Tag Archives: technology

Starting in the Classroom: Blended Instruction for Policy Practice

I can definitively say, now, almost 4 years after the university started its experiment with instruction that is part traditional classroom format and part-online, that, for teaching social policy, I totally love it.

I promise it’s not because scheduling class around my practice and my kids’ schedules is easier when we meet only 7 times/semester, instead of every week.

The late nights on the discussion boards and trolling the Internet for new content that I want to introduce (and, still, sometimes, soothing students anxious about the long stretches we have between class periods) sort of make up for that.

No, what I like the best is how much more closely it parallels how social work practitioners engage with social policy, as compared to having access to an instructor like me for 3 hours every week.

Students learn to navigate policy information online, evaluating the respective biases of each perspective, just like they have to in practice.

They build communities of other social workers who can support them through the often isolating experiences of unraveling the layers of social injustice that constrain their effective work with clients. They pivot between untangling root causes and applying salve to the wounds of those injured by our society. They turn their attentions to the ways in which clients experience policy most–in the policies that agencies develop in order to operate within these external parameters.

They find ways to weave advocacy and investigation and constituent development into their direct practice, without overwhelming their days or (hopefully) antagonizing their practice organizations (too much).

And, I guess, that’s our hope for students in any social work policy class, but, again, year after year, my students have returned to tell me how much harder it all gets, when they graduate and no longer have the classroom experience to ‘root’ their social policy studies.

It’s one thing to stay grounded in a dual micro/macro practice approach when you have half a work day, every week, set aside for that express purpose.

It’s quite another when you’re literally on your own.

So, while I don’t consider my responsibility to my students any less in a blended course than one where I’m in front of them every week–quite the opposite–I know that they do experience me differently, and, so I leave a different impression on their social work identity.

It is my hope, and I think, it has been affirmed at least somewhat over these past few years of experimenting, that this instructional format equips my students to take on social policy in the arena where they’ll need to be effective, as policy practitioners.

In the ‘real world’, which is to say, increasingly in today’s context, online.

The best of both worlds, I hope.

Pulling back the curtain–technology for budget knowledge

My 7-year-old son has been testing out these interactive federal budget games for me over the past few weeks, especially the Budget Hero, which is quite cool, really.

And I’m intrigued by the increasing availability, born of the attention and vigorous debate around the federal budget, of multimedia content with which to engage our thinking (including that of my students!) around budget decisions, like this video.

What I find encouraging about these kinds of tools is their ability to bridge a particular challenge–making the federal budget (in its massive scale and far-reaching scope) accessible to Americans, without simplifying it to the level of a household budget, which is inherently distorting and, I think, somewhat destructive.

To get off the sidelines and really engage with these essential budget questions, we need to increase our understanding about the trade-offs involved and find ways to wrap our collective heads around the tough sacrifices inherent in the process of resource allocation.

But we need to do it on real terms, not those that would pretend that the U.S. government should operate as a family would, or that the stakes are comparable.

While an online game–or a documentary–can’t approximate the experience of really holding the nation’s fiscal future in one’s hands, if Sam’s enthusiastic ‘refreshing’ of his game, to start over when he doesn’t like the way it ended up, is any indication, they may be helpful tools for bringing our knowledge up to a point where we’re able to have real conversations.

Have you discovered, and tried, any budget tools like these? Do you have any favorites? What functionality do you think would improve these experiences? What role can you imagine for this technology, in our national deliberation of the budget?

Link Love–Happy Valentine’s Day!

So I totally stole the title of this post (the ‘link love’ part), and I can’t even remember from where I stole it, which means that I can’t even give proper credit.

Not very Valentine’s Day-ish of me, hunh?

But there’s a lot to love here, and I want to share it, so the name seems appropriate.

Have a great Valentine’s Day, reading about poverty and policy and technology for social change.

That’s what I’ll be doing. Super romantic, trust me.

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers!

