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How Organizations Can Use Online Tools To Collaborate

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Almost all of the digital tools that we have discussed in previous articles have focused on how to reach to reach a wider audience. But it is also important to consider two-way communication methods, so that people collaborating on a project, or united by their affinity for a cause can work together. In this article, therefore, we will focus on “internal” social networking tools, which exist in many forms with a variety of features.

The most basic means of facilitating two-way communication between members of coalition groups is the basic email listserv. On a listserv, a single member can send out a message to everyone subscribed to the list. If another member replies, this member’s message also goes to the entire group. A moderator can also be assigned to curate the discussion, approving or denying posts. Google Groups or Yahoo Groups are examples of free listservs. Each requires the administrator to have a Google or Yahoo Account.

Basic listservs serve a purpose, but most organizations now prefer the ability to post and share documents, photos, calendars and other features, in addition to posts. In the Vermont Digital Economy Project, for example, we required an internal means of sharing documents and announcements between our various partner organizations across the state. We chose to use Google Sites. Depending on your privacy settings, a Google Site can act as a public website or host content only available to a select group. In the case of our project, the site is only accessible when you are logged into an approved Google account. The service is integrated with other Google Services such as Drive and Google Calendar. As with many services, you must have a Google Account or Google Apps email address in order to use this service.

“Our project had team members in multiple organizations. One of the first things we decided as a team, is that we needed a secure space in the cloud where we could collaborate and share information. Our Google site was easy to set up and use and is completely free. It's exactly what we needed,” said Sharon Combes-Farr, our Project Director. “It's not pretty. But it is functional and good for an internal site.”

Garden Facebook GroupAnother group looking for a closed option to coordinate the members’ efforts was the Garden at 485 Elm Street. While the group also has a public Facebook Page, the collective needed a way to communicate internally and share photos, links and videos. We set up a closed, or secret Facebook Group to meet that need. Unlike a Facebook Page, anyone  who is a member of the group can post to the group, and everyone is notified when there is a new post. “The gardeners have a private, secret Facebook group where we can quickly post news (e.g., ‘someone pick those juicy, red tomatoes before they split!’), hash out watering schedules, and notify about workdays,“ says Sheryl Rapee-Adams, Founder and Manager at The Garden at 485 Elm.

As with Google Sites, the privacy of the Facebook group can be set to different levels. It can be entirely secret, where you must be invited to the group to be able to find it at all, open, in which anyone can join, or visible, but where a group membership must be approved by an administrator. Brattleboro based, Hilltop Montessori School is planning on using an Facebook Group with a required invite/membership to connect and correspond with alumni.

A group that will benefit from both a Google Site and a Facebook Group is the Brattleboro based Jerusalem Peacebuilders. The Jerusalem Peacebuilders run a leadership camp at Acer Farm that brings together young American, Israeli, and Palestinian teens with the focus of creating a new generation of peace builders in the world. The group is affiliated with other Peacebuilders camps around the country and around the world. The organization also works to build connections between the teens who participate in the camps that continue long after the camp ends. We have determined that a Google site will best assist the organization with internal communication, while the Facebook Group will help facilitate ongoing communication between participants at the camp.

According to the Rev. Canon  Nicholas T. Porter, Executive Director of the Jerusalem Peacebuilders,"We are excited about expanding our capacity to communicate and coordinate digitally with camps connected to our own. This will allow us to create integrated curriculums and better care for our campers. The primary beneficiaries of these improvements will be the campers themselves, who will receive better programming and mentoring. Vermont's Digital Economy Project will help us reach this goal."

Finally, groups already using Wordpress for their website may want to consider adding the BuddyPress plugin. While not an out of the box solution like Ning, BuddyPress is free and has many of the same features. Users can create profiles, post messages, make connections with other people, and interact in groups and on forums. Many teams and clubs are currently using BuddyPress.

Another even simpler way that Wordpress can be used to facilitate private internal communication is to simply provide invited users with their own login and then set the “visibility” when publishing a post to “only admins,” or whatever group you choose to restrict access to (as opposed to public.)

The St. Albans based Franklin County Home Health Agency, is an organization we helped with a variety of website fixes, and they are now using this system to share on a monthly basis news with their employees. “We also publish a monthly e-newsletter to our employees and volunteers, all of whom are contained in our Wordpress user group,” noted Mary Harwood, the agency’s Community Relations Coordinator.

Regardless of which tools you chose, digital tools can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of collaborative efforts, and are a great way to collaborate on team projects.

 

 

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