Highlights and takeaways from #24NTC

Notebook with colorful stickers (doughnut, rose, logo, 24NTC powered by NTEN) and a bookmark about "Planning welcoming and inclusive projects" with 10 strategies: 1. Determine your
inclusivity metrics, set
goals, and track success
to start. 2. Made for you 3. Create safer
spaces 4. Virtual
accessibility is
the new normal 5. Access,
access, access. 6. Plan for
multiple ways
for people to
process and
participate. 7. People are
more than data. 8. Name the
power dynamics
and account for
impact. 9. Stay flexible
and pivot. 10. Name the
labor and
celebrate
successes.
While I don’t pick up much swag when flying internationally, I do always love stickers, and small things like this bookmark courtesy of Big Duck from their great presentation about inclusive project management.

There are still many things I am processing from NTEN’s 2024 Nonprofit Technology Conference (and all the wonderful, expansive conversations I had before, during, and after). However, writing is a good way to process learning and reflect on things so, here we go…

As I walked into the Oregon Convention Center to pick up my badge, there were signs of the ways in which NTEN is intentional about supporting the community (e.g., local vendors from the craft market) and making sure the conference is inclusive and supports us humans attending as our full selves (e.g., designated spaces for lactation and prayer and racial affinity, a table at lunchtime for those fasting for Ramadan).

Hallway that shows 3 rooms with signs outside of them: prayer and meditation room, lactation room, racial affinity lounge

While I unfortunately missed Sabrina Hersi Issa’s keynote (and am hoping I can watch a recording later), the other two keynotes really shifted the lens for me, even in topics that I thought I knew a little something about.

Though I’ve been mulling for a while on the dominance of English online, in academia, and generally in traveling the world (even though I benefit from it daily), Anasuya Gupta (Whose Knowledge?) somehow managed to elucidate the depth and vastness of this – tracing its roots back to colonization and somehow, lest we feel overwhelmed, also sharing very tactical ways we might go about decolonizing the internet. I am still mulling over her questions:

  • Whose internet?
  • Whose knowledge?
  • Who owns and controls the infrastructure?
  • Whose structures and classifications? (e.g., in structured data)
  • Who and what is invisible?
  • Whom do we learn from, listen to, cite, and speak of?

(See my sketchnotes of Anasuya Gupta’s talk on “The Internets of Liberation”)

Actually, invisibility tied into Amber Case’s keynote as well, which made the case for calm technology – and for invisible technology, which allows you to focus on the task rather than the tool. For example, a window is invisible technology. Mind already blown. How did I not see that before?! (Pun not originally intended but now I feel compelled to leave it in there.) And bananas – their peels change color to indicate when they’re become ripe and when they’re going bad. It made me feel hopeful that we’re not doomed to drown in the proliferation of noxious features and products clamoring for our attention—that feels like the water we are currently swimming in. While I am uncertain if a seal of approval is a strong enough incentive, it was a good reminder that all design is governance, and I will be thinking about how to apply the clear, compelling, and practical principles of calm technology that Case has laid out.

(See my sketchnotes of Amber Case’s talk on “An Introduction to Calm Technology”)

On the theme of what’s visible/invisible and who controls what, The Glass Room had an exhibit about the journeys of the personal data that countless companies extract from us each day. The one about “The Real Life of Your Selfie” particularly stuck out as throughout my trip, I’d been through (at that point) 4 different airports 5 times within 6 days and I’d had my face scanned multiple times by both airlines and government agencies. Do I have the knowledge and privilege to say no? Yes. Did I have the energy resources to refuse after many hours of travel through multiple time zones and after having been jostled repeatedly by passengers who had shown they were capable of navigating around trashcans but not me, an actual human? Not really.

Poster of The Real Life of the Selfie showing and listing examples of the data that can be extracted from the picture of face and the ways in which it can be used

This year, I gave a talk on “Strategic Team Meetings for Teams of One.” True to the laws of technology, I ran into some technology issues at the start of my presentation. However, NTEN being the community that it is, I had three people jump out to help me trouble shoot (in front of a room full of people, no less). People even got up to help close door to the noisy hallway. And that’s not even including the friends and acquaintances who picked me up beforehand, when I expressed my nervousness, and during, when I was trying not to panic that I couldn’t actually show my slides to the audience. (Thank you, Brian, Adrienne, and Alexa for your help to fix that!)

Janice stands, speaking and gesturing with her hands, while standing next to a large screen with a slide about a Meeting with a partner activity. The first row of tables appears empty.
My dad’s initial comment when I sent him this picture per his request: “It looks like you’re speaking to an empty room, Janice.” I promise there were people! I also promise that my dad is actually very supportive of me even though it is very on brand that this would be the first thing he blurts out. (Thanks for the photo, Mark!)