Love for everyone!

Advocacy Anytime Everywhere


Chapter 3 in Social Change Anytime Everywhere is really the heart of the book, I think, for many nonprofit practitioners. There are tons of great examples about organizations effectively using multichannel strategies (email, Facebook, text messaging) to engage and activate their constituencies around their causes.

And there are specific suggestions about how to make these tools work for you, which is why I can imagine some busy nonprofit communications/resource development/advocacy professionals skipping right to chapter 3 and making notes on a legal pad of things that they just have to try.

Among the ideas that were bookmarked in my copy:

  • Share progress on your interim goals–particularly when looking at long-term policy changes–with your online community.
  • Outline the specific actions you want people to take, but don’t oversimplify; if there’s no obvious alignment between the action and the seriousness of the problem, people won’t do anything, not because they don’t care or they’re too busy, but because you haven’t made the stakes explicit.
  • Choose your targets carefully–we are too quick, I think, in advocacy, to think that our targets have to be members of Congress, or state legislators, when there are valid reasons to identify non-governmental actors or, even, elected officials from other levels of government, as the targets. And you can use different approaches, different messages, and different appeals to different constituencies with these targets, which enlarges your potential sphere of activism.
  • Tailor your messages not just to your audience, but also to your channel. Yeah, we can’t just cut and paste our policy briefs into emails, but we shouldn’t have our Facebook feed into our Twitter, either. We can’t engage people through multiple channels if we are saying the same things across all platforms.
  • We are way, way, way underutilizing mobile technology; nonprofits in the developing world, by necessity, are considerably ahead of us on this, using missed calls, for example, as ‘petition signatures’ on campaigns, following up on advocacy alerts with brief texts, sharing data through QR codes, adding real value to our constituents with well-done mobile apps.

Question: What challenge, relating to online advocacy, is your organization grappling with right now? What questions do you think that you have to overcome, in order to move forward? What potential outcome excites you most, in thinking about the advocacy ‘pay off’ of multiple channel engagement? What question are you embarrassed to ask, that is keeping you up at night?

Social Change, in the New Year


Let’s start 2014 right, with a giveaway of an exciting, infinitely readable, and immediately applicable book about using online tools to spark advocacy, raise money, and engage communities around your issues.

I’m giving away a copy of Social Change Anytime Everywhere, by Allyson Kapin and Amy Sample Ward.

Because I’m the one with the book to give away, and because I’m still clearing the cobwebs from my holiday break brain, this week’s posts will be a series of questions sparked, for me, from reading the book. I will randomly select a winner from among those who comment on any one of this week’s three related posts, and I’ll even pay to ship you the book.

Because this year is going to be epic, for advocacy, people.

Anytime, Everywhere

Question: How do you integrate your online and offline engagement–advocacy, fundraising, volunteerism–around your cause(s)? How are these responsibilities shared, within your organization? What technologies and strategies do you find effective in both venues? What do you find is the most successful ‘entry point’ for your advocates? How do you help them to bridge the gap to other types of engagement?


There is little in this world that brings me more joy than seeing nonprofit advocates really hit one out of the park.

Kids who go to bed right on time, maybe; fresh peaches off the tree; my allium when they bloom in spring.

But, really, extraordinarily successful advocacy campaigns are near the top of the list, especially when they also cultivate grassroots engagement and address critical social issues.

At the site Inequality.is, the Economic Policy Institute unveils economic inequality, as real, personal, expensive, created, and fixable.

It’s all interactive, accessible, and compelling.

What’s not to love about Robert Reich making the history of recent economic policy make sense to laypeople, in cartoon form?

But it’s not just a gimmick; policy prescriptions are woven throughout, and the real experiences of those on the losing end of the U.S. economy feature prominently.

And it matters, urgently and deeply, because inequality is a threat to our economic foundation, our societal fabric, and our democracy.

