Are You Ready to Start a Tech Project?
This document will help you understand how to engage with technology. We assume you are either part of a transparency and accountability organisation with finite resources, or you are funder interested in supporting the use of tech effectively. There are a huge range of ways in which tech can be used. Maybe you want to implement a technology project centred on using text messaging to engage constituents, or set up a web portal for government data you’ve obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Before you start, you should ask yourself: “Is our organisation ready to implement a tech project?”, because this kind of endeavour will certainly push your capacities.
To check that you’ve got the vital organisational capacities that you’ll need, it might be helpful to think about the following analogy. In the same way that your tech project needs certain broader organisational capacities to work out well, so most software also comes with a list of ‘systems requirements’ showing the things needed to make it run – including processor speed, the amount of memory needed etc. If you think about these commons systems requirements as metaphors for the kinds of capacities of your organisation:
- the processor is your ability to think and react. The faster the processor the quicker you will be able to perform tasks
- the RAM (or Random Access Memory) is your capacity to multi-task. The more you have, the more files you can have open and the more things you can do at once.
- the hard-disk is your capacity to store and access information. The more hard-disk space, the more knowledge you can hold.
- the operating system holds the rules, policies and commands you can use to get things done. An operating system that does not have efficient and clear rules, policies and commands tends to have conflicts and is more likely to crash and bring the whole system down.
If we take a ‘systems requirements’ approach to your organisation, this may help us understand what organisation capacities you will need in order to run a technology project smoothly:
- You will need a lot of processor (or brain power) and the time and ability to react quickly to new problems and situations as they arise.
- You will need to be able to multi-task and have good project management skills to keep the day-to-day operations running while you face new challenges.
- You will need a lot of knowledge and expertise you can immediately access. It will be important for you to identify the expertise of staff, whether you will need external consultants, and to get them in place in advance.
- The rules, policies and strategies that your organisation operates under act as an operating system. The more efficient they are, the more likely you will be successful in implementing projects that will move you on your way towards achieving your mission.
But in addition, you will need a couple of key vital missing ingredients from those listed above, and these are the ones that our research shows are the most important, yet are often the most neglected. You need to know very clearly WHY you are doing the project and how it will contribute to your organisational goals. And you should know why you think this is the best way to help achieve them compared to other possible approaches.
So you should start by clarifying organisational goals and your tech strategy (see
chapter, ‘The Tech Strategy’). If you see a clear role for a tech project, you’ll next need to check whether you need to strengthen one or more of your organisational capacities – management brain power and the time to apply it, multi-tasking abilities and expertise. If you don’t have these elements in place, then you should focus your energies on building your organisation BEFORE undertaking tech project . You may decide it’s wise to keep the project on hold until you have the strategy and capacities in place. Often, organisations see technology as a shortcut to short- and long-term gains, or almost an end in itself. As you can see from the Impact Case Studies research summary in this document, tech is rarely a shortcut, and it really only works when it is integrated as a tactic in a campaign that aims toward a specific strategic goal.