If you missed my session, I also got the opportunity to talk about the topic on the Nonprofit Radio podcast, so stay tuned for when that episode comes out!

There is never enough time to talk with all of the people you want to nor attend all of the interesting sessions—and it wasn’t made easier by having 3 workshops for my coaching training that were overlapping with the conference. (But, oh, were they three transformative sessions!)

Here are some other highlights and things I’ll be continuing to think about (in no particular order):

  • Getting to meet many people in person whom I’d only ever spoken with online before
  • Catching up with old friends and meeting new ones – including someone else form Queens!
  • Mark Root-Wiley’s workshop on “DIY Accessibility Testing” – Every person who is responsible for a website should go through this, truly. It was very easy to do and very eye opening. If you’re attending the Washington State Nonprofit Conference in May, he’ll be presenting that workshop there!
  • Bettina Sferrino, Dani Faulkner, and Tristan Penn’s thoughtfully put together fireside chat on “Things We Wish Our White Colleagues Knew” (I have since shared these notes with a number of people not at the conference but whom I’ve had similar conversations with)
  • The way in which conference attendees challenged each other and made valid points while upholding community values in several specific conversations that could have easily turned into complaining or pre-decided arguments – windows rather than mirrors
  • A great session on proactive accountability and an intriguing session on sociocratic decision making
  • Brianna Collins’s amazing framing of being each other’s professional wingwomen – may each of you have someone like Brianna in your life! (But also, if you need a visual storyteller to help you communicate the change you’re making at your nonprofit, reach out to Brianna!)
  • A session that reminded me that language justice is not only about thinking about access for non-English speakers, but also for Limited English Proficient communities, access for D/deaf and hard of hearing communities, and access for Blind and visually impaired communities
  • The deliciousness I had while in Portland, OR, at Tusk, Nong’s Khao Man Gai, Portland Cà Phê, GrindWitTryz, and Kachka
  • Stumbling across cherry trees in bloom at a riverside park – and someone I knew, making for a lovely walking catchup amidst the beautiful scenery
As seen from above, a park along the river with a winding path lined with blooming cherry trees, a bright blue sky and a bridge in the distance

Drawing out stakeholder requirements with workflow diagrams

Have you ever been asked to find a technology solution for *flailing-arms-make-it-better*?!? Or attempted requirements gathering only to get a detailed explanation of how to do a task in the current system?

As anyone who has done requirements gathering can tell you, it’s a bit of an art form. (Yes, pun intended in the title!)

You want to meet the needs of the people who will use the solution, but it can be challenging to understand the needs of people who may not know how to articulate them in ways that translate well to technical specifications. While business process mapping is not an uncommon part of requirements analysis, it can be hard to get started if you’re new to it and hard to know how to get the necessary information.

This session I presented at the 2023 Nonprofit Technology Conference will break down ways to map workflows and get the information you need to write up effective requirements.

Managing change when making big changes

Author’s Note: Is this change something new that you are in the process of planning? You may want to read “How to plan to do something you’ve never done before” before this one if you haven’t already.

Someone holds a phone with a compass app open while standing near a compass embedded in the sidewalk. Per the sidewalk compass, the person should be facing north, but the smartphone compass app says that this direction is 32 degrees north east.
In case you can’t tell from the photo, the compass on the sidewalk says we are facing north, but my friend’s smartphone compass app says that we’re actually pointing towards 32 degrees north east!

If you’ve ever managed a project with a long timeframe or been responsible for implementing a major change, then you know that, well, things change.  Inevitably, you’ll discover something that hadn’t been accounted for or that wasn’t as clear at the beginning, or perhaps, something in your context will have changed.  Maybe there’s a new opportunity you’ll want to be able to seize. 

You may have even identified some potential risks and come up with plans to mitigate them.  It is, however, impossible to know everything that could possibly happen or change or that needs to be accounted for when you’re initially planning a project.  One of the best ways to plan for the unexpected is to plan for change, to build in a margin for it.  That’s why it’s helpful to save for an emergency fund, and why you build extra time and contingency into a project budget.

You can also plan to make changes, even if you don’t know what the changes will be.  Worse comes to worse, your plan works out. 

Many people plan regular times to check in and evaluate progress on a project, especially a change management project, but even better is to regularly ask the question of what changes need to be made and evaluate the plan itself.