The site is super well-done, not only a resource for those seeking to better understand economic inequality, but also those wanting a tutorial on how to make their issue more salient, and how to use technology to draw others in.

Check it out.

Cool online stuff you should see

Summer is in full swing around here, which, this week, means that I’m actually teaching dozens of young children in Vacation Church School this week, in addition to my ‘regular’ summer activities.

And the weather is heating up, so, today, I bring you a list of really cool online stuff that you should see, if you haven’t already. Basically, I spend quite a bit of time looking at social justice-y things on the Internet, sometimes finding something that particularly catches my eye and inspires an entire blog post.

More frequently, though, these links get copied and put into an empty blog post, without a definitive idea of what I’ll do with them. Here are those that I’ve encountered in the past several weeks, in no particular order. I’d love if you have your own cool stuff to share during these warm weeks.

Yeah, I’m still crowdsourcing.

  • This was shared a lot on social media, so you may have seen it already, but I’m going to be using this brief video on wealth inequality in some of my classes this year. It’s worth checking out–we have enough, if we would just have better systems of sharing.
  • I had the chance to work through this interactive tool assessing our ‘slavery footprint’ a few months ago, and I found it online again recently and redid it. Yes, it’s absolutely horrifying, how many slaves–literally, still, today–touch our lives every day. But we should be horrified. And this delivers the horror, very effectively.
  • Beth Kanter had a post about the social mapping utility Ushahidi’s receipt of a MacArthur grant recently. I love maps, and I love crowdsourcing, so I love this. A lot.
  • Another recent Beth Kanter post was about this year’s Blog Carnival, which asked bloggers to think, and then to write, about their big dreams for their nonprofit organizations or causes this year. It’s pretty incredible to see what leaders are dreaming about for their work in 2013, and it’s totally invigorating to imagine what the world will look like if we make those dreams come true.
  • My husband and I are Kickstarter fans–he funded a book about a murder and controversial trial in frontier Kansas, recently, and I have chipped into some organizing and advocacy campaigns. We like microlending sites, too, and Sam has several active loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world. Here is another, similar idea, the Pollination Project. They’re giving $1000 seed grants to individual changemakers, one every day for an entire year. It makes me think about who I’d nominate, and how much fun it would be to have money to give away like that, and about the potential for money to incubate social change, even in small doses.
  • In the same ‘doing good with money’ vein, albeit not really as much ‘cool online stuff’ (but you can read about it online, so, I mean, there), check out this story about the lottery winners from my neighboring state who are using their winnings to invest in their hometown, including improved recreational facilities for youth and a needed water treatment plant. What I love about this story, even more than the generosity, is what they bought–social goods, investments in the commons. Because those things still matter. And communities shouldn’t have to wait for someone to win the lottery to have them.
  • In doing the research for the infographic post a few weeks ago, I came across a couple that I wanted to highlight, both about social change. First, from Mashable, about how many Americans have engaged in social change activity and, similarly,
    http://www.innov8social.com/2013/01/infographic-social-change-is-not-fad.html. I like the way these infographics look and how they communicate their message, but I like even more what that message itself is–that, far from the stereotype of ‘apathy’, most people are doing something, in some way, to make the world a better place.

  • My good friend from high school, Lenna, started an online fair trade shop last year called One Degree South. The premise is beautiful: she works collaboratively with female artisans in Kenya to design incredible jewelry and textiles and then sells them directly to buyers, online, for fair prices. It has brought stability and higher income standards to women formerly living in poverty in the developing world. And terrific jewelry to my closet.
  • I love this blog post from Have Fun Do Good, about a woman who formed an effort to provide diapers to low-income mothers. What I love is that she set out not just to meet an immediate need–diapers are expensive–but also to engage mothers across class lines to push for changes that would support all moms and children.
  • Here’s a list of folks to watch (and I love these lists, because what’s not to love about lifting up inspiring people and giving them some encouragement to keep being awesome?), also from Have Fun Do Good.

