional methods in concert with professional support services, which are integral to the success of all students. The College champions a learning environment that maximizes the educational experience by continually improving its resources, technology and facilities.
(letters of partnership and support attached)
Proposed project duration: November 1, 2000 – October 31, 2001
Month 1 - 2 Establish management committee of project partner agencies, co-ordinating staff and voluntary sector group representatives
· Hire project team employees
· Choose evaluation consultant
Month 3 Conduct evaluation workshops with stakeholders
Month 3 Develop intake process with VCC Information Technology Specialist students and for Volunteer Vancouver
· Develop a presentation kit for partnering with volunteer centres and educational institutions
· Develop a web-based volunteer application form and explanation page
Month 4 Develop orientation and training program for technical volunteers
Month 4 Begin intake of student placements and volunteers
· Implement a volunteer management and tracking tool
· Deliver orientation for hands-on support in a non-profit environment
· Develop a volunteer evaluation and recognition process
Month 4 Develop and implement online tools for collaboration, problem solving and informal learning
Month 4 Begin training program for technical support volunteers
· Develop and implement a mentorship system
· Develop a set of information documents and help sheets to assist technical volunteers in their work with groups
Month 5 Confirm participating voluntary sector organizations
· Develop a presentation kit for partnering with voluntary sector organizations to provide them with volunteer technical support
· Develop a paper and web-based organization sign-up form and explanation page
Month 5 Develop technical volunteer deployment plan to place trained technical support with participating agencies
· Develop a tool kit of appropriate help and support documents to be used to help participating VolNet community groups
· Develop a tool kit of appropriate help and support documents to be used at CAP sites
Month 6 Begin deploying technical volunteers to participating organizations
· Implement the volunteer evaluation and recognition process
Month 8 Identify further college programs and sources for continued intake
Month 11 Consolidate evaluation results and disseminate
Activities will start with the initial project partners expanding the management committee to represent stakeholders and provide a solid foundation for decision making. The first two months of the project will largely consist of bringing together the partners and stakeholders to form an effective management and implementation team. Staff will be hired and a suitable evaluation consultant will be contracted to start the participatory evaluation process. These activities will lead directly to an “outcomes evaluation” workshop which will provide the basis for benchmarks to be used during project implementation.
Meetings between project staff and Vancouver Community College program staff will be aimed at creating a student placement intake process that meets the needs of the community network, the college program and students. Communication, administrative and timing needs will be compared and honed to find a best match for sustainable collaboration. Similar meetings will hone the intake process with Volunteer Vancouver. The consolidated results of these meetings will form the basis of presentation kits to be developed for approaching other volunteer centres and post secondary institutions. The project needs for information on volunteer and placement skills, training, location, interests etc. will be consolidated to form the basis of a web based volunteer application form.
Month four of the project will see the development of an orientation and training program for technical volunteers and the beginning of intake. At this time a volunteer management and tracking tool will be implemented. Orientation will be tailored to meet the identified needs of working with stakeholder groups and emphasize the importance of interpersonal skills to complement technical skills. It will provide a rationale for the emphasis of hands-on work in the program and let people know what to expect over their period of involvement.
Meanwhile a number of developmental activities will be taking place. Customized online collaboration tools such as request trackers, mailing lists, web pages, discussion fora and databases will be configured for use by participants. As these tools are added to the kit of resources available to technical support volunteers, support materials and training will be changed to reflect the additions. Training and hands-on work experience will complement each other to provide participants with a solid grounding of knowledge in the problems they are likely to encounter. A formalized mentorship program will match new placements and volunteers with more experienced technical support volunteers.
By months five and six, technical volunteers will be deployed to participating voluntary sector groups. They will likely maintain close contact with VCN and provide continuing support to users, and they may build connections with more than one community group needing help. At this time common elements will be drawn from the voluntary sector partnerships towards a paper and web-based sign up form for groups and a presentation kit for approaching new groups that would like technical support. Also materials will be gathered and consolidated into kits to help volunteers when they are out in the community away from the VCN resource base.