Plan to change your plan

Here’s how to prepare for course adjustments before you start really diving in:

  • Schedule check-in meetings and put them on the calendar along with an agenda.  How many and how often depends on the scope of what you’re doing and the timeframe.  Perhaps you might split it into thirds or around key milestones or phases.  If this is more of a continuous thing than a discrete project, then figure out a timeframe when enough will have happened to answer some key questions, but not so much time that it will be hard to change course.
  • Determine how it will be decided whether to adjust course and how.  This could be by consensus, by the project lead having final say, or some type of measure (e.g., as long as our revenue is on track within 5%, we stick to the plan)—or some combination.
  • When planning out the work, plan the first third in the most detail, the second third with some detail, and leave the last third at a high-level.  This will make it easier to make changes since you’ll have left some planning (e.g., who is doing what specific tasks during which week or month) until after the check-in point.

If this is a change management project (e.g., implementing a new system and new processes), having scheduled check-ins to review and adjust the plan can also support your cause.  One thing people worry about during a big change is that it will be terrible, it will make things worse, and they will be stuck with it.  (That can happen, of course!)  However, transparency about how changes will be made and opportunities to provide feedback or request adjustments (e.g., including some time to work out the new time tracking process before the summer staff join) can alleviate some concerns.  You can engage them as beta testers and partners in working out any issues before the full rollout.

Considerations for course adjustments

Here’s are some things you might want to discuss at the start of the project and then during check-ins:

  • What is the desired outcome at the end of this scope of work/part of the project?
  • What assumptions was this planned work based upon?  Have things changed?  You will likely need to change your plan if an assumption no longer holds.  If it was a constraint, then maybe you don’t need to change anything but this opens up other opportunities.  Note:Assuming that the plan will lead towards the desired outcome is an assumption.
  • Does it look like we’re making progress towards the desired outcome?  This is really about whether it is working for the team/organization or not.
  • What changes do we need to make to our plan?  This can be adding things, subtracting things, or modifying how you go about them (e.g., method, strategy, timing, who does what).
  • Do we need to change how we evaluate the need for course adjustments at our next check-in?

When the only constant is change, might as well plan for it!

How to plan to do something you’ve never done before

There are things that someone can show us how to do, like how to tie our shoelaces or how to fry an egg. Then there are the things you can really only learn by doing: riding a bicycle, managing people. However, it’s always helpful to have some frameworks for how to approach the new thing as you’re learning while you’re doing it.

Every time I have to do something new that is big enough in scale to warrant a plan (or feels overwhelming enough that I want to make a plan), I start with what I call the “What’s Needed Exercise.”

Notebook page titled, "What's needed?" with a bulleted list that reads: Tasks; Decisions; Information; People; Supplies, equipment, venues, etc.; Time, budget, commitments

This exercise is very simple: I ask myself what is needed to make this thing happen and don’t stop writing (or typing) until I run out of ideas of things that might be needed. Then I organize them.

Regardless of what the new thing is – a volunteer training, version 2 of a custom grants management system, moving to a new country – there are typically a few categories of things that are needed.

Here are some prompts for thinking through what’s needed:

  • What are the steps or tasks to do the big new thing?
  • What decisions need to be made? By whom?
  • What information* is needed? How do we get this information (ask someone, conduct design research, analyze the website data)?
  • Which people are needed and for what? (This could be people on a MOCHA or DARCI chart, or this could be people to do X thing, or it could be that you need an expert in alligator wrestling.)
  • What supplies, tools, equipment, systems, or venues are needed?
  • What time or budget or commitments are needed?

*If you can’t articulate what success looks like and how you’ll be able to tell that you’ve made it to your destination, then you’ll want to add to the list of information that is needed (or decisions to be made).

I don’t try to answer those questions in order, though you can if it’s helpful. Typically, I’ll make my massive list (in a document or a spreadsheet or as sticky notes on a board) and then organize them.

Here are some groups I find useful:

  • To do
  • To decide
  • To find out
  • To get

Once they’re organized a little bit, it will be easier to see the dependencies. Then you can begin to sequence them.

And there’s your game plan! Well, okay, you probably have a specific timeframe for getting this thing done, or you might be working on this with other people, and so you’ll need to work on the timeline and how you and the others will work together. But this can get you started on estimating the level of effort, how much time you’ll need to allocate, and when it can fit on the calendar, how many people (and which ones) you need to get to help you, and so on. Here’s a way you can start when you’re not sure where to start!

What approaches or tactics have worked well for you when planning to do something new? I’d be interested to hear what works well for you or how it goes if you try this out. Of course, it’s common, when you do something for the first time, that things don’t always go according to plan and you find yourself having to make some course adjustments along the way. Stay tuned for a post on how to plan to change the plan…