What should be added to the list? What warms your heart or brings relief these days? And where can we find it online?

Crowdsourcing Week: Infographics

This is what I’m talking about–The United Nations Foundation’s International Women’s Day Infographic, used with permission

Today is my last post for crowdsourcing week.

Next week, I promise I’ll be back to trying to add some actual value, instead of just asking (nicely, I hope) for help from you generous souls.

But I saved the most fun for last, I think.

Because who doesn’t love some totally awesome infographics?

I know that I do, but I also find their creation a bit daunting.

I love my text, and parting with copious amounts of words, when trying to convince others of some really important truth, has always been difficult for me. I have learned, over years of advocacy, that more doesn’t equal better, when it comes to advocacy and word counts, but the visual angle has always been more of a challenge.

But there are so many tremendously effective infographics in the advocacy world today, and they are a (maybe rare) example of a fad in communications that seems to also be a true improvement over previous methods.

A good infographic can say just as much as a fact sheet (unlike those photos with a catchy saying on them), but in a way that is more visually appealing and increases the likelihood that people stay with you long enough to really get what you are saying.

So what I’m crowdsourcing today is your infographic love. What are your favorite examples of infographics for social change? What makes an infographic compelling, to you, and what turns you off? How do your nonprofit organizations use infographics as part of your communications strategy, particularly around your advocacy goals? Do you craft infographics differently for internal audiences (your Board, your volunteers, your clients) than for your external targets for change?

How do you produce infographics? Do you have internal capacity to produce them, or do you rely on hired graphics help? If the latter, how do you organize your information so that the graphics communicate it effectively? Beth Kanter has terrific resources for producing infographics easily yourself. If you go this route, what has worked well (and not) for your organization? What lessons would you share? Who, specifically, within your organization is charged with this type of communications work–do your policy advocates create the infographics with which they want to communicate with allies and targets? Or do advocates get in-house communications folks the data they need? Or do you work collaboratively?

I would love to see your own examples of infographics that you have created for advocacy, and I would be forever indebted if you’d be willing to actually share some of the back story, too, since that’s what’s missing from the examples I can find online. What prompted the creation of a particular piece? What was the compelling advocacy need that motivated it? How was it received? Did it undergo various revisions before you found the version that really worked?

Thank you, crowd, for all of the assistance this week.

I owe you. A lot.

Taking it straight to them

Crowd-sourcing time!

Lately, I have run across a couple of references to nonprofit advocates using Twitter and Facebook to communicate directly with policymakers, in addition to their power as tools to mobilize supporters.

It’s the difference, in technical speak, between direct lobbying–taking our appeals directly to policymakers positioned to do something about the issues–and grassroots lobbying–contacting targeted members of the public, and requesting that they ‘take action’ to urge policymakers to take a specific position.

And, despite seeing some examples in Measuring the Networked Nonprofit and running across some comments within social media, I haven’t been able to find any documentation of how common this practice is, not any case studies that document how engaging a policymaker directly through social media has resulted in (or, at least, contributed to) a policy change.

When we use social media to engage our supporters, with an advocacy ask that includes reaching out to elected officials, then we have two bottom lines, essentially–we want the policymaker to take our position, obviously, but we also have the potential to energize our allies, strengthen their connections to our organization, and build our network.

When we use social media to take our messages directly to policymakers, there is obviously still some potential for collateral impact–we’re in a public sphere, and others will see and, we hope, engage with that same message–but it’s still a different end goal. With what we know about how congressional emails and voicemails are harder and harder to cut through, these days, in particular, there’s something really appealing about finding a sort of ‘side door’ to their ears.

So, can the crowd help me? Who has used social media in this way, and to what effect? Does anyone have data or case studies they can share? Best practices for using social media as direct advocacy?

It’s only 4 months until spring school board elections!

Yes, I know, a lot of people are still recovering from the 2012 Presidential election. People who watch television tell me that it’s really nice to be able to do so without relentless political advertisements.