As more students and volunteers are deployed to groups, a volunteer evaluation and recognition process will be implemented. The gathered information from the process up to date will be used to extend the program to draw from more post-secondary institutions and deploy to more voluntary sector groups needing technical support. Finally, after the process and model have stabilized over three months, the participatory evaluation results will be consolidated and reports will be generated and disseminated.
The project will use a participatory evaluation process with the intention of making the evaluation sustainable. Part of the evaluation will be training groups how to do their own evaluation, ensuring that there is room for the community involved to make decisions around what and how it wants to evaluate.
During the initial phase of the project an “outcomes evaluation” workshop will be attended by the project team and management committee. Together they will set determine the kind and amount of data to evaluate, how to evaluate it and a process that ensures validity. They will also establish a baseline of indicators. Evaluation will occur alongside implementation as part of the participatory process. The project co-ordinator will co-ordinate the participatory evaluation process throughout the year.
Feedback from participating voluntary sector organizations will be collected by email and a message board. Surveys will be collected at workshops and information sessions. Project staff and volunteers will regularly record activities using web-based forms. Volunteers with diverse ethno-cultural and economic backgrounds will also be selected to serve as testers and sampled to gain comparative results.
To ensure that important results of the project are disseminated to interested communities and people, we will compile a study guide outlining project objectives, activities, participants and results. It will also include a collection of experiences of participating voluntary sector groups. The participatory evaluation process will identify transferable elements of what works, what didn’t and what can be expanded on.
The following is a list of long and short term outcomes including indicators to monitor progress, what will be measured and how adjustments will be made in response to interim findings.
· We expect volunteering opportunities to be increasingly accessible to those in post-secondary programs and using volunteer centres. Indicators: Increasing number of 1) volunteer referrals and 2) student placements. Adjustments: as increasing programs and voluntary sector groups are identified, they will be encouraged to join the technical volunteer web.
· We expect volunteers to be increasingly trained and become better able to meet the needs of voluntary sector groups. Indicators: 1) Increasing attendance at orientation and training programs. 2) High level of satisfaction with training process and content shown in surveys. 3) Frequent questions from groups are regularly answered correctly by technical volunteers. Adjustments: Refine content of training sessions to increase quality of technical support.
· We expect voluntary sector groups to increasingly have access to appropriate technical volunteer support. Indicators: 1) Increasing number of placements of volunteers with voluntary sector groups. 2) Increasing level of satisfaction with volunteer technical support as recorded on feedback from organizations. Adjustments: Increase and adjust promotional activities to reach new groups.
· We expect an increasing involvement of volunteers in technical maintenance, user training and help support. Indicators: Increasing number of volunteers 1) attend orientation sessions, 2) attend technical workshops, 3) are placed with voluntary sector groups and 4) complete one volunteer term. Adjustments: Increase volunteer and placement intake, find better placement opportunities and liaise more deeply with voluntary sector groups.
· We expect an increasing level of collaboration among volunteers. Indicators: Increasing 1) number of volunteer-to-volunteer communication, 2) number of solutions found without resort to staff and 3) contribution to technical support discussion for a Adjustments: Develop wider or deeper co-ordination of activities in use of online collaboration tools.
Overall, we can expect the technical needs of small to medium sized voluntary sector groups to be better met. We can expect technical volunteers to find new ways of collaborating and helping each other. We can expect the identity and capacity of non-profit volunteer organizations to be strengthened through more comprehensive use of information and communication tools to meet their needs. We can expect community based research to be more evident and systematic, leading to greater positive action. We can expect the network to be sustainable through the active collaboration and joint interests of the three partner organizations. We can ultimately expect that successful elements, developed and implemented, will be used by other community networks toward building the capacity of the voluntary sector and its creation of a community based non-profit space on the Internet.
A limited number of printed reports will be distributed locally and elsewhere to Volunteer Centres, post-secondary educational institutions and non-profit organizations that have a networking function. An electronic version of the report will be sent to community networks across Canada and to related mailing lists. A web-based version of the report will also be made available via the Internet as a part of a larger project site.
Expenses: (contact VCN for financial details)