I’m thinking about our local and school board elections, set for the beginning of April (just 4 months from now!), and about how, especially in these smaller races that don’t receive nearly the same media attention, the ways in which we communicate about the issues, and the candidates, and the importance of voting are even more critical.

And that got me thinking back to a study in the journal Nature (which always makes me think about the time my friend Tim had a paper published in Science, and told me that all the best journals have just one name, I guess kind of like Madonna?), about the impact of social media posts on people’s political activities and even their opinions. The big-time science-y types who get published in Nature did a study that included everyone who visited Facebook in the U.S., ages 18 and older, on Election Day 2010 (61 million adults). They found that political messages in a social context influenced not just users but also other friends who also saw them. Critically, the effect of the social transmission–the fact that the messages were delivered through a social network–mattered more than the content of the messages themselves. If we see those patterns hold up in future elections, you just may be saved some of those political television ads in the future.

For methodology types, here’s a little more detail on how it worked.

Most Facebook users that day saw a “social message”, encouraging them to vote. It gave them a link to local polling places, and clickable button that said “I voted”. They could see how many people had clicked the button on a counter, and which of their friends had done so. But the remaining 2 percent saw something different. Half of them saw everything the same except WITHOUT the pictures of their friends–the information, but without the ‘social’. The other half saw nothing. When they compared the three groups, in such a large sample size, the scientists found that the messages mobilized people to express their desire to vote by clicking the button, and the social ones even spurred some to vote. These effects rippled through the network, affecting not just friends, but friends of friends. (Best part alert): By linking the accounts to actual voting records, they estimated that tens of thousands of votes eventually cast during the election were generated by this single Facebook message. It was an increase of 0.39% in voting probability, just by seeing the social message. As the analysis of the study cited, “Facts only mattered when paired with social pressure.” Furthermore, when they crunched the ‘friends’ into more precise types–close friends, with whom Facebook users interact frequently, versus the more ‘regular’ connections with whom one might not have much (or any) face-to-face interaction, they found that the size of effects varied as one might expect. The more distant ‘friends’ influenced the odds that someone clicked the “I voted” button, but not the likelihood that a user investigated his/her polling place or went to vote.

Without the institutional subscription that I enjoy, you won’t be able to read the whole article, so here are the pretty cool points:

  • Nearly all the transmission occurred between ‘close friends’ who were more likely to have a face-to-face relationship, and the effects were strongest there. It makes sense–I may get annoyed when my neighbor or my cousin post political content that I don’t agree with, but I don’t/can’t walk away from them. And if someone I respect points me towards information of which I am skeptical, it makes me think twice.
  • The effects weren’t just on expression–what people posted themselves–but also on information-gathering (who goes to look for what information) and actual voter turnout. Those latter effects were more modest, but, still, with some of the razor-thin election margins we’ve seen recently, even small effects matter.
  • The messenger matters–we know that it’s not just the quality of one’s information, but also the trustworthiness and relational power of the person(s) delivering it.
  • Scale matters, A LOT. The messages themselves and the friends who shared their activity, collectively, accounted for about 0.14% of all the votes cast during the 2010 election. That’s more than 280,000 votes, from one Facebook message.
  • One of the coolest things, to me, about this study, is how ‘real’ it is. People didn’t know that they were part of an experiment. They were just doing what they do every day–spending some time on Facebook–and, in the process, shaping their own (and their friends’, and even their friends’ friends’) political behavior. The implications are significant.

And, again, this was for a mid-term congressional election that was, after all, a pretty big deal. Most people, arguably, knew it was happening. There were many other messages in the arena, about the same election.

What about those smaller elections, where, if we knew what our friends were doing and knew that they would know what we, in turn, were doing (or not), we could see, maybe a few dozen votes in an area that we normally wouldn’t, in elections with historically very poor turnout?

Maybe we need some experiments of our own, four months from now.